San Francisco’s Castro District: Walking Through Gay History

Published Date Author: , July 3rd, 2010

Gay Friendly Castro District Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels, and Vacation Rentals

Harvey Milk Mural - Castro

For our last article about our Pride Weekend in San Francisco, we thought we’d share our adventures in the Castro. We booked a Castro History Tour with Cruisin’ the Castro – the company started by Trevor Hailey some twenty or more years ago.

We’d taken one of her tours before, back in the Summer of 2002, but she’s since sold the company to a new owner, Kathy, who has taken up the tours and added a spin all her own.

We started on a bright, sunny Saturday morning at Harvey Milk Plaza, where the rainbow flag flies above the corner of Market and Castro. It was a good group – about ten of us in all, including the sweetest straight couple down from Marin and a group of friends from Fresno.

After a brief introduction, Kathy took us down to the entrance to the muni station, where several plaques show scenes from Harvey Milk’s life.

Kathy - Cruisin' the CastroShe gave us a brief history of Milk’s life, and then we made our way under Market Street to Pink Triangle Park, a small memorial park for people who have died from AIDS.

Pink Triangle ParkThe heart of the park overlooks Harvey Milk Plaza and the corner of Market and Castro Streets, and features a triangle made of rose quartz.

Visitors are encouraged to take a piece with them as a reminder, and the triangle is refreshed each year with new pieces.  There are also a series of triangle pillars here arranged in a larger triangle and lit up at night.

Castro, San FranciscoTo the left of Pink Triangle Park, there’s a really cool Victorian with a round turret – if you look carefully at the building next to Harvey Milk plaza, you’ll see a mural painted on one of the windows that’s an imagined reflection of this building.  It’s really kinda cool – we took a photo of each to compare the two (picture at left)

After a brief stop by the bathrooms at Café de Fleur, a well-known Castro restaurant, we stopped to admire the view up the hill of the giant pink triangle that’s set up on Twin Peaks every pride weekend.

Made of giant pink pieces of cloth, it’s put together the day before pride by volunteers, and is taken down late Sunday afternoon.

HIV Mural, Castro DistrictWe also looked at the mural along the back side of the Baghdad Cafe that commemorates the fight agains HIV, and includes a man proudly carrying a rainbow flag, two dykes on bikes, and a depiction of the virus itself, along with much more.

A short walk brought us back up to Castro Street and the Castro Theater. The same family owns this now as when it opened – and it almost closed for good, but the neighborhood came together to show support, and convinced the owners to renovate and keep this beautiful, historic theater open. It’s now the site of the annual Frameline LGBT Film Festival.

Hand Job - CastroA little farther up the street, you’ll find the aptly named salon – Hand Job – and this happy circumstance of store names, all in a row on one side of Castro Street:

Hand Jobs

Another one of those Things That Mske You Go Hmmmm… 🙂

Also here, you’ll find Harvey Milk’s original camera shop – and apparently, they actually filmed some of the movie here. It’s empty now, but the face of Harvey Milk stares down over the Castro from the second story window, captured in a beautiful mural. We were lucky enough to catch the sun at just the right angle to surround Harvey in a natural rainbow, above.

Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy MuralOur next stop was the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, where kids are taught to be accepting of all kinds of people. The front of the school is covered with beautiful murals, some with parts made by the students themselves.

Finally, we wound things up at the HRC store at the top of the Castro (Castro and 19th) where everyone got a free equality sticker.

Not to be missed while you’re here:

Under One Roof: Sales from this store benefit people living with HIV – they have a great selection of merchandise, much of it donated, including some really cool shorts featuring the Castro and the Rainbow Flag – we bought two. We stop here every time we visit The City.

Quickly - Bubble TeaQuickly: The place in the Castro for Bubble Tea… if you’re a regular reader of our travel blogs, you’ll know how much I like this stuff, having first tried it up in Vancouver… and here, you can get these tapoica “bubbles” in almost any drink the serve, even the slushy ones.

A Different Light Bookstore: The pre-eminent gay and lesbian bookstore on the west coast. When I was first coming out, the Different Light store in West Hollywood saved my life and made me feel normal.

Although the Castro isn’t the same as it once was in the 70’s and early 80’s, it’s still the heart of gay history, and Cruisin’ the Castro is a great way to bring that history back to life.

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