The Castro is a Real Estate dream for many who come from all over the world to stay in one of the most exciting and free thinking areas of our time. If only the Mexican land barons and European homesteaders who built the Castro district could see it now, and the price of its real estate today. What was once dairy farms and dirt roads is now one of the city's most vibrant and cohesive communities, saturated with stylish shops and bars so popular that patrons spill out onto the street.
Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants came to the outskirts of San Francisco in search of cheap land, which became bona fide suburbs after 1887 when the Market Street Cable Railway linked Eureka Valley (as the Castro was then called) with the rest of the city. Thanks to these homesteaders, who built large, handsome Victorian houses for their large families, today's residents have someplace to pour their money, and the vast majority of the neighborhood's classic homes have been lovingly and artfully restored.
Eureka Valley remained a quiet, working-class neighborhood until the postwar era, when large numbers of people started fleeing the city for the "suburbs." Finally, in the 1960s and '70s, gay men began buying the charming old Victorians at relatively low prices ($20,000-$40,000), and the neighborhood was soon named for its busiest street, Castro Street.
The activism of the '60s and '70s forged a community with sizable political and economic power, and when the historic Twin Peaks bar at Market and Castro streets was built with floor-to-ceiling windows, most took it as a sign that Castro residents were secure in their gay identity. There were, however, tense and sometimes violent clashes with the police, and the assassination in 1978 of openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was a turning point in the community's history. Milk's death and the impact of AIDS brought the community together and made activists of almost everyone; the Castro became not just open but celebratory about its thriving gay and lesbian population.
Castro Sights & Culture
Castro Street Fair: In late October, the city's longest-running street fair (founded by Harvey Milk himself) features booming music on multiple stages, crafts, drag shows, comedy, food, plenty of drink and more people than you knew existed. Website.
San Francisco Pride Month: The last Sunday in June, Market Street becomes a throbbing, queer sea of human beings for this annual display of LGBT power. The parade is always led by the SF Women's Motorcycle Contingent, the celebration at Civic Center will fulfill your every need for rainbow and pink-triangle bric-a-brac, and the plethora of pre- and post-parade parties will satisfy even hard-core circuit boys. The Saturday before the big parade, the Mission and Castro districts are taken over by lesbians from all walks of life, as well as their children, pets and musical instruments for the SF Dyke March (and Rally).
Frameline SF International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival: June is truly the most exciting time of year in the Castro, when this venerable fest attracts filmmakers from around the world for ten days of screenings, parties, and discussion about queer film.
The Castro Theatre (429 Castro St.). Hearing its Mighty Wurlitzer Organ alone is worth the price of admission. Prepare to be amazed at the art-deco, Moorish and otherwise lavish combination of interior designs that is The Castro.
Coffee shops & cafes
The Castro Cheesery: Sure, they still sell cheese, but you'd never know it from the overpowering aroma of dozens of types of coffee. (427 Castro St.)
Spike's Coffee & Teas, with its friendly, flirty baristas, is a local favorite. (4117 19th St.)
Jumpin' Java boasts a charmingly cultivated area out front, in one of the quaintest and quietest corners in the Duboce Triangle. (139 Noe St.)
Diners and casual eats
A handful of diners are absolute fixtures in the neighborhood, having occupied their respective locations for decades:
Orphan Andy's (3991 17th St.) and Cove Café (434 Castro St.) are virtually interchangeable in cuisine, atmosphere and clientele, and each offers a taste of the Castro of old, fresh off the griddle.
Sliders (449 Castro St.) serves up flame-broiled burgers and piping hot fries and onion rings in a no-frills environment. For average all-American, all-night food served in too-bright surroundings by people who shouldn't still be awake.
Sparky's (242 Church St.) Stick with the basics. Try to soak up what's in your stomach and relish the fact that other patrons are worse off than you.
Blue (2337 Market St.) has become a popular hangout along the Market Street corridor by providing great views of the busy sidewalk outside and serving dependable American diner fare (a.k.a. "comfort food") with a gourmet twist.
Catch (2362 Market St.) dishes up traditional but tasty fish and a modicum of other treats for landlubbers. It boasts one of the few open-air eating spaces in the 'hood, semi-enclosed with heaters for those chilly summer brunches.
La Méditeranée (288 Noe St.) — or La Med, as it's colloquially called — offers consistently delicious Middle Eastern fare.
Tea aficionados and those looking for a break from coffee culture have a retreat in Samovar Tea Lounge (498 Sanchez St.), where more than 100 whole-leaf teas and herbal infusions from around the globe are offered in a contemporary yet serene environment.
Harvest Ranch Market (2285 Market St.) provides a nice alternative to sit-down restaurant fare, with quality pre-made foods like wraps, pasta, sandwiches and soups, and excellent pre-made rice and vegetarian/vegan salads. The sidewalk outside the store sometimes turns into an impromptu picnic area, especially on sunny weekend afternoons.
Thai House (599 Castro St.) sprang from their almost secretive location in Duboce Triangle smack onto Castro Street.
The Pilsner Inn (225 Church St.) is airy, and the ceiling is covered in a blue pressed tin you just don't find too often nowadays. The patio is sunny during the day and has a fountain where little fishies swim around. There are lots of old faves on the jukebox, and an eclectic, good-looking crowd.
Shopping In The Castro
Cliff's Variety (479 Castro St.) is an institution. It's a real hardware store, and they do sell tools, but they also stock fun gifts, toys, games, cookware and kitchenware, and nice things for the bar. At Under One Roof (549 Castro St.), you can usually find some remarkable artisanal goods, and proceeds benefit local AIDS service organizations.
Aardvark Used Books (227 Church St.), which also sells rare books and a wide range of magazines. Streetlight Records (2350 Market St.) specializes in hard-to-find and out-of-print vinyl, but it's also a great place to find used recent releases.
Rolo (2351 Market St.) has fashion attitude to spare and stocks all the prestige brands beloved by the gay community.
For secondhand clothes, at Crossroads Trading Co. (2123 Market St.) you'll find acres of last year's Kenneth Cole, Banana Republic and Diesel, Diesel, Diesel