Hop, Skip & Jump Over the Rainbow In The Castro San Francisco

With rainbow flags on many corners, The Castro San Francisco neighborhood is the epicenter for all things LGBT in both San Francisco and, in fact, the whole country. It was after the 1967 Summer of Love, centered in nearby Haight-Ashbury, that the area became a destination for gays looking to create a community. Activists such as Harvey Milk began organizing and fighting for LGBT equality as far back as the 1970's in this neighborhood and there are a number of places that commemorate and honor the long legacy of this fight for equality.

Nowadays, The Castro keeps its eclectic heartbeat alive in the shops and the sights to see. The Castro is one of the most welcoming and friendly neighborhoods in San Francisco. None of the locals take themselves too seriously and there are plethora of fun places to hang out and lots of history and culture to experience.

line

Find Hotel Deals for Your Dates in San Francisco

Check with Booking.com to find today's sale prices on hotel rooms in every neighborhood of SF. Save 20% to 30%… or even more!

Booking.Com SF Hotel Deals
Find hotels at Union Square, near Fisherman's Wharf, in North Beach, the business district, even in the Wine Country.
Search for your hotel

Castro Theatre

Castro Theatre

The Castro Theatre is a classic work of Spanish Baroque design built in 1922. The popular revival house features repertory movies, film festivals and sometimes live organ performances. All the events have a gay and multicultural focus. It was officially named San Francisco's 100th historic landmark in the 1970s. The Castro Theatre holds monthly special events like sing-alongs with costume contests. You can't go to The Castro neighborhood without visiting this mainstay of local culture.

Harvey's

Harvey's

An ode the "mayor of the Castro", LGBT activist Harvey Milk frequented this bar because the owners openly accepted the gay community as far back as the 1970s. Originally named The Elephant Walk, in 1996 this bar was destroyed by a fire. When it reopened, the owner decided to name it after Milk as a memorial to the fallen soldier in the battle for equality. Now, it's a popular restaurant and bar where you can get a slice of local LGBT history.

Harvey Milk's Old Camera Shop

Harvey Milk's Old Camera Shop

Keeping in line with the The Castro San Francisco's veneration of its fallen hero, Harvey Milk, another historically significant place to visit is the location of Harvey Milk's Castro Camera store. Milk loved photography and opened up the store with his partner in the early 1970s. The shop became a gathering place and hub for the community to support each other and organize resistance. Nowadays, the location is turned into a shop for the Human Rights Campaign, which continues to support LGBT rights around the world. Here you can buy paraphernalia to support the advancement of LGBT people.

line

Hot Cookie

Hot Cookie

If you've had your fill of seriousness, Hot Cookie is the place you can turn to for fun and levity. Known for its chocolate-covered macaroons shaped like penises, Hot Cookie is a neighborhood favorite in The Castro. This icon of gay humor serves a myriad of fresh baked goods with funny names such as Butch Bars. You can even go home with some Hot Cookie brand underwear so you can rep your favorite cookies everywhere. Don't forget to take a picture to add to their photo-collaged walls and become a part of Castro San Francisco history.

Seward Mini Park

Seward Mini Park

A little off the beaten path, Seward Mini Park is a hidden gem in the Castro neighborhood. The park features two steep concrete slides that were designed by fourteen-year-old Kim Clark for a competition staged by famous sculptor Ruth Asawa. These slides are seriously exhilarating and fun for the whole family. Bring a piece of cardboard to slide on and make sure you're wearing your sturdiest pairs of pants. The mini-park is also home to a community garden and a nice array of native plants.

Pink Triangle Park

Pink Triangle Park

On a more somber note, you can visit the proud Pink Triangle Park, a memorial to all the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender victims of the Nazi regime in Germany. It is the first permanent and free-standing memorial in the United States to this travesty. There are fifteen pylons with pink triangles on them that commemorate the over 15,000 victims that died during those years. You are also invited to take a pink stone home with you to commemorate the victims of the terrible persecution. The park is meant to be a place of remembrance, reflection, and education.

  • Located just north of Harvey Milk Plaza
  • Website

GLBT Historical Society

GLBT Historical Society

The first full scale, stand-alone museum dedicated to the history and culture of the GLBT community, the GLBT Historical Society features a number of permanent exhibits in addition to traveling exhibits. The GLBT historical society seeks to collect, preserve, and interpret the history of the GLBT people and the communities that support them. It was founded in 1985 and is a world leader in the public history of the GLBT community. Wander around the halls, catch a screening of a documentary, or marvel at how far this community has come in hopes of achieving equal rights for all

line

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

With jaw-dropping 360-degree panoramic views of San Francisco, Twin Peaks is a definite must-see if you're in the Castro. Rising 922 feet high in the center of the city, Twin Peaks offers uncompromising views during both the day and night. Feast your eyes on the beauty all around you, but don't forget to pack a jacket — it gets a little cold at the top of the world. There are also a few lovely hiking trails in the park if you'd like to make a day of it.

Brief History of The Castro San Francisco

The Castro

The deeper history of The Castro dates back to the early 19th century when this whole area of California was a province of Mexico known as Alta California. It is named after José Castro, the governor or administrator of the province. He was a strong opponent of Alta California becoming part of the US. (Actually, the district is named after the Castro Theater, which is named after José.)

During the Gold Rush era the area was known as Finn Town or Little Scandinavia due to the immigrants who settled here. At the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake the majority of students at the neighborhood school (now McKinley Elementary School) were Finnish.

The Castro settled into a solid working class neighborhood of mixed ethnicity. It was after the 1967 Summer of Love, centered in nearby Haight-Ashbury, that the area became a destination for gays looking to create a community. Today, there's a compact business between 17th and 19th Streets, jammed with bars, shops and restaurants.

Historical Walking Tour of The Castro

Historic Walking Tour of The Castro

Join this walking tour of The Castro to learn about the history and the landmarks that are a symbol and source of pride for gay activists. The tour details the richness, diversity and historical significance of the Castro. Your guide takes you to such noteworthy sites as the first openly gay bar, called Twin Peaks Tavern, the Civil Rights Academy, Harvey Milk Plaza and the Rainbow Honor Walk Project.

You'll visit the Pink Triangle Memorial Park, honoring the gay men & women who were persecuted in Nazi death camps. You also visit the the Castro Theatre, which gave the neighborhood its name.

SF's legendary slain civil rights leader, Harvey Milk, played a key role in shaping the history of the Castro and earning rights for the gay population. On this walking tour, you visit Harvey Milk's residence and his photo shop that became his campaign headquarters.

What's Quakin'?

Don't Miss a Single San Francisco Travel Tip — Sign Up For Our Newsletter Today