Gay San Francisco Guide: The Essential Guide To Gay Travel In San Francisco California 2019
Pack your glitter, leather chaps, and maybe a coat, jettison your inhibition and get ready for the one and only fabulously Gay San Francisco. Hindus have Varanasi, Catholic have the Vatican and Muslims have Mecca but honey, we won the jackpot with San Francisco as our own queer holy land!
Yes child, this iconic liberal city has been for decades a forerunner of LGBT right, being the first city in the US to legalize gay marriage and was home to the country’s first openly gay elected official (Harvey Milk). Not only that but San Francisco has one of the world’s best Pride Parades, hosts more fetish events and bars than we could count and is infused with queer free-spirit and only-in-SF outlandish antics. It was even the birthplace of the rainbow flag!
In San Francisco, you are truly welcomed as you are, permanently granted the right to be as outlandish and stunning as you want thanks to its rich counterculture history and public embrace of LGBTQ culture. While the queer community is welcome across the entire city, the epicenter of gay life here is undoubtedly the Castro, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States, which still remains a symbol of LGBT activism and events the world over.
Much like the Manchester’s Canal Street, Le Marais in Paris and Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighborhood, at times it can seem the LGBT community here far outnumbers their hetero-counterparts leading to the unusual position of many venues declaring themselves straight-friendly. It’s fair to say we are absolutely living for it and can testify that the queer vibes and come-as-your-fabulous-self spirit here that touches your soul with warmth and tempts you to never leave.
But leave you should! At least to explore the rest of wonderful San Francisco, with its wealth of historical attractions, miles of gorgeous coastline, unique neighborhoods, revitalized downtown, and marvelous dining experiences. And that without even talking about the secondary gay scene around Folsom Street in SoMa (South of Market).
Sure it might be becoming a haven for ultra-wealthy tech elite as is facing huge issues of income inequality, but at its core, this is a city still ruled by love and fuelled by diversity. Read on to discover why even today San Francisco is still the world’s gay mecca…
Gay San Francisco Guide: The Essential Guide To Gay Travel In San Francisco California 2019
In this world-class city famed for its queer community and liberal outlook, you can bet there are going to be plenty of gay attractions here – by day or by night. Beach days, hiking and cycling are also popular, as is dining, exploring the wonderful arts scene of San Francisco or just heading the Castro for some of the world’s best people watching.
If you plan to get a lot done car hire in San Francisco is a very affordable option and popular to see more far-flung attractions such as the vineyards and Redwoods. This is America after all and the car is king. But if you just want to explore the Castro gaybourhood, downtown and a few other places – public transport and rideshare apps should be sufficient.
Naturally being gay does not define which attractions most of us will want to see in each destination and most queer travelers will simply want to check out the top things to see in San Francisco during the day! We found our favorite memories were exploring the kinkier side of San Fransisco with the Folsom Street Festival, dancing till dawn with our queer family, or just laying out on the gay beach during one of the rare sunny days.
However, if you’re someone who can’t sit still, we have put together a few of our other things to do in this gay paradise that are sure to keep you busy!
Top Highlights Of Gay San Francisco
San Francisco Love Tour – Hop on a ‘70s-era VW bus and get to know the hippie past and hipster vibe that makeup San Francisco today. Starting and ending at Fisherman’s Wharf, this 2-hour sightseeing tour takes you around the city, including Chinatown, North Beach, the Castro, the Mission, downtown and more. See the homes of The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, while listening to ‘60s classics. So settle into a neon-blue seat and dig your shoes into groovy shag carpet. Each bus accommodates up to just six people.
AsiaSF – A Bay Area must-see, AsiaSF presents nightly cabaret shows with a truly diverse team of servers and performers. Enjoy mouthwatering dinners from their superb Cal-Asian menu, alongside fun cocktails, as you get to know the transgender Ladies of AsiaSF. Opt either for the set menu or just pop into the bar for a drink to watch the nightly shows.
Little Italy and North Beach Walking Tour – If you fancy yourself a foodie or culture enthusiast, don’t miss this walking tour of San Francisco’s Little Italy—the neighborhood of North Beach. Voted one of the 15 best foodie tours in the USA by U.S. News, join an insider guide and experience a slice of the top things to do in North Beach, such as tasting coffee and witnessing bread being freshly made. Soak up the lively atmosphere of one of the city’s most popular districts as you learn about its cafes and bakeries and see landmarks like Saints Peter and Paul Church.
San Francisco Chinatown – Dive deep into one of San Francisco’s most historic neighborhoods and discover its many delights with everything from paper lanterns to medicinal herbs to a fortune cookie factory, a Buddhist temple. For the full experience don’t leave without a lunch of dim sum and before discovering a new vegetable you have never seen before. Buzzing with energy, it’s rare to find somewhere this great without actually going to Shanghai, Macau or Hong Kong.
Napa and Sonoma Wine Tour – Head to Napa Valley and Sonoma, which are famous for their wines, where you can observe firsthand techniques for winemaking. Enjoy 3 tastings for free while visiting some of the best wineries in California on this tour – or just hire a car and do it yourself…If you can convince someone to sober drive!
