It’s easy to leave your heart in San Francisco. Whether you are a native or a visitor, she just grabs you and doesn’t let you go in the best possible way. She knows how to show you a good time, from her rollercoaster hills and Pacific Ocean waves to the mysterious fog that rolls in through the Golden Gate Bridge and the rattle and shake of just a little earthquake. Beneath the warm sun and the fresh bay breeze, the natural beauty simply sparkles.
And she’s always reinventing herself. Don’t let the new wave of techie chic fool you. San Francisco hasn’t lost her hippy chick vibe or sex-positive and pushing-the-boundaries style. She’s just doing it in a whole new way.
The only question, when it comes to what to do and where to go in San Francisco: What’s your flavor? The Castro, which became the historic gayborhood once Harvey Milk came to town and transformed it into the epicenter of the gay revolution, now features rainbow crosswalks and plaques in the sidewalks honoring queer leaders of bygone eras. The Tenderloin neighborhood, along Polk Street, used to be the gayborhood a long, long time ago. It remains home to the transgender community. The hipster Mission District, formerly the working class Latin and “lesbihood,” is filled with funky boutiques, craft coffee shops, and trendy bars catering to the techies. Potrero Hill is where to find indie live music. Beatnik North Beach can give you a taste of Italy or a sexy evening on the town at its strip clubs. Flower child grunge of the Age of Aquarius still rules the Haight. Upscale boutiques and eateries can be found in tiny Marina and family-friendly Noe Valley. If you desire something casual, with a global melting pot flavor, the Richmond District has it all: culture, food, and the great outdoors (I admit, I’m a bit biased. This is my ‘hood’). Each area has its charm and queers are everywhere in San Francisco; we’ve left the gay ghetto.
Summer is a great time to hit northern California, so let San Francisco’s va-va-voom woo you now. If you’re planning on visiting, here’s how to live it up like this local boom town gal in the City by the Bay.
Sexy Between the Sheets
Get a taste of San Francisco’s wild and sexy days by staying at the recently opened Hotel Zeppelin (545 Post Street, 415-563-0303, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com, $$) or be a diva at Hotel Diva (440 Geary Street, 415-885-0200, hoteldiva.com, $$) in San Francisco’s Theater District, bordering the Tenderloin and Union Square.
Sleep like a rock star (these are favorite hotels of the celebrities and rock stars) at the Hotel Triton (342 Grant Avenue, 415-394-0500, hoteltriton.com, $$$) in Union Square at the entryway into Chinatown and footsteps from the Financial District, or the Phoenix Hotel (601 Eddy Street, 415-776-1380, jdvhotels.com, $$) located in the Tenderloin near the Civic Center. The Phoenix is one of the few hotels in the city that has an outdoor pool, and the place is TAG-approved.
The Fairmont San Francisco (950 Mason Street, 415-772-5000, fairmont.com, $$$) is a classic way to stay in the city. Perched on top of Nob Hill you can get a room with a view of San Francisco and the bay. Feel like a princess riding up to the hotel on the Powell Street or California Street cable cars after a day of exploring the city. The famed hotel is simple sophisticated luxury at its best.
Central and popular, the Hotel Whitcomb (1231 Market Street, 415-626-8000, hotelwhitcomb.com, $) offers comfort and style without breaking the bank. Located in the Civic Center, it is steps away from public transit, allowing travelers to get to any part of the city they want to explore or across the bay fast.
Welcome to the Gayborhood
No trip would be complete without visiting the Castro, so make it your first stop after checking into your hotel.
The Rainbow Flag flies high in the sky above the Castro Street MUNI Station and Harvey Milk Plaza, greeting guests as they surface from the underground. But that’s not the gayest corner in the city. You will have to walk up a block to 18th and Castro where the crosswalk is painted in the colors of the rainbow. There’s always something going on: activists advocating for a cause or an election campaign, a makeshift memorial, adopt-a-pet, or drag queens putting on a show.
