go have fun

Fred Lopez on why queer San Francisco is “so good at having fun” and how you can join the party

Fred Lopez
Fred Lopez

Castro Street Fair celebrates 50 years bringing people together in the iconic queer neighborhood on October 6.

Founded by Harvey Milk to support local businesses and create community, Castro Street Fair has become a celebration of the San Francisco neighborhood that remains at the heart of queer culture.

Fred Lopez is vice president of the volunteer board of directors for Castro Street Fair. He has worked for organizations including the National Gay Men’s Health Leadership Project and San Francisco Pride. Today, he serves as Executive Director for TurnOut, providing resources and training to non-profits.

The Fair, Lopez tells GayCities in an interview, “celebrates a neighborhood that feels like home to so many people, whether they live here or not.”

For visitors, Lopez says “the Fair is a great opportunity to see how much we like to have fun in San Francisco. And how good we are at it.”

We asked Lopez to share tips on how to get the most out of a visit to the Castro and the City by the Bay

What are some of your favorite spots in the Castro?

A queen performs in the Queer Arts Featured gallery
Queer Arts Featured

Queer Arts Featured is indicative of the spirit of the neighborhood today. It’s an eclectic gallery and gathering spot in the storefront that was once Harvey Milk’s camera shop.

Copper is a new little bar that I’m happy to see doing well. It draws a nice mix of all genders. Their draft beers are exclusively brewed, and the cocktails are top-notch. You can describe the drink you like and they’ll come up with something amazing on the fly. 

Shout out to my two home bars, 440 and The Edge. They’ve provided a lot of fun over the years. 

The 440 has become a real gathering spot for men of a certain age. It’s a dark bar, which I love. Not a lot of sunlight gets in there. Jim Hopkins, one of their DJs, is a disco fanatic. He’ll mix in these classic deep cuts alongside more contemporary music. The Edge feels a little younger, with go-go dancers on the weekends.

The Castro Theater will reopen, totally refurbished, in 2025. This will bring another big boost to the neighborhood and help our queer-owned businesses thrive.

Do you have another favorite San Francisco neighborhood?

I love the neighborhood I live in, Inner Richmond. My husband and I moved there about three years ago. There are so many great restaurants. Every kind of Asian cuisine you can imagine, including as many Chinese restaurants as you’ll find in Chinatown.

A place we recently tried for the first time is Lily’s, which serves incredibly creative modern Vietnamese food. Their version of carpaccio is amazing: paper-thin slices of beef drizzled with a vinegary sauce and a split marrow bone. And it’s presented so beautifully, with a huge crispy shrimp chip over the top. For dessert, their salted caramel banana bread pudding is so good.

One of the best shops in the neighborhood is Green Apple Books. I’ve always loved bookstores and this is a great one; a huge, two-story space that’s incredibly well curated, with displays of staff recommendations and lots of quirky titles you haven’t seen before. 

Down the block is Park Life Gallery, boasting a great selection of contemporary art books. The Richmond Branch of the public library is one of the best in the city. They have a little room just for magazines where I can spend hours.

One of my favorite neighborhood bars is Lost Marbles, a sports bar with a steampunk decor. And it has a cozy fireplace for when it’s chilly and foggy out. It’s a very San Francisco mix of things. Another nearby bar I like is 540 Rogues.

What’s your favorite queer event in the city besides the Castro Street Fair?

A view of the Castro Street Fair
Castro Street Fair, courtesy San Francisco Travel

The great thing about living here is that you don’t have to choose one: there are so many.

We have the Folsom Street Fair, which draws some of the most unique and interesting people. It’s a pansexual event. Then there’s the Dore Alley festival, which is smaller and leans more male.

But I don’t think anything compares to the Pride Parade. There are lots of great Pride celebrations, but San Francisco’s is simply iconic. Starting near the bay by the Ferry Building and walking down Market Street toward the huge pink triangle we put up on Twin Peaks, there’s amazing energy as you move across the city. There’s something magical about it.

What are a few places you’d bring any visitor for a true San Francisco experience?

Two red rocking chairs sit in the grass at Tunnel Tops Park

Since the new Tunnel Tops Park opened in 2022, we have taken everyone there. It’s a beautifully landscaped green space with sitting areas and spectacular views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. A good pizza place, Il Parco, just opened there.

It’s great to visit the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building, then get a glass of bubbly from one of the restaurants inside and sit by the bay. I also like to recommend catching a sunset at Fort Mason.

SFMOMA is wonderful for modern art. The Alexander Calder rooms are a favorite.

And it’s always good for guests to get out on the water. You get such a unique perspective on the skyline. You can take the trip to Alcatraz, which is fascinating, or take a commuter ferry over to Treasure Island, where they often have great weekend flea markets.

Finally, what’s the perfect souvenir to bring home?

Two men look out over the bay at the Golden Gate Bridge
Two men look out over the bay at the Golden Gate Bridge

Back in the Castro again, we have a wonderful gift shop and gallery called Local Take, full of San Francisco-themed art and clothing created by Bay Area designers. 

I don’t know if many people know this, but the Golden Gate Bridge is constantly being maintained and old pieces are regularly replaced. At Local Take, you can buy bookends and paperweights made of steel that was once part of the bridge.

Take a piece of the city home with you!

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