Yosemite Day Trip – Visit this world-famous National Park on this day trip from San Francisco. Upon arrival in the state’s most famous national park have lunch or skip straight to the park to begin exploring. Follow your guide on a walking tour of the area or discover the park’s charms on your own during your 4-hour stay. Or hire a car if you want more time and to have a driver’s seat view as you admire the views on a scenic drive through the Great Central Valley of California
Hamburger Marys – Eat, drink and be, well Mary at this LGBT+ popular bar & grill chain renown for serving diner classics and strong drinks alongside drag shows and brunches. You can find dotted around gay hubs in North America such including Orlando and Chicago or closer in Las Vegas, Long Beach, and West Hollywood.
Dolores Park – Not quite a gay beach, but a sublime piece of real estate in the southwest corner has been co-opted by the gays are locally referred to as ‘the fruit shelf’. If nothing else there are stunning views of the city, but why not stay a while and see who you meet.
San Francisco Vista Grande Helicopter Tour – Fly in a helicopter over San Francisco’s most famous landmarks on this 30-minute tour. Fly over some of the city’s neighborhoods, then head for Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge. Continue towards Sausalito, Tiburon, Angel Island and the Marin Headlands while you enjoy choreographed musical accompaniment and informative commentary from your expert pilot.
Kabuki Springs & Spa – An oasis of serenity in the heart of San Francisco, providing massage therapy, botanical facials, and other spa treatments. There is something magical about the male energy here, without sexual pressure, where you can admire the physique of men in a completely new way. Seriously boys, no touching!
Hot Cookie – Looking for the most delicious cookies, brownies and treats in San Francisco? Established in 1997, Hot Cookie is a Castro icon – famous for their large selection of freshly baked chewy cookies, the notorious Penis and Venus cookies, and an erotic wall of hot customers posing in their signature Hot Cookie underwear. Such fun!
Go San Francisco Card – Experience San Francisco’s best attractions without the hassle of waiting in line to pay for your ticket. Pick from over 20 available attractions and schedule where you want to go at your own pace. Take the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours or visit the Museum of Modern Art, and many more!
San Francisco LGBT Center – A nonprofit organization serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population of San Francisco. The LGBT Center is not just the bright purple building that catches your eye at 1800 Market Street, it is a focal point for the LGBT community of San Francisco, where individuals who need resources, support, or a safe space to gather, can find comfort and celebration. When visitors arrive at the Center, they find free services like career counseling, job fairs, computer lab, social activities, mentorships, youth meals, daycare, various workshops and much more. Here they can connect with other LGBT people and organize to secure our equal rights. The Center is truly the heart, home and hands of the San Francisco LGBT community.
Does Your Mother Know – The Castro’s largest adult gift store has the best collections of lubricant’s, toys, and novelties. Stocking products for both men and women, our mother would clutch her pearls if she knew how much ended up spending here… You could also try Rock Hard or Body if you are after something specific.
San Francisco Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise – Explore the famous San Francisco landmarks with this 90-minute cruise under the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland Bridge. Short, sweet and simple, this is one of the world’s most beautiful harbors – up there with Sydney, Auckland, and Copenhagen – so you won’t want to miss it!
Fitness SF, Market Street – There is no gay gym in San Francisco but this two-level gym is quintessentially queer and easily accessed being in the heart of the Castro. Expect lines for equipment at peak times, plenty of peacocking and rather cruisy showers.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art -Explore 7 floors of extraordinary art, including world-class exhibitions including Warhol lithographs, Jackson Pollock splatters and other modern masterpieces including the largest living wall in the U.S.
Alcatraz Island – Discover what was once a top security prison, and is now an abandoned building rushed by tourists daily. Learn about the stories of the escape attempts of Alcatraz prisoners like Al Capone and Billy Cook the Killer, in what is likely the worlds most infamous jail.
Baker Beach – Not an official gay beach in San Francisco, but this popular spot on the southwest side of the Presidio offers views of Golden Gate and well, plenty of action. The northern end of Baker, and the adjacent beach – Marshalls – draws large crowds of gays and nudists when the sun is out – but don’t get caught with your pants down as it is not technically allowed.
Frameline: The San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (June) – One of the world’s biggest queer film festivals offering a more cultured gay event than your normal fetish festival or circuit part. Frameline’s integrated programs provide critical support for emerging LGBTQ+ filmmakers by creating an international stage for the world’s best LGBT cinema. Book far in advance as many screening and events sell out fast.
Fresh Meat Festival (June) – One of the world’s most celebrated trans & queer performance festivals featuring anything and everything: a transgender superhero rock opera, world champion gay ballroom, award-winning queer disabled dance pioneers, gender-bending dance-theater, trans comedy and more. Absolutely world-class and aiming for total inclusivity, each year is different but you can trust it will be edgy and exquisite, bold and beautiful, and showcasing creative defiance and joy with extraordinary dance, theatre, live music and a cornucopia of regional and world premieres!
Castro Street Fair (October) – A magnificent community street celebration that was founded by Harvey Milk in 1974. Hundreds of local artists, vendors, craftspeople, and organizations line the streets and celebrate the diversity of the neighborhood. Stages with live entertainment and dance stages can be found throughout the fairgrounds – just when we thought the Castro could not get any queerer, this happens…
San Francisco Pride (June) – Celebrate diversity and inclusion in San Fran with community resources, booths, crowds and live entertainment with a two day giant LGBT party. As part of the wider festival, there is everything from inspiring speeches delivered by recognized LGBTQ leaders, to a rally, Pride run, club nights, festival and, of course, the main Parade that is among the largest in the United States, attracting over 100,000 cheering supporters of the LGBTQ community. If you are able to plan your trip to Gay San Francisco around Pride, you will absolutely not regret doing so!
