San Francisco
Castro District’s best

San Francisco is known as the gay capital of the U.S., and this neighborhood filled with lovely Victorian homes is definitely the gay capital of the city.  It is also the geographic heart of San Francisco and a great place for people-watching.  A rainbow flag and rainbow crosswalk are located Boutiques, bars, and restaurants flourish in this area filled with lovely Victorian homes.  A rainbow flag and rainbow crosswalk are located at the entrance to the Castro neighborhood at Castro Street and Market Street.  This gay ghetto is where gay people come to meet their tribe, and boutiques, bars, and restaurants flourish.

Bounded by Castro St., betw. 17th & 20th sts., including Collingwood and Hartford sts.
Getting here by public transportation:  From downtown, take the historic F car west to the end of the line.

Castro Street webcam

rainbow crosswalk in Castro District of San Francisco
rainbow crosswalk in Castro District

Castro District attractions and shops

Castro Theatre 
429 Castro St./Market St. 
This landmark 1922 movie palace seats 1,420 people in its ornate interior.  It presents an eclectic program of classic and new films.  Unfortunately, the Wurlitzer organ that once played “San Francisco” every night as the film was about to begin is gone.  It was on loan to the theatre since the early 1980s.  The management promises that “it will be replaced by an impressive custom-designed organ, now under construction, that will faithfully preserve the musical tradition of the Castro Wurlitzer and significantly expand it with 21st-century technology.  This will be the largest hybrid (pipe/digital) organ in the world.  With seven keyboards and more than 800 stops, it will retain the familiar Wurlitzer sound using wind-blown pipes, and the pipes will be supplemented with digitally sampled organ.”  More information.

entrance to Castro Theater in San Francisco, CA
entrance to Castro Theater

Cliff’s Variety 
479 Castro St./18th St. 
Everything anyone might need–from Halloween wigs to kitchen scrubbers—are found in the aisles here, plus an assortment of toys that adults covet and a complete selection of small world flags.  Services include making keys and cutting glass and acrylic to order. 

interior of Cliffs Variety store in Castro District of San Francisco, CA

Cruisin’ the Castro Walking Tour
Fee.  Reservations required. 
This 2-hour historical tour of San Francisco’s gay and lesbian community hits all the high points.  Everyone is welcome. 

GLBT History Museum 
4127 18th St./Castro St.  Fee; free 1st W. 
At this storefront museum, rotating exhibits focus on gay history in San Francisco.  The first GLBT museum in the U.S., this snall museum is informative and interesting.  A corner devoted to the life of Harvey Milk includes a short recording excerpted from one of his speeches and the suit he wore the day he was assassinated. Lectures, talks, films, and other events are sometimes scheduled.

Rainbow Honor Walk 
Those honored with a sidewalk plaque are all self-expressed LGBTQ individuals.  They are all deceased and accomplished in their fields and include Allen Ginsberg, Keith Haring, Frida Kahlo, and Sally Ride.  A souvenir coffee mug displaying the honorees can be purchased at the HRC store.

Gertrude Stein square on Rainbow Honor Walk in Castro District of San Francisco, CA
Gertrude Stein square on Rainbow Honor Walk in Castro District

Castro District restaurants

500 Castro St./18th St. 
Named for slain San Francisco gay Supervisor Harvey Milk, this popular gay bar attracts a mixed crowd.   It is rebuilt on the site of The Elephant Walk bar, which is famous for the White Night riots here, and later was destroyed in a devastating fire.   People-watching is super, and special programs such as comedy and trivia nights are scheduled.  Always good are the burgers, fries, and Bloody Marys. 

exterior of Harvey's restaurant in Castro District of San Francisco, CA
exterior of Harvey’s restaurant in Castro District

Hot Cookie 
407 Castro St./17th St. 
This teeny-tiny shop has no seating and does all its baking in the kitchen behind the case and counter.  Scrumptious cookies include my own favorite–the toffee chocolate chip cookie–as well as coconut macaroons, and the sticky Nicky (caramel and salty pretzel pieces).  But perhaps the real claim to fame here are the risqué Penis and Venus cookies, which people love to take photos of and which are also reputedly quite delicious.  There is often a line out the door, but service is fast. 

risque cookies at Hot Cookie in Castro District of San Francisco, CA
risque cookies at Hot Cookie in Castro District of San Francisco,

Orphan Andy’s 
3991 17th St./Castro St./Market St.
Located on a quiet residential street just around the corner from busy Castro Street (where the historical F car makes its final stop before turning around), this tiny little diner serves up American food and is a favorite with both locals and out-of-towners.  It has a jukebox, and is a great spot for people-watching.  The cozy, campy decor includes red booths and counter stools, and the menu offers particularly good pancakes, onion rings, and chicken fried steak with country biscuits and gravy.

exterior of Orphan Andy's in Castro District of San Francisco, CA
exterior of Orphan Andy’s in Castro District

The Sausage Factory 
517 Castro St. 
Named for a sausage factory that was on this site into the 1940s (not the other thing it might remind you of in this area that adores double-entendres), this atmospheric Italian restaurant has been around since 1968 and is known for old-fashioned huge portions.  Particularly popular items on the menu include spaghetti, lasagna, and cheesy garlic bread, as well as pizza, and of course you should try something with sausage. 

exterior of Sausage Factory in Castro District of San Francisco, CA
exterior of Sausage Factory in Castro District

(; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)