For those of you who live in or who will be moving to Silicon Valley, San Francisco is always worth a trip. The city offers interesting museums, great views, beautiful parks and tasty food wherever you go. Another main attraction in the city are the neighborhoods themselves. Every area looks different, has its own charm and the people living there have turned it into a little city within the city.
It is no different with the Castro. This neighborhood is located in the southwest of San Francisco just underneath the famous Twin Peaks. Originally, it was called Eureka Valley and people of Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish background used to live there in the 1920s. It later became an Irish neighborhood until the mid 1960s. During World War II, thousands of soldiers were offloaded in the Castro after being outed as gay and discharged. Many of them settled there and the Castro as a gay neighborhood found its beginning. With the former Irish middle-class owners moving to the suburbs and leaving old beautiful Victorian houses behind, the Castro became the prominent Gay district of San Francisco.
The heart of the Castro is probably at the intersection of Castro and 18th Street. This area is full of stores, restaurants, and bars. Some of them have a long history and tradition: the Twin Peaks Bar at Castro & Market Street, for example was the first gay bar in the United States that didn’t have tinted glass windows so customers in the bar could be fully visible to everybody. Another landmark building is the Castro Theatre, a beautiful old movie theater built in 1922 in a Spanish Colonial style. If you get the chance, you should not miss watching a show inside as the interior is still original and before every movie there is someone playing a pipe organ! In recent years, the theater has been the host for comedy and award shows, and besides old famous movies you can also see the latest 3D blockbusters there. A beloved event is the Sing-a-long that takes place every other month and shows Disney movies or musical movies where moviegoers can show that they remember every single line and song of the movie. When the movie “Milk” was filmed in the Castro, the theater facade and neon sign were renovated to its original colors and design.
Speaking of Harvey Milk, the openly gay supervisor who was murdered in 1978, used to have his camera store on Castro Street between 18th and 19th Street which also served as the store location in the movie. If you are interested in hearing more about the former gay activist you can visit the Harvey Milk Plaza located at the Castro MUNI Station.
The Castro is one of the sunniest neighborhoods in San Francisco as the Twin Peaks seem to block off the fog that is rolling into the city everywhere else. If it is a nice sunny day, you can get one of the best views from the top of Twin Peaks. After strolling around in Castro just hike up to the top of the hill. It takes around one hour to go up and be back down again, you can find a path description here. http://www.choisser.com/hiking/twinpeaks.html It is definitely worth it!
I have lived in the Castro for a while now, it is a beautiful little corner of San Francisco and it feels as if you live in a small town in the middle of the city! A great occasion for you to come and check it out is the first Sunday in October when the Castro Street Fair takes place. It is the oldest arts and crafts fair in San Francisco and usually the weather is warm and sunny.
One more tip: One of my favorite restaurants is called Catch, it’s a great fish restaurant located on Market Street close to Castro Street. If you look for unique gift ideas then you should stop by at Under One Roof. It is the only non-profit retail store of its kind in the whole world that raises money for men, women and children in the Bay Area living with HIV/AIDS.
Simon from Austria blogging from the Castro