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A Complete Guide to San Francisco's Castro District

Updated: September 27, 2021
 By Britt

The Castro District is one of San Francisco's historic and most interesting neighborhoods. It's also one of the most fun and exciting places to visit in the city! If there’s one thing the Castro District is widely known for, it’s being a welcoming gay neighborhood. Here, there are lots of shops and restaurants that cater to everyone and extend their arms to the LGBTQ+ community. This is a neighborhood where anyone can feel like they belong, regardless of their gender or orientation.

Every year, the neighborhood has a plethora of events, but if you happen to take a visit when there’s no particular event scheduled, you’re still in for a fun time with all the great places you can see, things to do, and food to try.

Best Things to Do in the Castro


Take a Walking Tour!


Ok, so maybe we're a little biased here, but we do think that you should take a walking tour of the neighborhood! We offer free walking tours of the Castro on a regular basis. And if you want to take a tour on your own time with our GPS enabled audio tour.


Castro Theater


A historic landmark and the only remaining movie house in the neighborhood is the Castro Theater. Every day, they show a different double feature, sometimes old movies and sometimes recent. They also host various film festivals all year long. But maybe the most fun part of the Castro Theater is their monthly sing-a-long! Every month, they pick a musical movie to show. People in the neighborhood will dress up as their favorite character in the movie, and they'll sing along with the songs in the movie. It's great fun! Sometimes they'll even have special screenings with the cast and crew of the movies.


Tour the District by Bike


Every corner of the streets of Castro offers something unique, making it ideal for simply walking around the neighborhood. However, if you want a more educational trip around the district, you can try out a great bike tour. They offer different packages with lots of different routes. It’s also open for both beginner and advanced bikers therefore giving everyone the chance to tour the city in a fun way.


Harvey Milk Photo Center


Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California, and is perhaps San Francisco’s biggest icon. In honor of Milk and one of his passions, the Castro District hosts the Harvey Milk Photo Center. It’s said to be the oldest and largest darkroom in the United States. The center showcases exhibitions of works done by outstanding photographers and a variety of photography classes depending on your level of expertise. Their classes are one of the best ways to get acquainted with the neighborhood while still being able to enjoy yourself.


Castro Street Fair


The Castro Street Fair is one of Harvey Milk’s major contributions wherein locals celebrate the creativity of the community. All proceeds go to charity, so people are able to honor the neighborhood while giving to those who are in need. The streets get filled with residents and visitors grooving to the music of live entertainment or the studio’s nearby and promoting causes that involve the LGBTQ community and their rights.


Cliff's Variety


Cliff’s Variety is one of the neighborhood’s landmark stores. Open since 1936, they sell a huge number of different items from souvenirs and toys to kitchen and bath products. It’s a family-owned and operated store that continues to receive love and appreciation from locals and guests. Stop by and maybe you’ll step out with exactly what you’ve been needing. Or you'll find something totally weird and interesting!


Dog Eared Books


For a peaceful reading session, check out Dog Eared Books and browse through their wide collection of literature from San Francisco, LGBTQ+ memoirs and novels. Both locals and visitors enjoy their time here looking through their selection or taking a seat and reading away. If you want to see what's going on in the neighborhood, the store also has a bulletin board in the back that gives you an exclusive on local activities and other literary events.


Pink Triangle Park


In memory of the LGBTQ+ victims of the Nazi regime, the city has erected Pink Triangle Memorial Park. Inside the park, you'll find fifteen pylons with pink triangles, each of them representing one thousand victims of the holocaust. You'll also find that the entire park is in the shape of a triangle, filled with pink flowers. You'll also see a triangle on the ground filled with pink quartz stones.


Stroll the Rainbow Honor Walk


When you’re at the Castro, there’s no doubt you’d want to see the Rainbow Honor Walk, which is various blocks along the two main streets of the neighborhood filled with bronze plaques honoring LGBTQ+ heroes. It runs along Market Street from Noe Street to Castro Street, and down Castro Street from Market Street to 20th Street. There are portraits of great icons from activists to artists and even divas. During the night, they are lit up with an illumination of rainbow LEDs.


Stag & Manor


Stag & Manor gives you the chance to bring the Castro with you back home with a selection of beautiful décor. This indie design boutique has some great finds such as macramé wall hanging, brass-ball lanterns, and minimalist fair-trade throw pillows all with the goal of enhancing your home’s interior. The quality and visuals their items bring are worth every bit of the price you’re paying, so take your time to find the right item for you.


