The Castro District, one of the original gay neighborhoods in the nation, is located right in the center of the city of San Francisco near The Mission, Lower Haight, Cole Valley and Noe Valley. A vibrant neighborhood filled with great restaurants, bars, clubs, museums and more, The Castro is one of the most popular tourist areas in the city.
The history of the neighborhood dates back to the late 1800s, about 40 years after the peak of the Gold Rush and 20 years before the 1906 earthquake and fires that devastated the city. It was built in 1887 after a new railway line was created that would link the area to downtown. The neighborhood went through many changes as the city grew. Several years after the 1906 earthquake, the neighborhood became known as Little Scandinavia, due to the large population of Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish people who settled there. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the gay population began to grow and The Castro wasn’t the first gay neighborhood in the city. In fact, the Polk Gulch area of San Francisco was the initial gay center of the city starting from the 1940s and then slowly declining through the 1960s and 1970s as The Castro started to grow.
As a lot of people started moving out of “Little Scandinavia” through the 1950s, a lot of great real estate opened up, which attracted a lot of gay purchasers from Polk Gulch and from outside of the city. The population began to grow, prompting the opening of the Missouri Mule, the first gay bar in the Castro. The 1967 Summer of Love, which brought 100,000 people to Haight-Ashbury, escalated the exodus to the area, which eventually took over as the Gay center of San Francisco.
As the area became known throughout the nation, it also attracted Harvey Milk to the area, who opened a small camera store in the neighborhood. Milk became an icon for the area and for the city of San Francisco as a powerful activist and the first openly gay elected official in the city. He was responsible for passing a pivotal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, but sadly his life was cut short when he was assassinated by a city supervisor. Despite the tragic end, Harvey Milk’s influence and accomplishments are celebrated to this day.
The residents of The Castro and the gay community of San Francisco had to overcome a lot as the neighborhood grew, including discrimination, the assassination of Harvey Milk and the A.I.D.S. crisis in the mid 80s. However, the community held strong and through adversity built an iconic and safe area for the gay community.
Today, The Castro is an amazing neighborhood in San Francisco with a great culinary scene, busy nightlife and a variety of great attractions. In fact, The Castro is one of the most lively and fun neighborhoods in the city. The easily walkable area is home to some amazing bars including Moby Dick, Twin Peaks Tavern, Hi-Tops and Toad Hall. The neighborhood is busy most nights of the week, so you can usually find at least a small crowd at the Castro bars every night of the week.
As for the culinary scene, The Castro holds its own against any other neighborhood in the city. Anchored by Michelin Star restaurant, Frances, the area has a little something for everyone from sushi to Italian. Popular spots include Anchor Oyster Bar, Kitchen Story, Starbelly and Canela. Other great spots to check out include cafes like Reveille Coffee and Le Marais Bakery, boutique stores like Unionmade, Best in Show, The Apothecarium and Sui Generis as well as iconic fixtures like Castro Tattoo, The Castro Theater, The GLBT History Museum and The Rainbow Honor Walk. It is also the place to be during Gay Pride Weekend if you are not at the Gay Pride Parade or the festival at Civic Center Plaza.
Whether you are visiting for business or pleasure or live in the area, the Castro is a wonderful San Francisco neighborhood to visit for delicious eats, great shopping and a fun nightlife.