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If San Francisco is the gayest city on earth, that probably makes it the gayest city in the universe. Queer men and women descended upon SF as early as the Gold Rush era but especially after the first and second World Wars, and since that time have dug their heels in and turned the city into a LGBTQIA paradise that can be felt not only in the Castro—but from the Bay all the way to the Pacific Ocean. If you’re in town for a good time, know that there is plenty to be had. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about LGBTQIA San Francisco.

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Harvey Milk, Castro, San Francisco, LGBTQ

Harvey Milk mural | Flickr photo by Brad Greenlee

  1. Openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk ran his political campaigns in the backroom of Castro Camera, the neighborhood shop he owned and operated until his death by assassination in 1978. The location at 575 Castro Street is now the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store. Look down to read a metal plaque commemorating Milk’s life. Look up to see a mural of Milk leaning out the window wearing a t-shirt inscribed with the words: “You gotta give ‘em hope.”
Castro Theatre, San Francisco, LGBTQ

Castro Theatre | Flickr photo by Benson Kua

  1. You’ve probably walked by the Castro Theatre, the magnificent movie palace and community beacon that swung open its doors to the public in 1922, but have you ever been inside? The ornate interior is done in Spanish Revival style, and screens classic and indie films alike. It’s also home to several film festivals and occasional live performances. Best of all, are the weekend screenings when a piano player tickles the ivories of a custom-designed organ and plays several tunes, including crowd favorite “San Francisco.”
  1. An epicenter of the marriage equality movement, San Francisco made history in 2004 when SF mayor (and now California governor) Gavin Newsom began handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples at City Hall. And what a place to get married. The Beaux-Arts-inspired masterpiece was constructed in 1915 after a previous incarnation was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and is 42 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol Building. It’s also where Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in 1978.

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  1. San Francisco’s history of LGBTQ activism goes way back—even further back than the Stonewall Riots. Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin was one of the few places where transgender people could openly congregate and in 1966 became the site of one of the first LGBTQ riots in the country. After a trans woman threw hot coffee in the face of a police officer who was roughing her up, a riot broke out and a community mobilized. The 100 block of Taylor Street has since been named Gene Compton’s Cafeteria Way and a plaque at the intersection of Taylor and Turk streets commemorates the event.
Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco, gay, LGBTQ, SOMA

Folsom Street Fair | Flickr photo by Torbakhopper

  1. You may see dudes walking around the Castro wearing only a sock covering their junk; they once wore nothing at all. Public nudity was legal in the city until 2012 when a 6-5 decision banned it in public places. Want to do away with your own sock? There are three queer nude beaches within city limits (North Baker, Marshall and Land’s End) and public nudity is allowed at several LGBTQ events, including Gay Pride, Dore Alley and Folsom Street Fair. Oh, and the guy who pushed through the anti-nudity measure? His name is Scott Wiener (tee hee).
Dolores Park, San Francisco, Mission, LGBTQ

Dolores Park | Flickr photo by Ed and Eddie

  1. San Francisco’s many beaches, while lovely, are also hard to reach and often foggy. Enter the so-called gay beach at Dolores Park in the Mission. By far the most popular public gathering spot for queers in the city, this recently renovated space slopes upward toward its north end creating a shelf of sorts where the queer community congregates on sunny days and hang out in tiny swimsuits, summer fashion and even drag. The city views are unbelievable—that is, if you can keep your eyes off all the cuties.
Heklina, drag, San Francisco, LGBTQ

Heklina | Flickr photo by Steven Damron

  1. Feeling the drag of a cold SF July? Check out some actual drag at Oasis, a nightclub co-owned and operated by celebrated local queen Heklina. Her long-running drag party Trannyshack (now called Mother) kicked off at the Stud bar in 1996 and over the years has attracted the likes of Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga and Scissor Sisters’ front woman Ana Matronic. Oasis is home to Drag Race viewing parties, drag parodies of classic TV (think Sex and the City) solo shows and Mother. Want more gender bending? Try hitting town when badass queen Peaches Christ is hosting her Midnight Mass movie series.
AIDS Memorial Grove, Golden Gate Park

AIDS Memorial Grove | Flickr photo by Valerie Hinojosa

  1. Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s magnificent backyard and a respite from the concrete jungle. If the weather is just right, you’d be crazy not to hit up its many highlights, including the incomparable Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences and a heard of roaming bison near Spreckles Lake. It’s also home to the National AIDS Memorial Grove, a 10-acre living memorial that was designated the nation’s AIDS Memorial in 1996, and offers remembrance to the lives lost to the epidemic. (For a less reverential experience, visit Golden Park Easter Weekend for the Hunky Jesus contest hosted by the cross-dressing Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.)
  1. Although gays don’t like to grow older, one number San Francisco queers are mighty proud of is 43. That’s the age of Frameline: The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, which happens every June to coincide with Pride Month and is the oldest of its kind in the United States. It’s also a must do event that happens at iconic theaters like the Castro and the Roxie, and over five decades has attracted the likes of Gus Van Sant, Lisa Cholodenko, Jonathan Groff, George Takei, Holly Woodlawn and many others. Oh, and the festival’s audience might be the most vocal on earth. You’ll see.
GLBT History Museum, Castro, San Francisco

GLBT History Museum | Flickr photo by cezzie901

  1. Get your history straight and gay at the same time when you visit the GLBT History Museum in the Castro. The small but essential museum illuminates the San Francisco queer experience through a Main Gallery that includes exhibitions focusing on pioneering lesbian rights organization the Daughters of Bilitis, the city’s gayborhoods, the assassination of Harvey Milk, queer Pacific Islanders and more.

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Tagged: California, San Francisco

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Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is a Lead Content Specialist for Expedia Group, and manages content initiatives across numerous Expedia-owned brands. His work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, the Huffington Post, Chicago Magazine, Passport and many others.

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