Gay Travel Destinations: San Francisco, CA
Written by: Jaclyn Popola
With it's history of fighting for GLBT equality and reputation for gay-friendly locales, it's easy to see why San Francisco, CA is considered the "gay and lesbian capital of the world". I'm honestly not sure if anyone who lives in San Francisco was actually born and raised there. It seems like SF only exists as a mecca for the societal outcasts born in Kansas or Missouri or Georgia to flock to once they become of age and/or run away when they can no longer tolerate the close-mindedness of their hometowns. Since the infamous "Summer of Love" era of the 1960's, San Francisco has been a magnet for counter-culture, a haven, a viable option and, sometimes, the only solution for those seeking a community to which they can belong without being persecuted or ridiculed for being gay, lesbian, transsexual or transgendered. For over 37 years, San Francisco has hosted the largest gay pride summer celebration in the United States, drawing over 700,000 supporters over the course of the two-day festival. SF's "Dyke March" is the only parade in the country where the women remove their shirts and march through the streets braless as an expression of freedom. The city is home to an overwhelming number of GLBT companies, including the lesbian owned and operated Olivia Cruiselines, the progressive lesbian adult media company, S.I.R., and the world's first gay men's chorus.
Just like New York City is divided into separate neighborhoods--Greenwich Village, the East Side, Midtown, Uptown--so is San Francisco. The Castro/Upper Market (NYC's Christopher Street counterpart), where the Pride celebration takes place each year, has the steep streets and brightly painted Victorian houses characteristic of San Francisco topography. The area is chock full of quirky little boutique shops selling kitschy wares, independent bookstores, novelty stores and bars located primarily at the end of Market Street between 16th and 17th. An important lace of interest for those interested in history is Pink Triangle Park, a memorial built to honor the 15,000 GLBT Holocaust victims.
Lesbian-centric Noe Valley is the Castro's conservative older sister, a shopper-friendly neighborhood full of upscale restaurants, pricey clothing stores, bistros and bookstores. Slightly bourgeoise but family friendly as well, you'll never see a shortage of mothers and fathers pushing strollers down the Noe Valley sidewalks.
The Mission district, which includes the famous Valencia Street, is renowned for its many gay bars, offbeat coffeehouses and cafes. The Roxie Cinema shows contemporary, historic and artsy films on a rotating basis, and Intersection for the Arts is the city's oldest alternative performance space. Exercise caution, however, when visiting this neighborhood, as the drug trade and narcotics trafficking unfortunately runs pretty rampant in this part of town.
And, of course, there are the gay bars. San Francisco wouldn't be the gay mecca it is if it weren't for it's neverending supply of shirtless men dancing frantically to thumping techno music. In every section of San Francisco you will find a bar or club catering to all walks of life although, believe it or not, there is only ONE strictly lesbian club in the city, and that‘s The Lexington. But with other nightlife venues ranging from S&M clubs to drag queen and drag king shows to transgender parties, leather bars to yuppie hangouts, Latin clubs to butch-on-femme celebrations, there is literally something for everyone.