Up Your Alley Street Fair (July) – The dirty brother of Folsom Street Fair where leather daddies rule the streets of San Francisco’s SoMa district, this is not for the faint of heart. If rubber, sportswear, biker gear, skinheads, punks, or any variety of built, hairy men turns you on, you can trust you will find it here. You won’t find a filthier event in the States. If you’re into it, there’s a scene for you with at Up Your Alley where nearly 15,000 fellow leather men and fetish enthusiasts engage in BDSM play at over 50 adult vendor spaces! Spanking, punching, whips and floggers, bondage, domination and submission, creative watersports, toys and so much more are in full effect.
Folsom Street Fair (September) – Simply put, the world’s biggest leather festival. If you haven’t heard of this ‘only in San Francisco’ event, we are just going to assume you have been hiding under a rock for a few decades! With 250,000 fetish enthusiasts spread out over 13 city blocks, there is something for everyone. Spread out over 13 city blocks from the historic Folsom Street, 250,000 leather and fetish enthusiasts from all over the world converge here annually. With over 200 exhibitor booths showcasing fetish gear and toys, it’s a pig’s dream. Check out the massive live stage with top-name indie, electronic and alternative acts, the huge dance area spinning the best of the international party scene, live BDSM demos, and a sick and twisted performance stage. And, yes, you can still be naked!
Gay-friendly and Gay Hotels in San Francisco
In this glorious and extremely liberal city, you will not find any major hotel accommodation that isn’t gay-friendly.
After all being gay-friendly is about providing a non-judgmental and respectful environment in which all people are treated equally. In saying that, elegant design, helpful staff, and excellent value for money never hurt anyone. Some hotels in San Francisco have also gone above and beyond in recognizing and marketing to the LGBT community and given their popularity with gay travelers we would say it has paid off!
Everybody likes to be surrounded by people with common interests and as such there a few hotels in San Francisco favored by gay travelers – although to be clear there are no exclusively gay hotels in San Francisco sadly.
If you want large, well-appointed hotels with luxe amenities then options close to the SoMa gay scene will appeal to you. Out in the Castro or the other nearby gay-popular neighborhoods like the Noe Valley and the Mission District, it is all about budget-chic B&Bs (often gay-owned) or one fabulously queer motor-lodge.
The following gay-friendly hotels in San Francisco are only the most recommended, but there are hundreds of other hotels in San Francisco if you don’t find quite find what you are looking for. We have tried to include a few budget options to consider as well as a stay in this city does not come cheap…Whether you want a fun and social hostel, a cheap but private place to crash after a night of partying or a chic luxury option to sip cocktails surrounded by fashionable people, Gay San Francisco as something for everyone!
Gay-Popular Hotels In The Castro District
Beck Motor Lodge ☆☆☆ – An extremely LGBT popular hotel options close to all the fabulous highlights of the Castro. Whether you’re on a business trip or a relaxing vacation, straight or LGBTQ, Beck’s Motor Lodge welcomes you to San Francisco. Boasting revitalizing guestrooms, helpful staff and unrivaled locale Becks has transformed from a humble motor lodge to a vibrant hub for all visitors looking for adventure in a diverse, dynamic city. There are some awesome amenities on offer including free parking (practically unheard of in San Francisco), an elevator (another rare bonus), a rooftop sundeck (great for fog watching) and plenty of other delights such as wall mounted fireplaces and tub showers. Affordable, fun and slightly alternative (they have beehives on the roof…), Becks is the one of the most popular hotel booked by gay travelers to San Fran.
Noe’s Nest Bed and Breakfast ☆☆☆ – A charming bed and breakfast nestled between San Francisco’s Noe Valley and the Mission District, in the heart of the city. Guests here can enjoy special amenities like a plentiful breakfast buffet, designer bathrooms with spa tub or shower, colorful garden area, views of the city, complimentary Wi-Fi, and convenient access to public transportation. Charming, comfortable, and with delightfully eclectic details this is a gay-popular stay that is truly unique.
Parker Guest House ☆☆☆ – A wonderfully unique 21 room B&B located near San Francisco’s vibrant Castro, Mission and Noe Valley neighborhoods and just steps away from endless restaurants, pubs, parks, and the Muni Metro. LGBT-popular, this distinctive little hideaway offers all newly renovated with private baths (in most rooms), extended continental breakfast, complimentary wine social and free WIFI. There is also a communal front parlor, with a library and fireplace, giving you those homely creature comforts, and a sunroom, with extensive outdoor decks and gardens – all perfect for socializing with other guests and making new friends. Just wonderful.
Inn on Castro ☆☆☆ – A stay in this wonderfully restored Edwardian building – the only bed & breakfast Inn at Castro and Market Streets – affords an incomparable way to experience San Francisco’s charming queer community. Stunningly decorated with contemporary furnishings, this beautiful B&B has large individual bedrooms which are warm, inviting and brightly accented with original paintings. Large bouquets of fresh flowers are abundant throughout the Inn. The cozy living room, with its fireplace and deeply tufted Italian module seating, is a marvelous place to unwind — just great to curl up with a good book and enjoy a brandy, compliments of your hosts. Gay-owned, you are also served a delicious full breakfast in the dining room daily, where you can get to know other LGtravelersers who make up the majority of the guests staying here.