Walking down Castro Street you will notice the bronze placards of famous queer people throughout history. Stop for a moment and check out Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Jane Addams and many more along the main drag and some of the side streets. You can continue your stroll through the Castro, which stretches from Upper Market all the way down to Dolores Street and from Duboce to 20th Streets, to check out the shopping, restaurants, cafes and a lot of eye candy—mostly for the boys, admittedly, but still a lot of fun.
Queer women are, however, making their mark in the Castro and opening up more cafes and shops (noted below). Also worth a stop: the San Francisco LGBT Center (1800 Market Street, 415-865-5555, sfcenter.org), which is led by out lesbian Rebecca Rolfe.
Next to the Castro is the Mission District where you will find lesbian-owned Dolores Park Cafe (501 Dolores Street, 415-621-2936, doloresparkcafe.com, $). Located at the corner of 18th and Dolores Streets, the popular food-and-drink spot is across from Dolores Park, where the Dyke March kicks off every Saturday before San Francisco Pride, the last weekend of June. Just down the street is the colorful Women’s Building (3543 18th Street, 415-431-1180, womensbuilding.org) with its murals honoring indigenous women.
Shop, dine and party on Valencia Street and don’t forget to stop in at the iconic Good Vibrations (603 Valencia Street, 415-503-9522, goodvibes.com), the famed women-centric sex store that is the mother of all that came after her in the U.S. You can stop here, or check out other locations on Mission and Polk Streets and in the East and South Bay.
There are so many places to eat and so little room in your belly! But we are here to help you navigate San Francisco’s flourishing culinary scene, flush with great restaurants and local favorites.
I’m a brunch girl. I love brunch. It’s the perfect way to relax and catch up with friends over the best meal of the day (so the experts say). San Francisco has some great breakfast and brunch spots. So, get your day started right with these morning delights.
Lesbian-owned Brenda’s: French Soul Food (652 Polk Street, 415-345-8100, frenchsoulfood.com, $$) can turn any girl gay for a day or for a couple of hours at least with its New Orleans style beignets and down-home good Southern cooking. This place is always hopping, so expect to wait an hour in line unless you are an early-bird.
Grab a seat at Café Flore (2298 Market Street, 415-621-8579, cafeflore.com, $$) and cruise the cute girls walking by on Market Street in the Castro. This café is an institution in the gayborhood and a favorite for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays or breakfast during the other days of the week.
The Mission Rock (817 Terry A Francois Boulevard, 415-701-7625, missionrockresort.com, $$$) serves up oysters and a variety of brunch favorites spanning the tastes of crunchy granola California, the Southwest, the Rocky Mountains and Europe. It’s eclectic and delicious, and has a gorgeous view of the bay in the Dogpatch neighborhood.
The Lunch Bunch
A couple of my favorite lunchtime go-tos around the city are centered in the Castro and the Mission.
Touted as one of the best sandwich shops in the city, Ike’s Place (3489 16th Street, 415-553-6888, ilikeikesplace.com, $$) is the kind of place where a line out the door is well worth the wait. You won’t regret it when you bite into these unique sandwiches.
Pizza Orgasmica & Brewing Company (two locations, pizzaorgasmica.com, $$$) is habit-forming and the names of the pizzas, like Menage A Trois and Doggie Style, are fantasy-inducing. Award-winning Mexican restaurant Pancho Villa Taqueria (3071 16th Street, 415-864-8840, sfpanchovilla.com, $) serves up award-winning traditional fare with flavor. There’s usually a line at this place, but don’t let the crowds scare you. Before you know it, you’ll be sinking your teeth into a delicious burrito.
Wine & Dine
For dinner and dancing, you can’t beat a cheeky night out at AsiaSF (201 9th Street, 415-255-2742, asiasf.com, $$$$). The wait staff, some of whom were featured in a docu-series, “Transcendent,” perform in a cabaret show on the bar while you dine on a four-course meal. After dinner, head downstairs where you work it all off in the basement nightclub. The servers flirt up a storm no matter what gender you are, so be prepared to have a great time. Reservations required.
