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San Francisco Weekend in the Historic Castro

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Spring has sprung in San Franciso and after a winter of heavy rains, the hills are emerald green and filled with wildflowers. The City by the Bay makes for a fun long weekend or even a vacation.

GETTING THERE

I took Southwest nonstop into nearby Oakland. Oakland International which suffers fewer weather delays than SFO where the parallel runways are too close together making for frequent issues. (FYI….my flight out was at SFO and was delayed 2 hours by a light rain which backed up all the fights all day.)

Both airports are served by the BART subway where you can buy a Clipper Pass good on all transit in the region. You transfer in the City to the Muni Metro (to the Castro Station). You won’t need a car in SF.

WHERE TO STAY

I always stay at Beck’s Motor Lodge at 2222 Market in the Castro neighborhood, still one of the best LGBTQ neighborhood’s in the world. 

You can walk everywhere from the motel and it is near transit including the F historic street car line which uses street cars from around the world to make the journey from the Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf. Peet’s Coffee is across the street and you can work out at the nearby SF Fitness or 24 Hour Fitness. If you have a car, the parking is free (unheard of in the City). Book your room at Becksmotorlodge.com. Tell Britney Beck I sent you.

Other Castro lodging options include the Parker Guest House at 520 Church Street and The Willows Inn at 710 14th Street. Check out Airbnb as well. 

Other affordable hotel options outside of the neighborhood include the new Yotel Hotel on Market Street or The Harbour Court Hotel in the Embarcadero waterfront area. There are also lots of hotels around Union Square. Check TripAdvisor for recommendations. However, I always try and stay in my old neighborhood away from the touristy areas.

WHAT TO DO

I went hiking out in the East Bay with the San Francisco Hiking Club (which I co-founded) to see the incredible display of spring wild flowers at Black Canyon Mines East Bay Regional Park. The Rainbow Chapter of the Sierra Club also has hikes. Don’t miss the display of California poppies and lupines which cover the green hill sides.

From Beck’s you can easily hike up to Corona Heights and Buena Vista Park for great views as well as up to Twin Peaks.  You can also head over to Dolores Park which also has incredible views of the Bay. 

A walk along Upper Market and the Castro Neighborhood is another must. You will find Victorian homes everywhere including on 20th Street above the Castro as well as stairs that climb to mini parks. 

Experience LGBTQ history at the GLBT History Museum at 4127 18th Street (glbthistory.org) to learn about the rich history of the gayborhood where slain supervisor Harvey Milk ran his camera shop (now a HRC store). 

Plaques on the sidewalk of the neighborhood commemorate LGBT icons (rainbowhonorwalk.org).

Take the F Street historic street car (streetcar.org) to the Ferry Building (think upscale farmer’s market) and have great Thai Food at the Rincon Center. 

WHERE TO EAT

There are restaurants everywhere. We tried Eric’s, a Chinese place at 1500 Church in the Noe Valley (accessible via the J Church Line). 

La Mediterranee at 288 Noe is always good as is Cafe Flore at 2298 Market. You will find Hamburger Mary’s at 531 Castro. 

Marcello’s Pizza at 420 Castro is good for a quick slice. 

NIGHTLIFE

Don’t miss a movie at The Castro Theatre, a historic gem on Castro Street. They often feature sing a longs and other interactive events complete with props as well as a great organist before the show. Check out what’s showing at castrotheater.com.

There are a lot of great bars. The Lookout on the second floor on Market Street (3600 16th Street) features a drag brunch every Saturday and has great views of the street scene. Nearby you can dance the night away at Beaux at 2344 Market. Toad Hall and Badlands on 18th Street are also fun. The Moby Dick at 4049 18th Street is another must. The Midnight Sun at 4067 18th Street is good for a cocktail or two as well. 

IF YOU HAVE A CAR

Don’t miss Pt. Reyes National Seashore north of the City as well as Mount Tamalpais State Park. In the East Bay, Mount Diablo State Park is another must. Drive south along the Coast to Santa Cruz on Highway 1 and then take Highway 17 back through the redwoods  to San Jose where you can come back to SF on I-280, the world’s most beautiful freeway (with more views of the coastal hills). Yosemite National Park with its spring water falls and Lake Tahoe are other options if you have time and wheels.

INSIDER TIPS

Under no circumstances go to San Francisco General Hospital or take an ambulance there. They do not take any insurance and the local paper had a story on a resident having to pay over $50,000 out of his own pocket for an emergency appendectomy even though he had insurance. A friend from Detroit was slapped with an $11,000 bill when he went in for observation after a fall. He had insurance as well, but to no avail.

Similarly, never park in a bus stop area as the parking fines are ridiculously high. Better yet, do not rent a car and skip the stress all together.

Apparently the City raises revenues in strange ways.

Do get a Clipper Transit pass for use on all the transit agencies (Muni Metro, BART, F Street Historic Streetcars, Cable Cars, etc.).

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The weekly newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter, is still going strong (ebar.com). Bay Times is the monthly LGBTQ publication that lists what is going on. You will find it at sfbaytimes.com. The Castro Guide is another source of what to do plus the history of the gayborhood. Another monthly is Gloss Magazine which features left coast nightlife and more. 

You can’t beat the Bay Area for a vacation, especially in the spring when the wildflowers are everywhere on the green hills. 

Bill Malcolm’s syndicated travel column appears in publications in Chicago and Florida and other cities. Based in Indianapolis, he is a former resident of San Francisco (the Castro), but resides in Indianapolis. All or part of his column may appear in other publications. His opinions are his own!

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