A gay traveler’s first-time visit to San Francisco
This week’s featured destination is San Francisco—a city I personally love! Traveler Michael Roberts gives us a brief history to the gayborhood that is so much of SF and shares some of the LGBT-specific tourist attractions that can be found in one of America’s most gay-friendly cities.
The city of San Francisco is a popular destination for LGBT travelers thanks to its friendly and welcoming culture of acceptance, as well as its wealth of art and culture and its thriving nightlife scene. For over 60 years, San Francisco has been closely associated with lesbian and gay culture. It has also been the home of famous LGBT rights defenders such as Harvey Milk, Margaret Cho, Elsa Gidlow, Talullah Bankhead and Gladys Bently. In fact, it was once home to more gay people per capita than any other American city.
This glorious city is a great place to visit whether you’re just stopping by for a weekend or staying for several weeks. According to a national survey conducted by the Travel Industry of America, San Francisco was ranked as the top gay-friendly destination in the USA. The nearest contender was Key West, Florida, but San Fran outranked it by nearly 20 percent. The survey also confirmed that nearly 48 percent of gay men and 47 percent of lesbians stated that the “gay-friendliness” of a destination was an important consideration when they planned their travels.
Here are a few of the top travel hotspots in San Francisco for gay travelers:
The Castro District
This area of the city was originally the Irish working class area, but over the last 35 years it has become one of the world’s major gay hotspots. The sunny Castro district of San Francisco is home to many excellent gay-owned businesses and the LGBT culture is a huge part of this neighbourhood’s identity as a whole. As you walk down these streets you will see an abundance of rainbow flags as well as plenty of gay bars. You’ll also find clothing outlets, bookstores, video stores and other shops that cater to the LGBT community.
While you’re there, take a look at the LGBT Historical Society where you can see an exhibit about the gay community’s struggle over the years, including the story of Harvey Milk’s victories and the transgender sex worker’s riots.
Also check out A Different Light, which is a great bookstore where you can find LGBT books that are too “controversial” for mainstream bookstores.
You can head to Valencia Street, which is located just outside of the Castro/Mission district to get a feeling for the lesbian scene in San Francisco. The Castro neighbourhood is more male-dominated while Valencia is more populated by females. It offers many boutique clothing stores and offbeat cafes as well as diverse cuisine and hip bars.
Lesbians looking for a fun night out should head to the Mission District where they will find bars like Wild Side West, The Lexington and Stray Bar.
On a Sunday morning, Dolores Park—nicknamed “Dolores Beach”—is usually filled with lean and muscular gay sun worshippers who are soaking up some rays on a ledge overlooking the city. The area surrounding the park is also a popular hangout for lesbian women.
Gay Events in the City
There are plenty of festivals throughout the year in San Francisco that celebrate gay culture. If you can plan your visit to coincide with one of these festivals you will add an unforgettable experience to your trip.
If you happen to be visiting the Castro District during Halloween, you are in for a great party. Every year on October 31st a huge street party breaks out, with fabulous costumes and plenty of fun debauchery.
During the last weekend in June, the Civic Center in San Francisco hosts one of the largest gay pride parades in North America. The Pride Parade is one of the most popular events in the city and people come from all over to enjoy it. It is an enormous, chaotic and happy celebration of diversity and playful San Francisco wackiness and there are dozens of performances on stages throughout the city, from hip-hop to square dancing, as well as a family garden. This massive festival is open to anyone, straight or gay, to have a great time.
As a GLBT traveler, it’s hard not to enjoy the San Francisco lifestyle—a diverse and welcoming city.
About the Author: Michael Roberts is a freelance writer and blogger who writes about gay travel in North America for Expedia. If you’re planning a trip to the city, get the best view by booking one of the many San Francisco hotels with a view online.