The colorful Castro is the famous gay center of San Francisco, a vibrant and historic neighborhood full of businesses geared towards the city's LGBT community. Adjacent to the Castro and sitting beneath Twin Peaks to the west is Noe Valley, a pleasant neighborhood with lots of lovely restaurants and boutiques to explore. The area is bounded roughly by the Twin Peaks on the west, Dolores/Church Streets on the east, Duboce Avenue on the north and San Jose Avenue on the south.
Originally an Irish working-class neighborhood of San Francisco, the Castro has been transformed for the past 35 years and recognized by many as the gay mecca of the world. Filled with bookstores, clothing outlets, video stores and bars (and practically anything else you can think of) that cater towards the LGBT community, the Castro is a required visit for anyone even slightly interested in gay lifestyle and culture, and is truly a local authentic gem of San Francisco.
Noe Valley is a long gentrified neighborhood in San Francisco with many hip and trendy restaurants and boutique shops. The main commercial corridor is on 24th Street between Church Street and Diamond Street. Walking along 24th Street during the day you will see well-attended coffee shops, chic boutiques and several baby strollers. You can learn more about the goings-on in Noe Valley by reading either the print or online edition of the Noe Valley Voice.
This is the best way to get to the Castro. The Fisherman's Wharf, the Embarcadero and Downtown down Market to Castro Street., , or MUNI Metro underground lines are the quickest way from Downtown, stopping at the Church Street station at Market and Church and the Castro Street station at Market and Castro, with the line also serving trips inbound to Downtown. The Church line can also get you to the Castro, although it comes above ground and turns south on Church Street, which runs along the eastern edge of the district. For a more scenic ride, take the historic Market streetcar line from
MUNI bus lines which serve the area include 24-Divisadero, which runs along Castro Street through most of the district, heading north to Pacific Heights and southeast to Bayview-Hunters Point, the 33-Ashbury/18th, which runs east-west along 18th Street, the 48-Quintara/24th Street, which runs east-west along 24th Street, continuing east to Potrero Hill and west past Twin Peaks, West Portal and into Sunset, and the 35-Eureka and 37-Corbett neighborhood lines.
The BART system runs through the nearby Mission neighborhood, where you can either get off at the 16th Street station and transfer to the 33 bus line, or get off at the 24th Street station and transfer to the 48 bus line.
Don't drive into the area. Use public transit instead. There is a public parking garage on Noe just north of Market, but it is small. Street parking is very hard to find, especially on the weekends. If you park at the Safeway on Market and you don't go exclusively there, you will be towed. There are some metered spots along 18th between Sanchez and Eureka, but these are hard to come by. On weekends, parking is better as the 2-hour neighborhood permits don't apply. Noe Valley has one small public lot, but you will likely need to find street parking, and this can be particularly scarce on weekends during brunch and dinner times.
- 1 The Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St (between 17th and 18th Sts), ☎ . A lovingly restored Art Deco jewelbox of an independent movie theatre, with a Wurlitzer organ and splendid organist, special sing-along showings, and more. A "rep house" or repertory theater, it tends to screen a wide variety of classic or obscure but worthwhile films, and be a venue of choice of local film festivals. $11 adults, $8.50 seniors/teens/matinee.
- 2 LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market St (at Octavia), ☎ . M-Th noon-10PM, F noon-6PM, Sa 9AM-6PM. The Center houses the offices of various community organizations, and has space for public events and meetings. The ground floor features a cafe space, and on the third floor there is a cyber center which offers an hour of free computer time.
- 3 GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St (between Castro St and Collingwood St), ☎ . M, W-Sa 11AM-7PM, Su noon-5PM (except holidays), Tu closed. A GLBT history museum, with exhibits that take you from the bedrooms and back rooms to the bookstores and bars, from Harvey Milk's victories to transgender sex workers' riots, from social movements to secret fantasies. $5.
- 4 Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, ☎ . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM. A small but fun children's museum with several interactive exhibits, including live animals, a science exhibit, a toddler play area, and a railroad exhibit which includes a model railroad layout which is open on Saturdays. The museum is perched on a hill, offering great views of the San Francisco skyline. Free.
There are several major cultural festivals and events in the Castro annually.
- Pink Saturday (Castro St from Market St downhill). Saturday night before the LGBT Pride Parade, last weekend in June. A street party, organised by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Free, donations encouraged.
