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Though Amsterdam and Manchester may be pretenders, there's no doubt that San Francisco still keeps the crown as gayest city in the world, writes OutUK's Stevie Gardiner.

The Castro

If there is a gay neighbourhood in the city then this is it. As well as host of bars and clubs, you'll find gay dry cleaners and even a Starbucks which is one of the best cruising grounds for bears. Turn into Castro Street from Market Street and you'll find the art-deco Castro Theater which is home to the SF Gay Film Festival.
Further down the street is the Dog Eared Books bookstore, and on the corner opposite his old camera shop is Harvey's, a cafe-bar named after Harvey Milk, the city's first elected openly gay official who was murdered. Back up at Market Street is the Names Project, where each patch of a quilt commemorates someone who died of AIDS.
If you want to really get to know the history of gay SF, then you can take a guided walking tour of the area including lunch for around $50.

Bars and Clubbing

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Buck Sledge writes "In San Francisco a thousand separate and unique species of queer animal have evolved, each inhabiting his or her own bar or club. Every variety of sexual taste and facial hair seems to have sewn its own flag and consolidated its own sexual identity...whatever your predilection, alliance, desire or bedtime, there is something for you." So your best bet is to pick up one of the free newspapers like the Bay Area Reporter or one of the free magazines in one of the bars to see what's happening when you're there. We enjoyed SF Badlands in the Castro which is a hi-tech video bar with a dance area down a long narrow corridor at the back, and it really is a squeeze between the two, especially if you keep coming back for more. Moby Dick's is a friendly neighbourhood bar with a great aquarium above the bar and a pool table for just hanging out midweek. The Stud Bar is small but usually has a great atmosphere and hosts Trannyshack on a Tuesday night, a Retro night on a Wednesdays, and on Saturday's has a G-A-Y style crowd in for Sugar. First Sunday in the month is circuit party Mass at Metropolis. Check the website for special events too. If you're looking for something sleazier BlowBuddies offers Amsterdam-style safer sex parties in just about every colour you can imagine and where the only rules are play safe and keep your shoes on.

Beds

In a city the size of SF there's a massive choice of the standard American hotel brands but gay-only hotels are more limited. Being such a gay city you and your husband or boyfriend should have no trouble getting a double bed at any mainstream establishment and what gay accomodation there is tends to be small privately run guesthouses with shared bathrooms.

One honourable exception is The Parker Guest House a few minutes away from the Castro. We stayed there and found its reputation as an award-winner is well deserved. Originally opened in 1997 in one building as a 10-room inn, owners Bill Boeddiker and Bob O'Halloran (below right) purchased an adjacent house in 2001, tore it down to the studs and then completely renovated it while still preserving most of its original Victorian and Edwardian detail.

The Parker is now two wonderfully restored homes with a beautiful garden with fountain and shaded areas in between. Each of the 21 guest bedrooms is luxuriously decorated and most have private bathrooms.

The whole atmosphere is of quality, every bedroom is equipped with a dataport and voicemail, and designer furnishings. There's a complementary Wine Social every evening at 5.30 so you can get to know the other guests.

"We wanted to create the best gay accommodation in San Francisco" co-owner Bill told me. There's a steam room, but The Parker is not like a cruisy Key West resort. Originally catering for an entirely gay upmarket clientele, it nowadays is classed as gay friendly and attracts a broad range of visitors.
"Our visitors are mostly 30 plus, many of them are gay or lesbian business travellers and they need a calm and sane environment." A freshly prepared breakfast is included in the rate and is served in a sun-filled room overlooking the garden. "Around 20% of our guests are from overseas, and half of those are British", Bill says.
The Parker Guest House is highly recommended, particularly as you're within walking distance of the heart of the Castro and minutes from a direct tram route to Union Square and downtown.

San Francisco Sights & Essentials

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THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Blow Buddies, 933 Harrison nr 6th St (415-777-HEAD) Website
Blazing Saddles, (415-202-8888) Website
Blue & Gold Fleet, Pier 41 Marine Terminal (415-773-1188) Website
Cruisin' The Castro Walking Tour (415-550-8110)Website
Dog Eared Books, 489 Castro St (415-282-1901)Website
Harvey's, 500 Castro St (415-431-4278) Mass and Metropolis Website
Moby Dick, 4049 18th St (415-294-0731)
The Parker Guest House, 520 Church St (415-621-3222) Website
Scoma's, 588 Bridgeway Sausalito (415-332-9551) Website
SF Badlands, 4131 18th St (415-626-9320)
The Stud Bar, 399 Ninth St (415-252-STUD)

Revised January 2020.

 

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