Gay Culture Tour

The San Francisco (SF) Big Gay Tour consists of three juicy neighbourhoods all of which have a magical role in making San Francisco one big gay mating ground.  No matter if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transexual, gays flock to San Francisco like wildebeest to the Masai Mara during the Great Migration.  The more “beasts” in SF the better, Oh my!  San Francisco is not only the gay mecca of the world due to these gay hunting grounds alone, but the entire city exudes a sense of tolerance, acceptance, and equality unrivalled by any other locale across the globe.  We’re talking male on male hands-holding and Lipstick Lezzy loving even in the streets people.  In fact, the tour will start at a location outside of the more well known gay stomping grounds.

I chose to begin the tour at 953 Lombard Street as this site has a very important place in SF gay history.  It was the location of the third series of MTV’s American reality television series ‘The Real World’.  The now famous intro to this program sums up the purpose of this otherwise social experiment: “This is the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house … work together and have their lives taped … to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting REAL.” Pedro Zamora, one scrumptious piece of gay Cuban-American hotness, was selected to be a housemate and eventually transcended this program to become a prominent television personality and HIV/AIDS educator. In fact, president Bill Clinton credited Zamora with personalising and humanising those living with HIV/AIDS. Zamora’s romance with and eventual televised “marriage” to Sean Sasser struck a chord with most Americans, showing them that love is love regardless of whether its two men, two women, a man and woman, or a goat and . . . well let us not get crazy. Moving on…Sadly, Zamora died at 4:40 a.m. on November 11, 1994, the day after the final episode of The Real World: San Francisco aired.

Our next stop on the tour will take you on a path that Zamora surely walked time and time again through the imaginal world of Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City. 28 Barbary lane, a fictional address set in SF, is home to several of the main characters in the book, including Mrs. Madrigal, Mary Ann Singleton, Mona Ramsey, and Michael Tolliver.  The actual destination of this fictional street finds its real life counterpart located on Havens Street off of Leavenworth and between Filbert and Union.  It is a quaint, lovely street with a long wooden walkway leading up to a paved and cobblestone path.  Along the path, you will encounter beautiful flora and perhaps see humming birds fluttering about.  This path can only be traversed by foot and is a lovely reprieve from the normal bustle of the city occurring outside its gates.

Cinch Bar - San FranciscoWe’re going to go to the first gay neighbourhood in San Francisco next.  To get there, head east to hyde and take the cable car down to Broadway.  After disembarking, head east to Polk Street.  Polk Street is a busy, happening place lined with many fancy shops and “cheap-n-good” and higher-end restaurants.  Heading south on Broadway will take you to the burger joint ‘Polkers’, between Green and Vallejo, where you can get one of the best burgers in the city.  Continuing South to Washington Street will bring you to East Coast West Coast Delicatessen & The Crepe House.  At night, you can shake your booty with the studs in the Cinch (voted one of the best gay bars in the city in 2009 by SF Weekly) then head to Del Mundo, if you’re peckish after last orders at the bar (3am) you can get a late night snack, I recommend on of the spicy shwarmas, but you can get a slice of pizza if you want.  There surely is not anything better than stuffing your mouth with a nice big wrap full of meat, and by that I mean lamb Y’all.  Sure I do, moving on south, we encounter California Avenue, where you will encounter another cable car line.  However, if you continue south on Polk, you will eventually hit several very old bars.  In fact, Gangway, located at 841 Larkin and Polk, is considered one of San Francisco’s first ever gay bars.