The Heirloom Café (2500 Folsom Street, 415-821-2500, heirloom-sf.com, $$$) is a California-Mediterranean inspired farm-to-table experience that only serves dinner. The small menu is constantly changing and everything is made fresh. Choose from family style tables to make new friends or have a more intimate experience at a table for two.
Lesbians in San Francisco seriously love coffee and community. The City by the Bay is home to three lesbian-owned cafes that are deeply into craft coffee and espresso with a little twist of social responsibility.
Lesbian-owned Equator Coffees & Teas (986 Market Street, 415-614-9129, equatorcoffees.com/warfield, $) opened its first San Francisco location a year ago in Central Market. The award-wining coffee roaster and café is owned by Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell, a dynamic duo in business and life, who create jobs and give back to the communities they work in by building quality housing for migrant farmers.
In addition to Dolores Park Café and its sister, Duboce Park Café (2 Sanchez Street, 415-621-1108, duboceparkcafe.com, $), the latest brew spot on the scene is Wildcraft Espresso Bar (2299 Market Street, 415-400-5036, wildcraftcoffee.com, $). Rachel Herbert, who owns the park cafes, and Theresa Beaumont, who owns Wildcraft, are artists supporting other artists with their Castro-centered coffee shops. These casual eateries have become a hub of community activity supporting literati and musicians as well as community activists and softball girls, making that first cup of joe of the day even better.
What’s Your Flavor?
Whatever your interests, San Francisco has what you are looking for.
Fun in the Sun
Sunshine, good surf, biking and hiking trails within the city limits; 500-miles of trails throughout the Bay Area accessible by public transit; six high quality pubic golf courses; and so much more make San Francisco a haven for outdoor adventurers and sporty girls (a.k.a. a high percentage of lesbians). Just head to Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Land’s End or any number of sports fields on Saturday or Sunday, and there they are in all their sweat and glory.
Shop Till You Drop
Depending on your style you can shop at high-end stores and boutiques from Union Square to Union Street. Looking for something only in San Francisco? Check out some of the boutiques and small shops along lower and upper Haight Street, 24th Street in Noe Valley, or small shops in the Castro. There, you can satisfy your sweet tooth at lesbian-owned candy shop Giddy (2299 Market Street, B, 415-857-4198, giddycandy.com).
Give your skin a special treatment by lesbian-owned Skin on Market (2299 Market Street, 415-875-7546, skinonmarket.com) in the Castro and enjoy a massage at lesbian-owned In-Symmetry Wellness Spa (650 Florida Street, 415-875-9020, insymmetry.com) in the Mission.
Party Hearty Day & Night
San Francisco’s queer girls play hard and party harder; it’s just another way girls work up a sweat in this town. Since the last official lesbian bar, the Lexington Club, closed last year, there isn’t a regular place to hang in the Central Mission, but there’s still El Rio (3158 Mission Street, 415-282-3325, elriosf.com) in the Outer Mission. It’s the site of some of the city’s hottest lesbian parties, comedy and other events for the queer girls. And there’s Wild Side West (424 Cortland Avenue, 415-647-3099, wildsidewest.com) in Bernal Heights, also known as “Amazon Hill.” Lila Thirkield, who owned the Lexington Club, opened the Outer Mission’s Virgil’s Sea Room (3152 Mission Street, 415-829-2233, facebook.com/virgilssf) with some business partners following its closure. These lesbian-owned neighborhood watering holes sport gardens and grills, and women flock to them, especially El Rio.
Lesbians looking for a little more action have a choice of tea dances or late-night parties several days a week, inside and outside. These clubs play the beats that make you get your groove on the dance floor. Just pick your beat from hip-hop, club anthems, Top 40 hits, EDM, alternative rock, Bhangra and more.
The Castro gets taken over by the girls every Tuesday and Wednesday, 9pm–2am, at 13Licks at QBar (456 Castro Street, 415-864-2877, qbarsf.com/13licks) and Pussy Party at Beaux (2344 Market Street, beauxsf.com), respectively. Get down to your favorite dance hits at either one of these all-girl parties.