Nineteen 06 Mission ☆☆☆ – Great value for money in an otherwise very expensive city, we loved the excellent customer service and amazing room quality even if the location was a 19-minute walk to the Castro. Offering a daily continental breakfast, this San Francisco B&B also features modern, environmentally conscious design included energy efficient lighting, re-purposed building materials and free organic toiletries which we loved. Super clean with a beautiful, simple design – reminiscent of beautiful Nordic simplicity alaOslo, Bergen or Helsinki – the Nineteen 06 Mission is a fabulous gay-friendly budget option.
Gay-Popular Hotels Near The SoMa Gay Scene
InterContinental San Francisco ☆☆☆☆☆ – A graceful tower of translucent cool-blue, soaring 32 stories above the vibrant South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood of San Francisco, this is one luxury gay hotel that offers an unparallel location with effortless beauty and class. The hotel has an intimate footprint with no more than 22 guest rooms per floor. Rooms are elegantly appointed with rich wood and marble, striking contemporary art, sleek, stylish furniture, and the latest high-tech amenities. All of this is enhanced by floor-to-ceiling windows through which spectacular city and bay views add to a wondrous experience in San Francisco. Establishing new standards for design, luxury, amenities, and commitment to guest satisfaction, the InterContinental San Francisco hotel also features a state-of-the-art fitness center and indoor heated lap-pool.
Axiom Hotel ☆☆☆☆ – A LGBT-friendly hotel located at the nexus of San Francisco’s historic Union Square and the innovative SoMa district, or where history meets the digital age. This pet-friendly boutique guestrooms welcome those who desire a digital lifestyle delivered through seamless technology and elevated guest service. Housed in a century-old San Francisco building infusing classic architecture with electric modern design the spacious accommodations are comfortable, functional, and modern – designed for the upward movers and forward thinkers. Rooms feature contemporary furnishings inspired by global modern design houses, minimalist lighting that creates a soft ambiance, and state-of-the-art amenities like large smart TVs, Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone docking stations, and complimentary lightning fast fiber optic Internet access.
Hotel Zelos San Francisco ☆☆☆☆ – A hip and oh-so-sophisticated hotel just steps from Union Square and all the gram-worthy attractions that will surely make your visit to Gay SF unforgettable. And after a long day of exploration, retreat to their award-winning craft-cocktail enclave to sip and savor the seasonally inspired small-plate and beverage menu, or take advance of complimentary perks such as an intimate evening wine hour and free bike rentals. Or just slip away to your lush suite to relax and bask in the natural light on 400-thread count sheets, with stellar views, soaking tubs and designer toiletries. Yas queen, slay mama!
The Mosser Hotel ☆☆☆ – A more affordable option close to the gay nightlife of SF, the Mosser’s non-smoking guest rooms incorporate custom-designed furnishings for ingenious space-efficiency and a unique flair. Fusing historic Victorian architecture with sleek modern design, this stylish hotel provides warmth, charm, and convenience on a budget.
Hampton Inn San Francisco Downtown ☆☆☆ – Feel at home in a bright and spacious guest room at this budget San Francisco hotel near Moscone Center. Relax on the clean and comfortable bed, browse channels on the flat-screen TV and check emails with free WiFi at the ergonomic desk. Wake up to their daily free hot breakfast buffet, complete with waffles, or if you’re in a rush, grab a free on-the-go breakfast bag. An extremely popular hotel option regardless of gender or sexuality, simply because it offers impeccable quality and value in a city that oh so rarely achieved either.
Other Fabulous & Almost Gay Hotels In San Francisco
Hotel Kabuki ☆☆☆☆☆ – A luxe boutique Hotel in Japantown with easy access to some of San Francisco’s most exciting dining, shops, and sights. With an ambiance that embraces conversation, discovery and a bit of reflection, Hotel Kabuki is for the traveler who wants to experience a neighborhood, not just a visit. Following a $30 million renovation in 2018, the Hotel Kabuki delights guests with a vibrant design that fuses together the modernity of industrial details with the warmth and richness of vintage touches. The newly re-imagined guest rooms blend thoughtful touches and extra comforts with their signature flair. In the spirit of contemporary Japanese design, each hotel room celebrates form and function with modern furnishings, a soothing palette, and plush beds and linens. Oh-so-Tokyo! Not ready to sleep? Sweat it out in in the state-of-the-art Gymnasium, grab a cocktail at the trendy bar or bring your laptop and get connected at the communal table in the lobby, where it’s easy to get drawn in by the collection of art and books or just get caught up people watching.
Diva Hotel ☆☆☆ – As if the name doesn’t seel you, this budget hotel is extremely gay-popular and offers a central location, clean rooms, and friendly service. We loved the ultramodern, ultra minimalist rooms as well as the free sake hour in the evening and four lounging areas to meet friends or arrange meetings.
Staypineapple ☆☆☆☆ – It isn’t San Francisco without a little pomp and circumstance. After all, this is one of America’s great cities. But avoid the overly stuffy choices and head to Staypineapple San Francisco a jewel box charmer with pizzazz perfectly located in Union Square. Retreat into the thoughtfully designed guest rooms, each with ultra plush amenities like whisper quiet air conditioning, hardwood floors, high-definition TVs and bright décor, relax in the upscale bistro and bar or explore the city with free bike rentals. Plus, pineapples everywhere!