- Castro Street Fair (On Castro St), ☎ . First Sunday in October, 11AM-6PM. Vendors, dancing, fundraising for community groups.
- 1 Cliff's Variety, 479 Castro St (between Market and 18th St), ☎ , fax: . M-Sa 10AM-8PM, Su 10AM-6PM. Toys, gifts, kitchenware, hardware, and the newly remodeled annex next door is where to shop for do it yourself home decor items and is THE place to get rhinestones.
- 2 ImagiKnit, 3897 18th St (at Sanchez), ☎ . M-Th 10:30AM-7PM, F-Sa 10:30AM-6:30PM, Su 10:30AM-5PM. These women opened up the yarn shop that they'd like to hang out in and the whole neighborhood concurs that they're doing it right.
- 3 Noe Valley Farmers Market, 3861 24th St (between Sanchez and Vicksburg), ☎ . Sa 8AM-1PM. Year-round California-certified farmers market.
- 4 Just For Fun & Scribbledoodles, 3982 24th St, ☎ . M-F 10AM-6:30PM, Sa 9AM-7PM, Su 10AM-6PM. Stationery and gifts; custom color printing and calligraphy for announcements. They have also opened an art supply store across the street.
- 5 Church Street Flowers, 212 Church St, ☎ . M-F 9AM-7PM, Sa 10AM-6PM. Rated 'Best of the Bay' #1 Florist for the past six years, this adorable flower shop has the most beautiful and unique blooms from all over the world.
- 1 24th Street Cheese Company, 3893 24th St (between Sanchez and Vicksburg), ☎ . Carries hundreds of cheeses where you can taste before you buy.
- 2 Chow, 215 Church St (between 15th St & Market St), ☎ . Su-Th 8AM-10PM, F-Sa 8AM-11PM. Serves Traditional American style food. Try their delicious breakfast made with fresh ingredients. They have reasonable prices, a casual atmosphere, good for kids and large groups, and good waiter service. $11-30.
- 3 Eric's, 1500 Church St (at 27th), ☎ , fax: . M-Th 11AM–9:30PM, F 11AM–10PM, Sa noon–10PM, Su 12:30PM–9:30PM. California Chinese cuisine (e.g.: many vegs are fresh, white or brown rice, mu shu comes with grilled flour tortillas) with a nod towards Hunan and Mandarin styles. Tasty food in a bustling place. Accessible, vegetarian friendly, beer and wine. Minimum charge of $8 per person. $5–8 apps and soups, $8–11 entrees.
- 4 Firefly, 4288 24th St (between Diamond and Douglass), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 5:30PM–10PM daily. A favorite neighborhood restaurant among locals with creative home cooking and friendly service. Vegan and gluten-free options. Not usually too noisy. Reservations recommended, especially on weekends. $35.
- 5 Haystack Pizza, 3881 24th St (at Sanchez), ☎ . Su-Th 11:30AM-11PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-midnight. A neighborhood favorite with a full menu with many choices for various diets.
- 6 Hot Cookie, 407 Castro Street, ☎ . Bakery known for their macaroon cookies distinctively shaped like a piece of male anatomy.
- 7 Kasa Indian Eatery, 4001 18th St (at Noe), ☎ . 11AM-10PM. Indian food in a casual setting emphasizing from-scratch cooking with fresh ingredients. $5-12.
- 8 La Ciccia, 291 30th St (at Church), ☎ . Tu-Su 5:30PM-10PM. Gourmet Sardinian food, Italianate but often surprisingly spiced. Large list of unusual Sardinian and other Italian wines.
- 9 Lovejoy's Tea Room, 1351 Church St (at Clipper), ☎ . W–Su 11AM–6PM. Combination antique store and one of the best places to have a cosy high tea in the city. Pub fare also served. Minimum charge $12 per person. $20–30.
- 10 Noe Valley Bakery, 4073 24th St (at Castro), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. M-F 7AM-7PM, Sa-Su 7AM-6PM. Considered one of the best local bakeries in the area. They supply some of the better SF restaurants as well as neighborhood demand for baked goods.
- 11 Pomelo, 1793 Church St. Small, quiet restaurant with an affordable variety of international dishes.
- 12 Sausage Factory, 517 Castro St (between 18th and 19th Sts), ☎ . 11:30AM-midnight daily. An Italian restaurant that's larger than it looks from the outside, extending back into the middle of the block. Delivery.
