San Francisco, gay capital of the USA, is a must-visit destination on every traveler’s list.
In addition to one of the largest Pride celebrations in the country, San Francisco hosts events like the iconic Folsom Street Fair, Frameline Film Festival, and Castro Street Fair, welcoming millions of LGBTQ+ visitors every year.
Here are just a few of the totally queer things to experience in San Francisco whenever you visit.
Get your photo on the wall at Hot Cookie
Picture this: you and your crew are finishing a night out in the gayborhood. You started with happy hour at Hi Tops, then dinner in Fable’s fabulous outdoor patio garden, followed by more drinks and people-watching at The Lookout, a storied hangout with a huge wraparound balcony perched above the Castro’s busiest intersection.
Once the drag queens sashay off stage and the bartender makes his last call, you step out onto the street and succumb to the enticing smell of freshly baked cookies filling the brisk night air. Like a moth drawn to its bright red neon lights, you and your pals cannot resist the temptation of Hot Cookie on Castro Street.
Truly, nothing in the world is more satisfying than that first gooey bite. If your inhibitions are low, purchase some Hot Cookie branded briefs and ask the cuties behind the counter to take your photo. You and your “hot cookie” will become permanent residents of the bakery’s wall of fame. If you’re not feeling that brave, you’ll still appreciate all the glorious eye candy strewn about the walls as you enjoy your tasty treat. We recommend trying The Fudge Packer or Pussy Power.
Flaunt your birthday suit at Baker Beach
Located in the Presidio, Baker Beach may look like any of the other gorgeous, wind-swept beaches of Northern California. This one, however, has a reputation that distinguishes it from the rest. A sexy surprise awaits those who know where to look.
When entering from the parking lot, turning left will lead you to the family-friendly side of the beach. If you’re feeling frisky and you turn right, you’ll stumble upon San Francisco’s unofficial nude beach. The site of the first Burning Man, Baker Beach maintains its rebellious, bacchanalian vibes to this day; a spot cherished by San Francisco’s sex-positive, nudist community.
As you cruise the sandy shores that overlook the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge, you’re bound to see bodies of all sorts and private parts in plain view. On a hot day, this beach becomes the place to be, with San Francisco’s finest as far as the eye can see flaunting their birthday suits.
Watch a drag show at Oasis
San Francisco is known for its historic, inclusive drag culture, and Oasis is the epicenter. This SoMa District club, owned by beloved drag performer D’Arcy Drollinger (recently named San Francisco’s first-ever drag laureate), is a great place to see some of the very best drag in the city. Oasis has a full calendar of events, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch a show.
One highlight is “Reparations,” Nicki Jizz’s monthly drag show. At these all-Black performances, “tipping is not customary. It is mandatory.” Oasis is also the host of the San Francisco Neo-Futurists, a queer-led comedy troupe that performs radically relevant, hilarious sketch comedy.
After your show, you’ll love the vibes at SF Eagle (for leather daddies), DNA Lounge (for emos), Lone Star Saloon (for bears), Driftwood (for cocktail lovers), or F8 (for techno queens).
Of course, there’s always The EndUp, where everyone usually ends up, hence the name.
Visit the showroom at Mr. S Leather
Alongside its rolling hills, stunning architecture, and welcoming gay community, San Francisco is also known for its large leather scene. Host to several leather and fetish events throughout the year, and home to many leather bars and sex clubs, San Francisco made part of its SoMa neighborhood the world’s first officially recognized Leather District.
At the center of it all is Mr. S Leather, designer and purveyor of fine leather goods, sex toys, and apparel since 1979. This Folsom Street store has been fueling San Francisco’s kink community for decades and has everything you need (and some things you didn’t know you needed). Whether you’re trying to add some spice to your vanilla latte or you’re a heavy player in the scene, you must add this shop to your itinerary.
Cruise in the Mission District
Nestled in between Castro and SoMa districts, you’ll find one of San Francisco’s largest and most lively neighborhoods, the Mission District.
Named after Mission Dolores, the ornate Catholic basilica on 16th Street, this charming, historically Latine neighborhood offers visitors plenty of activities day and night.
The Mission is famous for its Mexican cuisine. A destination for foodies across America, you’ll find a huge selection of eateries around every colorful corner. If you’re looking for something truly unique, we recommend Senor Sisig, deliciously decadent Mexican and Filipino fusion offering an elevated Taco Bell-style menu. Senor Sisig’s al pastor is to die for. But if you’re not a fan of meat, it has vegan and vegetarian options.
When the sun sets, there’s a long list of highly-rated bars to check out. Most notably, the Mission is home to three lesbian bars, El Rio, Jolene’s, and Mother. On top of that, you’ll find a mostly queer crowd at the Make Out Room.
Eat a burrito at the gay beach
Eating your Mission-style burrito on Dolores Park’s sloping green hills might not seem like the gayest thing in the world; but once you get an eyeful of the scantily clad picnickers and sunbathers that frequent this urban green, you’ll quickly understand why this experience is on our list.
In April, it’s the site of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s Easter Celebration, a sexy yet sacrilegious event that includes the famous “Hunky Jesus” contest. In June, it’s the stomping grounds for the SF Dyke March. And it’s the rendezvous point for the Society of Janus, San Francisco’s monthly kink meetup. Between these regularly scheduled events, you’ll find plenty of fun to be had at this “gay beach.”
First, you must obtain your burrito. The best burrito spot in the Mission District is a heavily debated topic among the locals. You’ll have plenty of options to choose from along Valencia and Mission streets. There are a few outstanding eateries that have risen to the top of the ranks: El Farolito, El Toro, Los Coyotes, and La Taqueria.
If burritos aren’t your thing, you’ll find some good eats at Bi-Rite Market, a few blocks east of Dolores Park. You’ll also be offered a wide array of delicacies, from snacks to adult Capri Suns, by vendors with carts walking throughout the park.
Learn LGBTQ+ history in the Transgender District
The Transgender District, also known as the Tenderloin, is home to the world’s largest population of trans people. As the site of the Compton Cafeteria Riots of 1966 and the city’s very first openly-gay bar, many people consider this section of San Francisco the first official “gayborhood” before the Castro District gained its distinction.
To see some of this queer history come to life, visit the Tenderloin Museum or sign up for a neighborhood walking tour. Afterward, grab a drink at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge on Turk Street and talk about local history with its regulars. This lively watering hole is known for its strong cocktails and rowdy drag performances.