Lets go to the Castro District! Walk a block East to Van Ness and head down towards Market St. On route, you’ll pass San Francisco’s City Hall(on the left). With the fifth largest dome in the world, the building which opened 1915 is a replacement for the earlier City Hall, which was destroyed during an earthquake in 1906.  When you reach Market, we’ll be taking the ‘subway’ you’ll see a staircase leading underground. You’ll need pay a two dollar toll, and for God’s sake please do not forget your transfer.  Otherwise, some big, beefy man in uniform will ask you to exit the train and then spread ‘em.  Well, not the spread ‘em part, but you will be given a warning or probably fined!  Anyway, once in the station, board the K/T, L, or M Muni lines, heading outbound to the Castro. Castro, the epicentre of SF gay life, where if you’re straight you walk with your hands on your ass and with you’re zipper up; The locals can get frisky. (Jokes)

After exiting the Castro Station, the first sight of interest is Harvey Milk Plaza.  Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the state of California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.  Milk served 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city. Unfortunately, he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor, who had recently resigned but wanted his job back.  If you’ve seen the movie Milk (if not you probably should), you might remember, Sean Penn’s portrayal of the charismatic and often theatrical Harvey Milk, that won him the Oscar for Best Actor in the Movie Milk. James Franco’s in the movie too, hmmmm he’s dreamy.

Next on the agenda, is the Big Queer Flag, a beacon of hope, respect, equality, and to most gay men outside of the city a big gay dinner bell.  Come and get some, plenty of beef and snacks to go around in the Castro, teehee.  Well, to see it, simply walk up the steps leading away from Milk Plaza and look east to the right of the Diesel store.  There shim is, waving in the wind…YOU CANNOT MISS IT! Now, cross Castro Street and head south and you will run into another gay spectacle; the infamous Castro Theatre.  This theatre was built in 1922 and dons a beautiful extravagant chandelier and ceiling.  Definitely worth a looksie.  At this point, feel free to explore the block, as there are many sites of interest including hot cookie, the bar 440, and many other eateries with cuisines ranging from sushi to burgers.

By walking to the end of the block, at Castro and 18th, you will encounter a gay museum, that will walk you through the gay hard times to the current heyday.  At this point, make a left and head west towards Dolores park.  Dolores park is an amazing place to bring a packed lunch and blanket and lie in the grass.  This park is also very diverse and serves as a nexus between three different neighbourhoods including the Castro, Mission, and Noe Valley.  It is also multi-tiered, with the lower end offering recreational activities such as basketball and tennis, whereas the middle and upper ends simply offers prime cruising grounds for straights and gays respectively.  In fact, the upper end has a terrace carved out on the hill and is know in the vernacular simply as the “beach”, due to many gay men stripping down to their skivvies and showing their 12 packs amongst other packages they may have on hand. On a sunny day, this park is simply the place to be, sit back, and get a tan.

Hopefully by now, you are kind of tired out. Well, now it is time for a drink and we can visit the last gay neighbourhood, South of Market(SOMA).  Castro is to SOMA as puppies are to bears.  You want a real man, than SOMA is the place to be!! To get there, walk to the north-west end of the park and catch the 33 to Folsom Street.  If you want, you can walk west on Folsom, or catch the 12 to 10th and Folsom and explore the more edgy, manly gay side of San Francisco.  A popular attraction is the powerhouse.  If you are more pup and less bear leather pig, than stay on the bottom level and chat with the fellas at the bar and pool table.  However, feeling more daring, risque, or just horny, than go upstairs, and perhaps even peek outside through the small black door in the back.  Other bars you can visit include Hole in the Wall or walk one block down south to Harrison, head east, and you will encounter manly bear, otter bars such as the Lonestar and the Eagle.  Lastly, you can head back west to 8th and Harrison and visit the Stud, which is known for its thumping deep house music and handsome mature men that fit in the bear category, ranging from skinny hairy otters and cubs to big burly bears, OH MY.

Well gals and guys, this concludes the tour, hope you enjoyed the gayer side of San Francisco, CIAO!!

One person has commented on the Gay Culture Tour

  1. Mark Schaye

    The last time I was in the main SF library, which is a very cool I.M. Pei building, they had rooms on each floor with displays about different people. One was devoted to Sylvester, the first gay disco icon. It had his costumes, posters for his shows, etc. I don’t know if those displays are permanent, though, and this was several years ago. :/

    2:35 am on 3/31/10

Leave a comment