HI-San Francisco Downtown Hostel ☆☆ – SF can be ridiculously expensive, like some of the worst prices we have seen in the world. If you are on a strict budget and don’t mind sharing a room, many gay travelers opt for this highly-rated central hostel with free breakfast, free tours, newly updated dorm rooms and like-minded guests to meet. A budget traveler’s dream in the land of pricey hotels, don’t knock it till you have tried it!
Phoenix Hotel ☆☆☆ – Sitting at the intersection of the Tenderloin, Civic Center and Little Saigon districts, the Phoenix is an oasis amid the grit of downtown San Francisco. More legend than hip hotel, the rock n’ roll spirit of this weird and wonderful 1950’s-era motor court hotel reflects the layers of history that have unfolded here. While the Phoenix continues to be a pitstop for musicians passing through it has recently been embraced by LGBT travelers looking to have a good time in the heart of the city. Given the funky design, affordable prices and fabulous service its hardly a surprise – but there is also a lush courtyard, an art-filled pool heated to 85 degrees, a bar and restaurant + 44 beautifully redesigned guest rooms and suites. What’s not to love?
Gay Nightlife in San Francisco California
With San Francisco being one of the most gay-friendly vacation destinations in the world, you would expect an incredible gay nightlife scene – and luckily San Francisco does not disappoint.
Depending on your mood you can find anything here from a relaxed cocktail in an upscale bar to an all-night dance party surrounded by your queer family. There is also plenty of cruise/dive bars, sexy go-go boys, fabulous drag, fun events and – well, something to cater for every taste!
The Castro District and the lower SoMa district including Folsom Street are the current strongholds of queer nightlife, but there are a few exceptions here dotted around especially in Polk Street (San Francisco’s earliest gaybourhood) and in the Mission. With a vibrant – and diverse – local LGBT community and a wonderfully gay-friendly liberal populace, you can imagine distinguishing ‘gay bars’ can something difficult, which is fabulous since you know you will be welcomed as you are basically everywhere here. We just really had to limit ourselves to LGBT-majority venues otherwise this list would just never end.
Like an increasing about of places around the world, gender and orientation no longer define nightlife, but we are still partial to fabulous drag shows, sexy go-go boys, cruisy bars and being surrounded by our rainbow family. This is what we have focussed on here.
Be safe, have fun and don’t forget to check the venue that speaks to you is still open before you head out. We try to keep up, but gays are so fickle and places pop up and shut down here faster than we can keep a track of.
Gay Clubs & Bars In The Castro District
The Café – Don’t let the name fool you, this epic gay nightclub is perfect for dancing the night away with vivacious queers and talented DJs. The Café has been a staple of the Castro night scene for years, and now with its recent renovations, has become one of the most unique venues in San Francisco, let alone the Castro. There are three bars, a massive dance floor with fun LED ‘dance-grid’, State-of-the-art sound and lighting system and even an open-air patio with a retractable glass skylight. Open every night except Mondays with a wide range of themed events every week.
Blackbird – A modern-cocktail bar infused with rustic details that is our go-to choice for sexy, craft cocktails in the Castro. Head down for the popular happy hour with mood lighting and sophisticated décor that welcomes a mixed crowd. Blackbird is so cool, that they can be cursed with overcrowded, so we recommend starting early here to enjoy the no pretense vibe before heading on…
Pilsner Inn – Since 1980, Pilsner Inn has been entertaining and quenching the thirsts of San Francisco’s gay (and straight!) community. A fun and socially sports bar which boasts over 30 draft beers on tap, a sunny garden patio, and loyal patrons. Enjoy your libations while cheering on a game inside or grab a window seat to just watch the world go by. Casual and welcoming, this mainstay of the local gay scene is never a bad option.
Lookout Bar – A gay bar, restaurant, and nightclub at 16th St. and Market well-known as a local hangout for cheap drinks, fun DJs and day drinking on their wraparound balcony. Seriously the people watching here over the vibrant Castro multi-intersection is half the draw, but their weekly Saturday drag brunch and late-night parties are also pretty magnificent. Often voted the Castro’s best gay bar – but for us, each has something special to offer so why only sample one…
Last Call – A cozy, low-key neighborhood gay bar with lots of smiling faces and conversation. A bit like the “Irish Pub” atmosphere we came to love in Dublin and Belfast, especially sitting next to the warm fireplace during those damp, foggy San Francisco days.
Blush – An upscale wine bar in the heart of the Castro with over 40 varieties to sample. There is also quality live music every Tuesday and Thursday, ‘Dirty Bingo’ every Monday and Tarot readings on Wednesdays and Sundays. This is still the Castro after all…
Brewcade – A mixed venue but we just had to give a shout out to this unique venue: a spirited arcade bar with vintage video-game machines, so many neons and an all-inclusive atmosphere. The Brewcade is a playground for a post-gay San Francisco generation, and we are absolutely living for it!
Twin Peaks Tavern – A classic gay bar tempting you in with timeless cocktails, affordable beers and the best view of the Castro. Any day, any time. Seriously, with big glass windows to watch the world go by matched perfectly with vintage furniture its no wonder Twin Peaks is such an established “icon” of the Castro. Sip your drink while enjoying a changing minute by minute collage of queer life, especially perfect for solo travelers.