- 13 Savor, 3913 24th St (at Sanchez), ☎ . M-Sa 8AM-10PM, Su 8AM-9PM. A popular brunch spot.
- 14 Sparky's 24-Hour Diner, 242 Church St (between Market and 15th), ☎ . 24 hours daily. Delivery. Full-on diner fare, good salads and baked items.
- 15 Thai House Express, 599 Castro St (at 19th), ☎ . 11:30AM-10:30PM daily. Excellent Thai food in a gay atmosphere, with some dishes that are not on the menu of most American Thai restaurants, such as Kao Soy, chicken with soft and crispy noodles in mustard sauce.
- 16 Alice's Restaurant, 1599 Sanchez St (at 29th St; bus route 24 and light rail KJ line stops are nearby), ☎ . 11AM–9:30PM, later weekends. Good, not fanciful Chinese food, and quiet enough that you can talk to your dinner companions. $10–15.
- 1 440 Castro, 440 Castro St (between 17th and 18th Sts), ☎ . Noon-2AM daily. Heavy gay bar with a rowdy crowd and lots of bears, but for some this is the definitive Castro bar.
- 2 The LookOut, 3600 16th St (at Noe/Market), ☎ . M-F 3:30AM-2AM, Sa-Su 12:30PM-2AM. Very popular gay bar with great food, a nice balcony, and a much calmer crowd than the 440 Castro.
- 3 Mix, 4086 18th St (between Castro and Hartford), ☎ . M-F 7AM-2AM, Sa-Su 6AM-2AM. Billing itself as a "neighborhood bar", Mix has strong drinks and a great back patio.
- 4 Moby Dick, 4049 18th St (at Castro), ☎ . Noon-2AM daily. Great bartenders, cheap strong drinks, music videos, and pinball.
- 5 Pilsner Inn, 225 Church St (between 15th and Market Sts), ☎ . M-F noon-2AM, Sa-Su 10AM-2AM. A low-key, unpretentious gay bar with plenty of room inside.
- 6 Twin Peaks Tavern, 401 Castro St (between 17th and 18th Sts), ☎ . M-W noon-2AM, Th-Sa 8AM-2AM, Su 10AM-2AM. Very nice gay bar with a great atmosphere and nice staff. Historically this was the first gay bar in the US to display its patrons to the public, offering large windows looking IN to the bar. Until this addition, most all gay bars were underground bars/clubs that kept the clientele hidden from the general public.
- 7 Cafe Flore, 2298 Market St (at Noe), ☎ . Su-Th 7AM-11PM, F-Sa 7AM-midnight. Go for the good tea or latte and the prime people watching, not necessarily the food.
- 8 Samovar Tea Lounge, 498 Sanchez St (at 18th St), ☎ . 10AM-10PM daily. Live jazz on Fridays, a Stitch-and-Bitch knitting aficionado gathering on Sunday afternoons, over 100 kinds of tea. Comfortable hangout.
- 9 Cafe Sophie, 3463 16th St. A great local cafe serving excellent cappuccino.
- Noe Valley also has the nickname "coffee gulch". While Starbucks is popular, the locals prefer 10 Martha's (24th Street between Church and Sanchez) and 11 Bernie's (24th between Noe and Sanchez).
- 1 Inn on Castro, 321 Castro St (at 16th), ☎ , e-mail: Innkeeper@innoncastro.com. An upscale bed and breakfast in a restored house. $95–190.
- 2 Parker House, 520 Church St (at 17th), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A gay owned and operated hotel in a very pretty old building. $139–249.
- 3 Twin Peaks Hotel, 2160 Market St (between 14th and 15th), ☎ . Not the Ritz but a cheap budget hotel option
- 1 San Francisco Public Library - Eureka Valley Branch, 1 Jose Sarria Ct (at 16th and Prosper), ☎ . M noon-6PM, Tu 10AM-9PM, W noon-9PM, Th 10AM-6PM, F 1PM-6PM, Sa noon-6PM, Su closed.
- 2 San Francisco Public Library - Noe Valley Branch, 451 Jersey St (between Diamond and Castro), ☎ . M noon-6PM, Tu 10AM-9PM, W 1PM-9PM, Th 10AM-6PM, F 1PM-6PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su 1PM-5PM.