San Francisco has a reputation for breathtaking views, vibrant nightlife, and its welcoming LBGTQ community. Often overlooked, however, is its thriving cafe culture.
With more than 250 coffee shops within 49 square miles, you can tell locals love their daily grind. Some are so popular, they’ve grown from humble corner stores into national chains. You may recognize Philz, a major third-wave player that started in San Francisco. Or perhaps Peet’s? This Berkeley-born brand gives Starbucks a run for its money. With honorable mentions like Chromatic, Sightglass, Ritual, and Blue Bottle, just to name a few, San Franciscans are never more than a few blocks from the best brews in the world.
But sometimes it’s not just about a great cup of joe— but the vibe. Truth be told, cafes are as much about people-watching and meet-cutes as they are about the grounds. That’s why in a sea of pour-over houses, these select few have earned their popularity by creating a special space for the local LGBTQ community to thrive.
Spike’s is a staunchly independent, eco-friendly cafe situated in a prime gayborhood people-watching spot off Castro Street. Spike’s gives back to local nonprofits. When you get a cup of delicious, locally-roasted coffee at Spike’s, you’re helping them support worthy causes.
Where to enjoy your brew: Sip a cappuccino on their sidewalk terrace, or take your cup to Dolores Park, a short jaunt down 19th Street. The hilly section is known to locals as the gay beach because it’s the perfect place to boy-watch and catch some rays.
For those who care more about what goes with their coffee than the coffee itself, walk to the other side of Dolores Park and visit Tartine. There will probably be a line, but it’s worth the wait. Tartine is famous for its dedication to the artful craft of baking, serving French classics alongside creative seasonal creations. A true delight for gourmet foodies, francophones, and dessert people alike.
Bon appetite: If you still have room for more, make your way to Bi-Rite Creamery and treat yourself to a scoop of ice cream.
Walk north and you will find an all-day queer cafe, Milk SF. Unlike many popular coffee houses in the Mission District, Milk rejects single-batch, pour-over coffee in favor of an innovative brewing technique created by Oakland start-up Ground Control. Milk SF strives to create a daytime space in a neighborhood saturated with nightclubs. It hosts regular art exhibitions, drag shows, and more.
After your cup: Meander two blocks up Valencia Street to the bright orange multi-story mecca of all things vintage, Stuff. While wandering the aisles of this sprawling, Black-owned antique collective, you’re sure to find something, or someone, that catches your eye.
If you don’t like your coffee too vanilla, head on over to Folsom Street and visit Wicked Grounds. This cafe is more than just a place to get a great cup of coffee; this queer-owned-and-operated community space hosts a variety of workshops, munches, and mixers aiming to bring San Francisco kinksters together. Catering to more than just coffee lovers, Wicked Grounds sells a variety of fetish items, books, and local artwork.
Want more? If you can’t find what you’re looking for, pop into neighboring shops Leather Etc. or Mr. S Leather for a wider selection.
Nestled in the center of the Trans District near Polk Gulch, you’ll find the hip, women-led, up-and-coming San Francisco chain, Jane. Its unassuming Larkin Street location, around the corner from famed nightclub Divas, serves as a cheerful meeting place for community builders, coffee addicts, and brunch lovers alike.
Offering house-made bread, pastries, and breakfast dishes alongside Equator Coffee drinks, Jane is a great spot to fuel up before exploring the many eclectic shops and eateries that line Larkin.
Field Trip: A few blocks away, on Polk Street, you’ll come across Utsuwa Floral Design, a plant daddy’s dream. Stepping inside this lush, beautifully curated store will transport you to a tropical jungle in paradise.
Make your way up Polk Street to Russian Hill, and you will stumble upon Saint Frank. This bright, bi-level cafe’s minimalist atmosphere allows the coffee to stand out. And stand out it does! The baristas make one of the best cups of coffee around, served with the utmost level of hospitality.
If you’re a coffee nerd with an appreciation for the finer things in life, this is your spot. They source their beans ethically, creating lasting relationships that empower farmers in disadvantaged communities, and have total transparency around their supply.
Where to enjoy your brew: You’ll want to stay in place for this one. The presentation alone makes it worthwhile.
No trip to San Francisco is complete without experiencing the buzzy neighborhood of North Beach, the birthplace of the original hipsters: the Beat Generation. And no cafe encapsulates the spirit of the Beats quite like Caffe Trieste. This iconic, first-wave coffee shop sits uphill from the main drag but is still in the center of the action.
Since 1956, Caffe Trieste has been a sanctuary for society’s outcasts, stomping grounds for revolutionary writers, a meeting place for change-makers. Grab an espresso, open “Howl,” written by famed queer activist Allen Ginsberg, and feel the rich history of this establishment in the air.
On the road: Walk in the shoes of Jack Kerouac and make your way down Columbus Avenue to City Lights, an independent publishing house specializing in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. If you bring your recently purchased book across the alley to Vesuvio’s Cafe, the bartender might reward you with a beer.
Walking around town, it’s not hard to spot Philz, the popular regional chain known for precise pour-overs served with fresh mint leaves. You could stop into any of their fifteen San Francisco locations, but we strongly encourage you to visit the original Philz on 24th Street. A stone’s throw from Bernal Heights, in the bright and bustling Latino Cultural District, Philz’s first brick-and-mortar store has the character to match.
Where to enjoy your brew: Once you’ve had your Philz fix, hit up Jelly Donut on South Van Ness and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Get lost marveling at the countless awe-inspiring murals. “Calle 24” exemplifies the kind of vibrant, multicultural spirit that makes San Francisco one of the greatest cities on earth.
You may be wondering why this international brand made it onto this very “local” list. But believe it or not, this specific location happens to be the epicenter of the LGBTQ community in San Francisco: at the iconic intersection of 18th and Castro Streets, just blocks from where Harvey Milk and friends wove their equality magic.
This place is about more than politics and history; it’s all about chatting up your choice of local hotties while standing in line, grabbing a cup, and people-watching on their sidewalk terrace.
What’s next? If you are feeling flirty, cruise over to the bar Lookout on Market and keep the party going.
So, the next time you need a morning caffeine fix, skip the boring corner store and give these top picks your support.