440 Castro – A bear-leather gay bar that’s home to many a local and welcoming to fresh meat/tourists. If you’re visiting for San Francisco Gay Pride, Up Your Alley Fair, the Folsom Street Fair, or really any reason: the 440 is a great place to meet up with friends and make new ones. Offering a simple formula of booze, music, and fun this fun neighborhood hangout is also infamous for their Monday night underwear party!
Hi Tops – A popular sports gay bar with a second location in West Hollywood providing fast food and chilled drinks. Who new gym décor could be so chic? Later at night, the bartender’s shirts come off, the crowd’s pile in – or earlier if there is a game on – and Hi Tops party atmosphere takes over.
Mix – A cozy neighbor gay bar with a fun and frequent happy-hour specials. Come in and throw back some pitchers or cocktails, pick out your favorite pop songs off the Internet jukebox, or play a friendly round of pool. We loved the open-air back patio (with a second bar and bench seating), laid-back attitude, friendly bartenders and unpretentious patrons. Because ain’t nobody got time for attitude…
Q Bar – A fashionable gay dance bar on Castro Street attracting the young and beautiful for a fun happy hour with Top 40 hits and camp, gay anthems. Formerly the Bar on Castro, we loved the central location for bar-hopping, fun dance floor, and high-energy output. Ladies, there is also a busy Tuesday Lesbian night…
Toad Hall– Formerly the Pendulum, we love meeting cute boys here under the disco balls with fruity drinks and upbeat music. Stop in 7 days a week and enjoy live DJ’s, music videos, dancing, an affordable bar – plus, an outside patio for smoking and mingling. Completing the appeals is regular drag events, karaoke, dance competitions, beer busts and more.
Edge – A popular neighbor gay bar in the heart of the Castro drawing in the boys with its themed events and street-facing windows. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the people-watching scene in the Castro is next level…In addition, you will find friendly bartenders, stiff cocktails, new friends and a truly “happy” happy hour. Sexy go-go dancers appear on the weekends or you could also pop in to enjoy the Castro’s longest running Drag Show, The Monster Show every Thursday night
Badlands – For over two decades this veteran of the Castro gay scene has drawn in huge crowds with its playlist dominating by the queens: Britney, Gaga and Madonna. There is also the pulsating dance floor, intoxicating drink specials, hot locals and a hot’n’heavy vibe. The place to have fun, meet new friends and celebrate queer life, you should not pass up the opportunity to experience this legendary venue.
Moby Dick – Want something more simple and laid back? This gay watering hole emanates simplicity and chilled vibes with no flashy cocktails or gimmicks: just great service, strong drinks, beer, pool, pinball, and video games. A local bar where you can feel at home from the moment you arrive.
Papi Rico – A place that delivers Puerta Vallarta to you in SF without having to pack any bags or hop on an airplane. Papi Rico is Latin American slang for a good looking male – one so handsome that he is “good enough to eat” in the sense of deliciousness on several levels- and that’s is the only way we can think to describe the boys we found at the weekend go-go shower shows, the Castro’s only shower show. They also have a fun movie night on Wednesday and a Gay4Play games night on Monday. The design, feel, food, drinks, staff, and so much more help create and evoke the best memories of everything we loved about Latin America and will have you planning your next gaycation to Medellin, Mexico City, Punta Cana and more…
Midnight Sun – An iconic video bar beloved by generations of gay patrons, recently remodeled and upgraded with a street facing lounge and massive open windows, this is the place to be when in the historic Castro district. While every night Midnight Sun features revolving entertainment you won’t want to miss the Mister Sister Mondays drag show or the Friday and Saturday night hot-as-hell go-go dancers.
Beaux – Breathing fresh life into the Castro, Beaux, the French word for “boyfriends,” is one of the Castro’s newer venues. Open seven days and nights a week with a daily 2-for-1 Happy Hour and a fabulous party atmosphere every night. Beaux transforms from a craft cocktail lounge by day into a full-on dance club with revolving themed parties at night, a few being Pan Dulce Wednesdays, Manimal Fridays, and Big Top Sundays, which features the stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Gay Clubs & Bars In Folsom Street / SoMa
Lone Star Saloon – A bear-bike bar hybrid with a loyal following who flock here to socialize over pool, on the patio or at popular events like the Sunday afternoon beer parties. Beer with bears? Count us in….
The Stud – Having been in business since 1966, this celebrated gay bar offers one-of-a-kind parties, killer cocktails, eye-popping drag, and burlesque shows, plus plenty of other welcoming community events. Don’t trust us, well trust the queer icons who have appeared at the Stud over the years including Bjork, Lady Gaga, Ana Matronic, Justin Vivian Bond, Michael Stipe, Lady Miss Kier, RuPaul, and Charo. Warm and welcoming, this bar is never, ever boring and is busy keeping SF queer and inclusive by welcoming sexualities and genders from all across the spectrum.
SF Eagle – In at least 20 countries and 15 U.S. states, you can find the Eagle, A family of gay bars with no formal relationship. From Auckland to Stuttgart, Madrid to Tampa, Paris to, well San Fran, Eagle bars are the closest thing to a gay global franchise -and just like McDonald’s, you always know what you are in for here. Well, normally you get a cruisy, dark, leather bar but here we found a melting pot of the queer and abstract. While we love that the Eagle SF is welcoming to everyone: from leather lovers to lesbians, and Pups and Growlr fans alike, something seems to be lost in the process. Still, there is a fun crowd, friendly service and something for everyone.
