The Lesbian’s Guide to the Bay Area
By Sophie Needelman
The Bay Area is known as a gay haven, teaming with liberal residents, colorful cultural gems, and enough food to keep you overeating for days. This dynamic region is home to the notoriously gay city of San Francisco, bold Oakland, quirky Berkeley, and tons of gorgeous suburbs in between. Living in the Bay Area has been incredible, but it definitely was not always easy to find my way—especially because San Francisco tends to be more of a gay boy’s city than one suited for lesbians. With that said, the rich and open minds of the people in the Bay make it great for anyone; lesbians just have to know where to look.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is my favorite place in San Francisco to see performances and check out museum exhibits. I have experienced some incredible performance artists and alternative works in many of the beautiful facilities housed here. With the Museum of Modern Art nearby, you could spend an entire day walking the grounds and exploring all of the culture this hotspot has to offer. There is great people watching around here too. I tend to gravitate toward artsy folk so grabbing an outside table at the tea and dessert café right in the center of YBCA is my favorite way to spend an afternoon!
In my opinion, the best way to get to know a city is to hit the pavement and walk around as much as possible. In San Francisco, one of my favorite walks is to start at the Embarcadero, head West into Union Square, then go North through Chinatown, Little Italy, and eventually over some infamous hills to Fisherman’s Warf. The entire walk takes about an hour, and there are plenty of places to stop and eat or take photos along the way!
Another great way to get a sense of a city’s culture is to know where to shop. Aside from the mainstream and often touristy places like Union Square and Fisherman’s Warf that are home to many large chains, I do most of my shopping in the East Bay where there are more off the beaten path boutiques and thrift stores. My favorite stretch of sidewalk is on College Ave. in Berkeley, home to various gift shops, book stores, and cafes. My second favorite area to shop is on Shattuck Ave. in North Berkeley—there are tons of restaurants around here as well as markets, galleries, and specialty stores that are fun to explore. When I exhaust those two regions of my neighborhood, I hit up the notorious Telegraph Ave. right near UC Berkeley’s campus. There is truly no better place to buy handmade jewelry, tie-dye apparel, or used books!
With all of this site seeing, it is easy to work up an appetite. My favorite breakfast places are in Berkeley. It has to be a tie between La Note and Guerilla Café. Anything on either of the menus here is absolutely to die for! In the city, the Blue Bottle Coffee café near Mission and Market Street in San Francisco is an adorable yet chic place to get a delicious energy boost any time of day. The Buena Vista Social Club restaurant in Ghiradelli Square has got to be one of my favorite places to eat in the city because of its gorgeous views of the Bay and its classic and old school style. For any sort of ethnic food, the Mission is the place to be. If you are up for busy crowds and tons of great people watching while trying some of the freshest and tastiest free samples the Bay Area has to offer, look no further than the Ferry Building Farmers Market.
All of these Bay Area highlights make it an incredible place to live, regardless of sexual orientation. While my favorite parts of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley aren’t exclusively lesbian or even queer, I gravitate toward them because of their openness and richness in culture. One of the things I love about living here is getting to interact with all sorts of people, visitors and residents alike. For other lesbians like me who enjoy exploring the urban landscape of any and every city I encounter, these are a few great places to start your own journey! There is no better relationship—gay, straight, or otherwise—than the relationship you have with the city of your dreams.
Sophie Needelman is the Content and Editorial Coordinator for GayTravel.com. She is also the founder and director of The Defiance Project, a San Diego and Bay Area based dance company. Beyond her professional endeavors, Sophie enjoys pursuing her joint-degrees in Dance and Performance Studies and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.