Neighborhood guides: Live like a local in The Castro, San Francisco
1 Jun 2022
The Castro neighborhood of San Francisco was labeled the ‘beating heart of LGBTQIA+ pride’ by The Culture Trip, and we couldn’t think of a better district to feature on the first day of June – did you know it was the first queer ‘hood in the United States?
It’s a brightly colored area, steeped in LGBTQIA+ history and activism: from Harvey Milk’s campaign for social change in the 1970s to today’s efforts to minimize the impact of gentrification on the community. Not to mention the restaurants and cafes that make it a foodie destination worth writing home about.
Here are our favorite spots.
The Castro Theatre is a historical landmark, and the only remaining movie house in the area, serving the community with cinematic celebrations. Each day, they show a different double feature — sometimes old, sometimes new. Always entertaining.
GLBT Historical Society Museum
The GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives is a cultural destination for queer-identifying folk and allies. They collect, preserve and exhibit materials and knowledge to promote LGBTQIA+ history, culture and arts in all their diversity. Especially during Pride Month.
New, used or queer books? Head to Fabulosa Books for all kinds of queer lit, bestsellers, and modern zines you didn't know you needed. Given the Castro district's pivotal role in LGBTQIA+ history, they specialize in LGBTQ+ books, sure, but you’ll also find tomes on science and nature writing, ethnic studies, witchcraft, poetry, progressive politics, history, cookbooks, sci-fi, and many more.
Cliff’s Variety is the neighborhood’s institution, open since 1936. They sell a huge number of items from souvenirs and toys to kitchen and bath products. The family-owned and operated store continues to receive love and appreciation from locals and tourists alike.
Le Marais Bakery
Le Marais Bakery serves Francophiles after a civilized brunch spot. In typical fashion, expect to queue on a Saturday morning, while you wait your turn for avocado toasts, croque monsieurs, and kir royales. On the go? Take a look at their yummy pastries.
Chai Saechao and his partner, Tony Stapor, spent the better part of three years walking past an empty storefront in the neighborhood before deciding to focus on what makes them happy: plants. And so, they created a space that offers an array of houseplants and modern pottery to help bring the outside in, adding a touch of biophilic design to your home — it’s good for your mental health, too. “Plants are cheaper than therapy,” is their tagline.
Fancy a drag show? Head to Beaux. It’s a little bit of West Hollywood mixed with a bit of Millennial San Francisco, and it’s the first stop of all the Rupaul’s Drag Race stars whenever they pass through town. Need we say more?
Owned by brothers Tommy and Chris Newbury, this coffee spot has a contemporary clean-lined interior. Although it makes the perfect backdrop to answering a few emails, it’s the coffee that keeps you coming back. They also serve pastries, breakfast and lunch, naturally.
If looking to snag a seat for brunch at homey Wooden Spoon, you better wake up early or be prepared to wait a while. It’s here that you can order so much more than avocado toast. But they still have their own iteration, if that’s your thing.
Kitchen Story is another family-run business in The Castro. It’s a cosy spot, decked out with modern detailing that specializes in Californian cuisine with Asian influences. Do not miss out on their ricotta hotcakes for breakfast or burgers at lunchtime.
While most of the bars in the area cater to a specific gay demographic, The Mix is probably the most diverse bar in the Castro. It’s a favorite of famed LGBTQIA+ rights activist, Cleve Jones, among other longtime denizens of the ’hood.