F8 – Sitting in the heart of SOMA, F8 provides a culture of eclectic music ranging from house to hip-hop, techno to dubstep, electro house to drum and bass and much more. Their main goal is music and anyone’s sexuality is immaterial. So if you are more interested in the music that the boys around you, F8 is the place to go for a vibrant night you will never forget.
Powerhouse – What we thought SF Eagle would be, a dark and fun gay leather cruise bar where anything goes. Expect basic decor, strong drinks and a weekend crowd who are not there for conversations…
OMG – A fabulous divey queer space on the border of SoMA and the Tenderloin filled with energy and people who come here to live their best life. There is a bouncing dance floor, disco lights, camp drag show, and an incredible projected dome ceiling. Different events most nights, including a popular Wednesday underwear party.
Hole in the Wall Saloon – A gay bar for bikers, bears, frisky leather daddies and any admirers. The antithesis of the fashionable and trendy, this beloved bar is held together with testosterone, chains, and hardware. A firm favorite of many locals, especially on their shirtless Thursdays.
Oasis – A former gay bathhouse now transformed into a sprawling gay club where half-naked men still gather for some of the best drag shows in SF, pop DJs and heated dance parties.
DNA Lounge – A late-night, all-ages, all-sexualities nightclub with theme parties, wild drag and burlesque show and crowds who come to party. Open until 3 am two stages, four dance floors, seven bars, and a full-service late-night restaurant and cafe! DNA Lounge has been one of San Francisco’s most popular nightclubs for over thirty years and continues to attract an eclectic array of events and individuals – perfect for dancing the night away with like-minded people.
Aunt Charlie’s Lounge – Ok, we are firmly in the Tenderloin now but this dive drag bar deserves a mention – if only for its eccentricity. You will either love it or hate it. We personally hated it, and would say it is where drag queens come to die with a rude MC and grumpy bartenders – but others love the old-school atmosphere and hidden gem feel. To be honest, in Gay San Fran we feel there are too many options to waste your time trying here.
DAD / Dudes And Disco – A monthly dance party featuring Dudes & Disco, Drinking & Dancing, Deviants & Divas… and other things that start with D. Taking place at Driftwood this is one fabulous, open-to-all, queer mess.
The EndUp – Known as San Francisco’s legendary after-hours nightclub, The EndUp celebrates dance culture like no other venue, though they have more recently moved beyond its core focus of being for the LGBT community to embracing everyone: gay, straight or unicorn. The thumping bass heard as you approach, tells you this place is not for the faint of heart and once in you are not left disappointed with two indoor bars, a stylish VIP lounge with luxury seating, outdoor bar and patio with food stand, an all-glass private outdoor cabana, a high powered sound system and dance floor with provocative lighting. Being on the cutting edge of San Francisco nightlife culture for nearly 45 years, people from all walks of life come to party at The EndUp, forming a fully integrated nightclub community that celebrates diversity and music late into the night.
Other Gay Nightlife In San Francisco
Martuni’s – Located halfway between SOMA and the Castro Gay area, this show times piano bar is a popular LGBT hang out known not only for their singing atmosphere but their specialty martinis and good times.
El Rio – Located in the Mission since 1978, this local gay bar boasts an expansive patio, community space, garden, and wholesome vibes. Everyone is welcome here, and a diverse range of people gather for an atmosphere conducive to conversation, delicious food, and occasional karaoke. Getting more popular with hipsters and techies by the day, El Rio is a far cry from its origins as a Brazillian leather bar but we are thankful it is still around.
Gingers – A queer space in the Financial District striving to keep LGBT bar culture and history alive. Their cocktail list, each named in homage of gays bars of San Francisco history, will certainly take you on a trip down memory lane; or if you’re new to the city, a drinker next to you at the bar will most likely have a story or two to tell!
Diva’s Nightclub – A four-floor nightclub with over 4000 SqFt catering to transgenders and its admirers in the Tenderloin. Everyone is welcome here with no boundaries or judgments. There are cheap drinks, strip shows, karaoke, and all-inclusive vibes. Don’t question gender here, because gender means nothing and everyone is just who they are. Humans.
The Cinch Saloon – A classic gay bar with powerful drinks, a smoking patio, pinball machine, chilled DJs and a no-attitude crowd. Found in Polk-Gulch near the Tenderloin, come for the cheap drinks and friendly service.
Public Works – Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district, Public Works is a community-minded nightclub and event space dedicated to “Giving the people what they want.” with a world-class sound system and a clean, utilitarian aesthetic. A nightclub by night and art gallery by day, Public Works is a blank canvas of creativity that welcomes international DJs, underground artists, rising talent, all everyone from across the gender and sexual spectrum.
Swagger Like Us – A extraordinary underground gay club event giving emerging queer hip-hop artists, DJs, and dancers from all over the country a platform to showcase their talents. The vibe of the parties themselves feels like family, full of refreshing high energy and with an aesthetic that is fashion-forward, sleek, cool and with its finger on the pulse of underground queer club circles. This can be seen reflected in their guest talent, DJs and hosts. They saw a void in the city with the types of music, fashion and queer representation and the community responded by showing up and turning out. Events are held twice monthly around SF.