The fun continues on the weekends with club nights around the city. Every first Saturday, hip-hop lovers head to Swagger Like Us at El Rio (3158 Mission Street, 415-282-3325, elriosf.com) from 2–8pm.
A decade strong, Cockblock at the Rickshaw Stop (155 Fell Street, 415-861-2011, cockblocksf.com) is the original girl party produced by Jolene Linsangan and it is still one of the hottest queer girl clubs in San Francisco. Hundreds of girls come out every second Saturday to rock out to indie hits being spun in the DJ booth.
The latest party, Bad Habits at Bruno’s (2389 Mission Street, 415-643-5200, brunossf.com), produced by Party XO Productions, brings lesbians back to the Central Mission every third Thursday to dance, drink and simply have a ball.
Another favorite, UHAUL SF at Beat Box (314 11th Street, 415-500-2675, uhaulsf.com) makes a winking play on lesbian hookups. It’s also produced by Linsangan (Cockblock, Cotton Pony) and brings out the girls with a mix of hip-hop, house beats, electro and mashups every third Friday.
The Gold Star at the Lone Star Saloon (1354 Harrison Street, 415-863-9999, lonestarsf.com), produced by the She Said (shesaidsf.com) girls, gets the ladies pumped up with the latest dance hits every third Saturday, 2–7pm.
The original lesbian tea dance party in San Francisco, Mango at El Rio (3158 Mission Street, 415-282-3325, facebook.com/mangosf), gets the girls grooving to dancehall, hip-hop, and Latin beats while enjoying BBQ under the warm weekend sun every fourth Saturday of the month from 2–8pm. This is the place to really hang out with your friends and have a good time.
Also at El Rio, Hard French at El Rio (3158 Mission Street, 415-282-3325, hardfrench.com) is a packed, monthly outdoor soul music dance party. Every first Saturday, this event brings a fresh perspective to the SF part scene. Their focus: the value of dancing your heart out. With an eclectic queer crowd and an early start time giving you more time to party, Hard is considered one of the hottest tickets in town. The free BBQ alone is worth getting up before dusk on a Saturday.
Still want to get your groove on? Head across town to the Inner Richmond for Cotton Pony SF at the Neck of The Woods (406 Clement Street, 415-387-6343, facebook.com/cottonponysf), another creation by Linsangan, it’s the place where indie girls can dance until they drop every fourth Saturday, 10pm–2am.
If live music is your groove thang, head out to Potrero Hill, home to 4 Non Blondes former front woman Linda Perry’s indie music haunt Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th Street, 415-626-4455, bottomofthehill.com), where you might catch Perry and her wife, “The Talk” co-host Sara Gilbert. Or check out the vibes at neighboring lesbian-owned Thee Parkside (1600 17th Street, theeparkside.com). Both venues give space to queer bands, along with some of the hottest up-and-coming bands swinging through town and those who call San Francisco home.
Network Like the Power Lesbian You Are
Nightlife not your thing? There are plenty of other ways to meet like-minded folks and learn about local happenings.
Newbies to San Francisco and those returning to the city after being away for a while can find new friends at The Welcoming Committee San Francisco (us.thewelcomingcommittee.com/san-francisco). The social group hosts a variety of great events and meet-ups like mixers and hiking day trips to help break the ice.
Make friends and meet the influencers at the hottest roaming lesbian mixer Lesbians Who Tech (lesbianswhotech.org), which attracts upward of 200 lesbians monthly to connect.
The Bay Area Reporter (ebar.com) is the San Francisco Bay Area’s LGBTQ newspaper and officially the nation’s longest running weekly queer newspaper at 45 years strong. Also check out the other local queer pub, the San Francisco Bay Times (sfbaytimes.com).
HER (weareher.com) is an app just for lesbians to meet other lesbians and delivers it all directly to your to your smartphone.
Heather Cassell is the publisher and editor of GirlsThatRoam.com, a women’s online travel magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Bay Area Reporter and other publications. Cassell was also honored as one of GO magazine’s “100 Women We Love” in 2014.
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