5 Attractions to Visit in the Castro 🏳️‍🌈

Castro District San Francisco California LGBT USA United States of America World to Explore Blog Travel Guide

The Castro neighborhood in San Francisco is synonymous with freedom of expression and LGBT culture. Since the 1940s, San Francisco had a reputation as a city of tolerance and open-mindedness. Many members of the LGBT community, including dishonorably discharged veterans, moved to the city after World War II, and many of them settled in the Castro neighborhood due to its affordability at the time. 

Castro District

The Castro District, located in the Eureka Valley region, was one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States but eventually became a residential neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s. It was named after José Castro (1808-1860), a Californian leader in opposition to the U.S. government during the Mexican-American War. The Castro neighborhood has a population of just around 13,000 people and is an economically successful area of the city that attracts many visitors throughout the year due to various gay community-related events that boost the local businesses. 

Several attractions stand out in Castro, with the most prominent being the numerous rainbow flags hanging from lampposts, which serve as a symbol of pride, identity, and freedom. Nowadays, it’s even one of the most prominent symbols of LGBT activism and events worldwide, with the most significant being the Castro Street Fair. This nonprofit fair was founded by Harvey Milk in 1974 to celebrate creativity and support important causes within the LGBT community. 

Harvey Milk is one of the most important figures in the history of the Castro District. Milk, an openly gay man and civil rights activist, owned a camera store in the neighborhood called Castro Camera. He decided to run for political office and conducted a successful campaign. In January 1978, he was elected as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. However, Milk served in office for only 11 months, as he was assassinated at the age of 48. He had been instrumental in the passage of a strict gay rights ordinance in the city. 

In the following map, five of the main tourist attractions located in the Castro neighborhood are marked, which have been and continue to be very important for the development of LGBT culture in the city and around the world.

1) Barbie-doll window

4099 19th Street, San Francisco – CA 94114 ESTADOS UNIDOS

The Barbie-doll window is one of those incredibly unique attractions that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Castro neighborhood. It’s a window display in a residential house featuring transgender Barbies and Billy Dolls (a muscular male doll often associated with gay pride, similar to Ken but more muscular). All the dolls are dressed in outrageous outfits and are depicted protesting with signs related to LGBT culture, with the main sign reading ‘It’s Castro, Bitch.’ These dolls, created by Hank Cancél, have been on display here for over 40 years with the primary goal of representing the various groups and movements that have emerged in this area. 

2) Castro Camera

575 Castro Street, San Francisco – CA 94114 ESTADOS UNIDOS

It was a camera store owned by Harvey Milk from 1972 until 1978, the year of his assassination. During the 1970s, the store gradually became the focal point of the growing gay community in the neighborhood. In addition to selling cameras, the store served as a social and safe haven for many young gay people who came from all over the United States to Castro, where their sexual orientation was accepted. It also served as the headquarters for Milk’s various campaigns when he ran for supervisor of San Francisco. Today, the building houses a Human Rights Campaign store, but there is a metal plaque on the sidewalk in front of it honoring Milk. 

3) Rainbow Honor Walk

499 Castro Street, San Francisco – CA 94114 ESTADOS UNIDOS

It’s a kind of walk of fame that begins at an intersection with colorful crosswalks, created by David Perry in 2014 with the aim of honoring notable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals from around the world who have made a lasting impact on society, the LGBT community, and future generations. There are several bronze plaques embedded in the pavement along Castro Street with information about the person’s name and the areas in which they made significant contributions. The goal is for the number of plaques to grow over the years, as it was designed to honor up to 500 individuals and currently has fewer than 100. 

4) The Castro Theatre

429 Castro Street, San Francisco – CA 94114 ESTADOS UNIDOS

This former cinema became a historic landmark at 100 San Francisco in September 1976. Inspired by the Misión San Francisco de Asís, the building, constructed in 1922 following a design by architect Timothy L. Pflueger, who built several cinemas in California during that era, features a Californian facade with a large central arched window topped by a spiral pediment with a niche. Inside, the theater has over 1400 seats (800 on the main floor and 600 in the balcony), and its ceiling is lined with synthetic leather, making it the last of its kind in the United States and possibly in the world as well. 

5) Gilbert Baker Memorial Rainbow Flag

400 Castro Street, San Francisco – CA 94114 ESTADOS UNIDOS

The rainbow flag representing the LGBT community and its rights was designed in San Francisco by Gilbert Baker, a young man from Kansas who came to the city as a U.S. Army draftee in 1970. After an honorable discharge due to his sexuality, Baker stayed in San Francisco to pursue his dreams. He learned to sew to make the clothes he wanted and couldn’t find in stores. In 1974, he met Harvey Milk, who, after winning the election for supervisor, convinced him to create a pride symbol for the gay community. Baker then dyed the fabrics and sewed the eight vibrant-colored stripes himself. 

The Castro neighborhood is quite surprising and has a unique and alternative atmosphere compared to the rest of San Francisco. In about 2/3 hours, you can easily get a fantastic sense of this area, which is located near other neighborhoods worth visiting, such as the Mission District. If you have some free time in your San Francisco itinerary, it’s definitely worth including these 5 attractions in the Castro neighborhood!

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