Gay Bath Houses in San Francisco
Even though San Francisco is one of the biggest gay vacation destinations on Earth there is now only one gay bathhouse left in San Francisco, and even then it’s not a true bathhouse.
Now is when we would normally blame Grindr and crazy rent increases but this lack of steamy fun here is actually because San Francisco basically devised a ban on gay bathhouses in the 1980s to try halt the disastrous spread of AIDS. As a result today in Gay San Francisco, gay sex clubs can not have any “spa” facilities or rent private rooms
If your visiting from outside of the USA you should know that the gay sauna culture is not very prevalent in the USA and in no way as popular or as high-quality as you might find in international destinations such as Valencia, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong or Vienna. Still, we never said there was no naughty fun to be had in Gay San Francisco…
With such a high LGBT+ population, you just know there has to be pretty of action going down here – and you can join in by either downloading a gay hook up app, going to the last San Francisco bathhouse, checking out one of the many gay cruise bars/sex clubs or just trying your luck at the San Francisco gay beaches.
However, if you’re are planning a trip down the coast, you’ll find many, many more options for hot, steamy fun in the City of Angels. Or you could always try the impressive Steamworks in nearby Gay Berkeley or the Watergarden bathhouse in San Jose (perfect for quick stop-off if you are heading to Gay Santa Cruz)
Gay sauna or not, in any sexual encounter, please take adequate precautions. No matter what your intentions are in while traveling, you should bring your own condoms and lube to play it safe. Take home a hot guy or a hot memory, not an STD.
Besides, you never know what other fun surprises your trip might have in store for you...
Eros – The only remaining gay bathhouse in San Francisco, just a 10-minute walk from Castro Street, or a quick ride on public transportation from the downtown. Entrance is cash only, but inside you will find a fun gay space, a sex-positive environment where you can cruise, play one-on-one or in groups and act out all your wildest fantasies. Eros features well-appointed amenities to help you play safe, feel good, relax and clean up. There is a chilled-out area on the first floor to relax and chat with other guys, while upstairs is all the fun with play spaces and XXX film rooms. There is also a 20-man steam room and small sauna – Don’t ask us how they got around the ban, but they have. Eros is also a popular option for male massages, all sensuous and therapeutic e.g. non-sexual to be clear. A variety of styles are offered for your pleasure–from soothing and sensual to deep and invigorating–that can make your body come alive! Come and have some anonymous fun, with the entry including full access to Eros club, locker rental (plus lock & key), towel rental and unlimited condoms, lube, and gloves.
Crusing & Gay Sex Clubs in San Francisco
As a result of the limitation on gay bathhouses and saunas in San Francisco, private gay sex clubs without steamy facilities are the most popular option for cruising here. While we loved gay the cruising scene in Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, NYC , and Orlando – we have to admit: Gay San Francisco does it best!
Sadly rental increases, zoning laws, and hookups apps continue to kill this aspect of the gay scene, but a few places are managing to hold on… and based on how busy they were, we could also claim a small resurgence is taking place. One can only home. All of these locations are technically private clubs to get around city council rules, but you can simply purchase a temporary membership at the door.
Blow Buddies – Providing frisky guys with a physically safe, hot environment to meet-up and get off with other guys! They are very welcoming to out-of-towners and if you are ready to get down, this is one of the best places to play in San Francisco. Glory holes, mirrors, muscles, service stalls, rooms, jail cell arenas, slings, a backyard (outside) play area are all highlights of this large South of Market warehouse play space. Condoms, lube and latex gloves are all also available free of charge. Cash only, and as with most venues: no cologne or fragrances of any kind. Check their website for events catering to tribes like leather, underwear, naked and wet play.
Folsom Gulch – A gay store in SF selling DVD’s, adult toys, clothing and more – but being ‘committed to pleasure’ they also have an arcade / dark hallway that is one of the most popular gay cruising spots in the city. Sure, most smutty sex toy stores have a dark space attached but Folsom Gulch is the most talked about with dim lights, glory-hole booths, and a mix of gay, straight and curious guys.
Parties @ 442 – Hosting SF’s hottest sex parties for men. This well-equipped 2-level play space offers slings, glory holes, beds, a dark room, lockers, and plenty. Conveniently Located in SOMA, 442 has been a gay space for 18 years – mainly as a home for gay porn studios – but now is open to all as a gay sex party venue. Sadly, they have announced their closure sometime in 2019 as the building is sold – but we have left here as they hope to find a new space to host their parties, especially the widely popular international CumUnion parties which we have also enjoyed in Las Vegas, Key West, Denver,Amsterdam, and London.
Powerhouse – Unquestionably the biggest & most popular South of Market bar with a no “attitude”, dirty, fun vibe. Their style has been imitated all over city, but it is here that you find the best pumping & cutting edge music, the smell of men (the no cologne zone), sexy videos, and the hottest crowd. They are the anchor of the men’s bar scene on Folsom Street (SOMA), with bars moving in to be on the same block, and this location has been a gay venue in one form or another since the 70s. The Powerhouse opened under its current ownership in 1997. They have never needed a definition for their style. Leather? Levi? Cruise? Stand & Model? Gym boys? Skaters? Punks? Who cares! Just come down & enjoy the action. They have different events with various levels of sleazy depending on the weeknight, including drag shows some nights, so check in advance and plan your visit accordingly.
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your global rainbow family and don't forget to share your best gay stories with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...We'd love to hear from you!