Local Take


The Local Take puts together the Castro District in the form of knickknacks. Every item in the gallery is made and designed by the locals, making it the best souvenir from the trip. You can take home Castro’s landmarks in different forms like a marquee print of the Castro Theater, an F Castro streetcar T-shirt or even vintage Muni maps featured in a belt buckle. Each purchase you make as you’re way of supporting the locals of Castro and the city’s creativity.


GLBT History Museum


Connect with the neighborhood’s history by giving America’s first gay history museum a visit. The GLBT History Museum showcases a century of the LGBTQ+ journey in San Francisco from Harvey Milk’s campaign literature, photographs from the early marches, and various highlights of queer culture. The museum has a shop selling reproductions of the 80s pink triangle shirts, 70s pride pins, and fridge magnets with Harvey Milk’s iconic phrases printed.

How to Get to the Castro

The Historic F Line Streetcar

The most iconic way to get to the Castro is to take the historic F Street Car from Union Square. Although it’s slower than other methods the Muni, it’s a way to travel back in time by taking an old fashioned streetcar from various cities around the world. You can get a good view of the scenery during the ride, which can be entertaining and makes up for the longer travel. There are also street cars in Fishermans Wharf that take you to its final stop nearby the Market Street and Castro Street. For more information on riding this tram, check out our post on How to Ride the Historic F Line.

The MUNI Train

The underground Muni is one of the best ways to get to the Castro District. The K, L, and M trains all stop at the Harvey Milk Plaza at Market Street and Castro Street. The travel time is quick since it’s only four stops between Union Square and the Castro. We also have a post on How to Ride the Muni.

Where to Eat in the Castro

The Castro District offers a wide and colorful range of eateries, cafes and bars with different specialties all available at various price points. Whether you're out for a snack after looking around the district, going on a brunch with some friends, or just spending the night out, the neighborhood has plenty of places for you to choose from.

Budget-friendly Restaurants in Castro District

Tacorgasmico (4 stars, 254 reviews) may have a weird name (like many places in the Castro), but the food they serve definitely makes up for it. While their menu, which is mostly Mexican like sopes and tacos, is cheap, it’s a meal you'll want to indulge in!

El Castillito (4 stars, 843 reviews) If you’re on the hunt for a good burrito, check out El Castillito. There are a lot of places that serve some notable burritos all throughout the city and this restaurant is one of them. If you're not familiar with the menu, the al pastor is worth a try, but our personal favorite is the chorizo.

Midrange Priced Restaurants in Castro District

I’a Poke (4 stars, 233 reviews) If you’re heading to I'a, the best things to eat are the interesting sushi burrito (what better in a city full of Japanese and Mexican foods!). Or you could go with a standard poke bowl. There are a lot of different choices but the Aloha signature bowl is a must-try, at a very affordable price.

Kitchen Story (4 stars, 3,294 reviews) is a fun place to enjoy a bottomless mimosa brunch for only $19. Their Bloody Marys are also a great choice. Although the place can get really packed during the weekends, you could get yourself a dinner reservation. When you head over during the night, you can try out their burgers which includes their infamous millionaire’s bacon.

Duboce Park Café (3.5 stars, 470 reviews) An ideal place to grab breakfast or lunch! Their outdoor seating area close to a park is a fantastic place to enjoy their food. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for that soft sunny morning type of feel. The usual scrambled egg is always nice, but so is their coconut quinoa porridge and egg sandwich. Or try out their buddha bowl during lunch and their pizzas for dinner.

Starbelly (4 stars, 1828 reviews) This is a perfect location for a get together with friends. Their American-style menu includes the usual pizzas, burgers and salads, but it's their cocktails that really hit the spot. If you’re having a group get-together, the outdoor patio is the best place and if you’re having a casual catch-up dinner, the seats at the bar are good too.

Fancy Restaurants in Castro District

Eiji (4 stars, 1076 reviews) The price you’re paying at Eiji isn’t for just a simple hand-roll of sushi. Eiji isn't the most famous in the city, but their sushi is extremely good. So grab a bite during a weeknight dinner out with friends or family, or even stop by alone! You can have your sushi with tofu, which they make in-house, and order their mocha strawberries (if you still have room for dessert).

Frances (4.5 stars, 1504 reviews) is one of those restaurants where getting a table could take some time due to the large number of people interested in this place. You could give yourself a head start and make a reservation, or you could prepare yourself to fight for the one or two seats out of the ten that are free. Their steak is worth every penny, so be sure to give it a try while you’re here.

