There's something magical about San Francisco that makes visitors feel right at home. The city's spectacular bayside setting, manageable size, friendly locals, great dining, and agreeable weather all cast long-lasting spells. San Francisco has truly made an industry of hospitality, and it is precisely because so many visitors can picture themselves living in San Francisco that they "leave their hearts" in the City by the Bay. After reading Tales of the City, who has not wanted to move to Mrs. Madrigal?s homey apartment building?
Some visitors leave more than their hearts here. During World War II, the Pacific Fleet discharged homosexuals in San Francisco, helping make the city the gay capital it is today. And what a gay capital it is! San Francisco still reigns as the most gay-friendly, gay-popular, and gay-integrated destination in the country, if not the world. Castro and 18th streets may form a "gay four corners of the world," but you'll find gay women and men throughout the city. They're integrated in the city's political, financial and social life and power structure, and you'll see them living, working, eating and playing quite comfortably, in almost every part of town.
San Francisco is unique in the many different types of lodging options available to visitors. From mega convention hotels downtown to charming B&Bs, converted motor lodges and delightful gay guesthouses, one your most difficult decisions ? yet most satisfying ? will be where to rest your head each night.
San Francisco has many independent hotels, and three noteworthy chains. Hyatt has several large properties in the city, and very strong ties to the gay community. The Kimpton Group, a collection of small, boutique hotels offers affordable rates, tasteful d?cor and attentive service. Joie de Vivre is gay-owned and offers a more eclectic group of properties from the minimalist Phoenix to the posh Archbishop's Mansion.
If you want to stay in the heart of San Francisco?s historical gay center, check into the Parker House, a luxury gay inn or the Inn on Castro, a more modest but well situated choice.
The W Hotel and the Palomar are excellent choices for the style conscious.
The native passion for food among San Franciscans is legendary and a true bonus for visitors who can indulge their senses at every meal. Locally sourced produce and wines from Sonoma and Napa make meals here extraordinary experiences. Don't feel silly about planning all activities around your meals. Your traveling companions will thank you for your foresight later!
Plan on dining at least one night in the Castro. You have several excellent choices including Sumi the neighborhood?s best-kept secret, serving seasonal half-French, half-Japanese fare.
C?t? Sud serving up satisfying dishes from the south of France, and next door to Cote Sud, 2223 Restaurant is very popular with local gays and lesbians. Tip: longtime customers refer to 2223 as the "no name."
One of the city's most esteemed attractions is also one of its oldest. The Ferry Building, at the foot of Market Street on the Embarcadero, was built in 1898 and one of the only things downtown to survive the 1906 quake. The Ferry Building reopened in 2003 as Ferry Building Marketplace; a foodie's heaven of amazing shops and restaurants and vendors peddling regional produce and products, organic and otherwise. It's definitely one of the highlight food experiences in the city.
San Francisco is not so much a city as a collection of small villages. A 10-minute walk will show you completely different worlds; think, for instance, of the distinctions between the Castro and the Mission, or Chinatown and the Financial District ? each just a short walk from the other. This is part of what makes the city so charming to visitors and makes you want to come back time and again.
By all means, no gay visit would be complete without a visit to the Castro. Though you?ll see more and more straight couples with baby carriages, a stroll through this area is enough to warm the heart of gay and lesbian visitors. The Castro Theatre is the area's most cherished landmark, site of the annual SF Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. At night, patrons from bars and restaurants spill out onto the street.
A walking tour called Cruisin? the Castro offers a historical perspective on how the gay community took root in San Francisco from the Gold Rush to the present.
But get out of the ghetto to explore San Francisco?s many other neighborhoods such as the Mission, Haight-Ashbury, SoMa (the area south of Market), Chinatown, Japantown and the fancy Nob Hill.
Culture, art and science lovers will relish all the exciting museums available for exploration. The stunning new California Academy of Sciences is an eco-friendly marvel. Its location in Golden Gate Park make it an ideal starting point for an exploration of this urban oasis. Speaking of architecture, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or SFMoMa, is known almost as much for its design as for its collection but definitely stop in to check it out.
Local San Franciscans often complain about their limited bar and club options, but for tourists, there will be plenty to keep you busy. The options change literally on a daily basis, as many bars are popular on only one or two nights a week, and most of the clubs are single-night-of-the-week affairs. Check out some of our favorite spaces but also be sure to check the local bar magaznes for up-to-the-minute listings.
The Castro has a fun assortment of tried-and-true night spots, including the Bar on Castro, really hopping on weekends, the Caf?, which is a vibrant dance club popular with both gay women and men, the Midnight Sun, the popular video bar. For a pre- or post-dinner drink, head to the Pilsner Inn, a tiny hole in the wall that gets packed. Women love Mecca especially on Thursday which is ladies night.
San Francisco has a wide range of shopping opportunities, and some great one-of-a-kind stores. Union Square is the most famous shopping district, home to Macy's, Saks, Neiman Marcus, and a host of other world-class designer stores. Embarcadero Center has a broad selection of upscale boutiques. It's seldom crowded, even around Christmas. San Francisco Shopping Centre on Market Street at Fifth Street is home to Nordstrom and lots of small, upscale mall-type shops, but is most notable for its curved escalators. The Castro is home to many gay-specific stores selling clothes, cards, gifts, and more rainbow merchandise than anyone ever dreamed of. Even with the predictable "Gay Mart" merchandise, you'll still find lots of unusual objects to take home.
Not to be confused with Union Square, Union Street is yuppie boutique heaven, with the sky-high prices you might expect. Fillmore Street (between Jackson and Ellis) has similar stores but lower prices. Upper Sacramento (between Divisadero and Spruce) is quaint, cozy, and still very exclusive. Valencia Street (between 16th and 24th) in the Mission district and 24th Street (between Church and Castro) in Noe Valley are both chock-a-block with boutiques and corner stores, with merchandise ranging from vintage clothing to Mexican crafts. Funkier merchandise can be found in North Beach on Grant Avenue (between Columbus and Filbert) and in the Haight.
Gay book lovers should make a pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore, in North Beach, which has been in business since the mid-1950s, when it was popularized by Beat poets and writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Get Lost on Market is the place for travel books, gadgets, and luggage.
If San Francisco is a great place to live, it's a possibly even more compelling place to visit. Consistently voted as the top gay American city by OutTraveler.com members, San Francisco is the perfect place for a truly sublime vacation.