Great Bars in the District

Twin Peaks Tavern is known in San Francisco as a legendary location, due to being the first gay bar to take off their coverings and openly proclaim themselves to everyone in the city. Their large windows were a revelation to the gay community, which was accustomed to being forced to hide in dark, dingy bars. Their vintage neon sign in rainbow colors is eye-catching, so you’re bound to see it and take a visit. You could grab a cocktail in their Victorian carved-wood bar or find a back booth with other people over wine.

Toad Hall takes its name after a famous Castro gay bar in the 1970s seen in the movie “Milk”. The front bar still gives a very 1970s vibe. They have a two-for-one happy hour until 8:30 pm that is always very popular. It isn’t as crowded as most places which makes it a great place to have a drink and relax with friends.

Harvey's Originally, Harvey’s was called “The Elephant Walk” back in the heydey of the Castro in the early 1970s. This is the bar where Harvey Milk had frequented because of how accepting the owners were of the gay community. Although it had been destroyed due to a fire, they reopened in 1996 and rebranded in commemoration to Milk. Now, it’s a restaurant and bar which is very popular with the locals.

Mix is the last Castro bar to open at 6 am. Just like the name it takes, the bar is open and welcoming to all the colorful characters in the neighborhood. The bar is usually the cozy spot where people socialize, while the open-roofed smoker’s patio leads to where more excitement happens.

Hotels in Castro District

Beck’s Motor Lodge (4.5 stars, 729 reviews on Tripadvisor) first opened in the 1950s. After getting a renovation, it’s improved greatly while still maintaining its charm. The hotel is full of bright colors, which fits the vibe of the neighborhood. You can have a view of the Market Street from some of their rooms, and every guest has access to their sun deck. It’s a walking distance to clubs and bars, museums and a few other landmarks making it an ideal place to stay if you want to look around the district all day.

Parker Guest House (4.5 stars, 1,159 reviews) Staying the night at the Parker makes every day a cozy one, especially with their peaceful garden sanctuary and a library that features a fireplace. They serve complimentary wine tastings daily over at the sun room overlooking the garden. They also have very nice breakfasts here. One of the city’s most famous cafés, the Tartine Bakery, is a short walk from the hotel, so make sure you leave some space in your belly to try out some of their tasty delights.

Willows Inn (4.5 stars, 214 reviews) features European-style décor, much like an old Edwardian house. Throughout the hotel, you can find handcrafted willow furnishings and antiques which really make it feel like home. Their beds are large and very comfortable, and they offer kimono bathrobes and luxury bath products as well. You also get a complimentary cocktail if you stop by the sitting room before you head out.

Twin Peaks Hotel (3.0 stars, 75 reviews) As a more budget-friendly rate, the Twin Peaks Hotel is ideal. Their rooms are quite basic but offer enough of what you need to enjoy the night, including TV and free Wi-Fi. Some bathrooms are shared too. However, a low price for a hotel is like a rare gem in the city of San Francisco--very difficult to find! This hotel is also conveniently located right outside a transportation hub where you can find MUNI trains and bus stops.

Family-friendly Activities at Castro District

Seward Street Slides

At the end of Castro Street sit the Seward Street Slides, one of the best places to feel the nostalgia of being a kid once again. These two side-by-side concrete slides were built in the 1970s and have continuously brought joy to people of all ages. They are a little steep, so make sure to bring a piece of cardboard or something to help you glide down smoothly.


Randall Junior Museum

While you're in the Castro, bring your kids over to the Randall Junior Museum where they could make some interesting scientific discoveries. Randall Josephine had turned a jail into a kids’ science and arts center after becoming a pioneering zoologist in 1910. The museum commemorates Randall's contributions to science, and includes features such as science and tech labs, woodworking and ceramics studios. It also includes a habitat for stray and wounded animals. They also have Lionel trains that chug along the Golden Gate Model Railroad.


The Tom and Jerry House

Although this location is really just a year-end holiday destination, we have to include it on here because it's just so amazing! Every year, this house always has the best Christmas lights in all of San Francisco. The owners of the home go to extremes with their decorations. They will decorate the exterior of the home with stuffed animals, wreaths, garlands and lots (and lots and lots) of bright lights. They put up a huge pine tree with large presents sitting underneath, and gigantic stocking over their garage to make the front of the house look like a fireplace. With the effort they put in to decorating, it’s definitely worth a visit.

About The Author


Britt is a San Francisco Bay Area native, and has spent 25 years in this magical city. He has traveled to over 30 countries, and has never found a place he loves as much as this one! If you come to San Francisco, you might join one of Britt's tours of the city. A graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, he has been leading tours for Free Tours by Foot since 2015.
Updated: September 27th, 2021
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