A cultural and political center of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community since the mid-1970s, the Castro is home to various queer historical places. This guide celebrates and connects queer communities past and present.Less
The GLBT Historical Society Museum is the first stand-alone museum of LGBTQ history and culture in the United States. The museum includes two exhibition spaces, one dedicated to showcasing the story of queer life in the diverse populations of San Francisco and the other to rotating exhibitions. Current temporary displays include a fragment of one of the original rainbow flags, first raised in San Francisco in 1978.
In 1974, a group of lesbians and feminists opened Full Moon Coffee and Books at this location. The coffeehouse and bookstore maintained an explicitly women-only admission policy and was the first such establishment in the city. It served food and hosted poetry readings and performances until its closure in 1977. Various pioneering feminist musicians performed here, including Meg Christian and Rosalie Sorrells.
Now operating as Toad Hall, this space was the home of Pendulum, a gay bar in the Castro that catered to African American men, from 1971 to 2005. It had previously housed the I-Do-Know, the second gay bar in the Castro. The establishment’s current name of Toad Hall was borrowed from another historic bar that operated at 482 Castro Street from 1971 to 1979.
This spot at the corner of 18th Street and Castro Street has a long queer history. In the 1970s it was a popular cruising location, named after the Hibernia bank that occupied the building that now houses the Bank of America. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, the location became a space for grassroots memorials dedicated to those in the community who had died. Today, it still serves as a site for memorializing and remembering community members who have passed away.
In 1973, Harvey Milk (1930–1978) opened a camera shop here and later lived in the apartment upstairs with his partner Scott Smith. Milk ran for the SF Board of Supervisors in 1973, 1975 and 1977, and for the California State Assembly in 1976, organizing all of his campaigns from the storefront. With his election to the SF Board of Supervisors in November 1977, Milk became the first openly gay man to win public office in California. From 2011 to 2021, this was the Human Rights Campaign’s store.
A Different Light, an LGBTQ bookstore, operated here from 1985 to 2011. The store was part of a small chain of similar stores in LGBTQ neighborhoods throughout the U.S. The bookstore was a hub of social and cultural activity, hosting author talks, activist meetings, and selling a wide range of print material. Dog Eared Books, which currently occupies the space, is a local bookstore chain that began at another location in 1992.
The Cove’s window seats provide guests an opportunity to people-watch and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the Castro neighborhood. The current owners took over in the late 1980s and the restaurant became a popular destination for the LGBTQ community moving into the area. In addition, the restaurant’s owner is remembered for her compassion to gay men with AIDS during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and she and her husband continue their steadfast support of the queer community.
The Castro Theater was opened in 1922 by the Nasser family, who had immigrated from Syria to settle in the South of Market area. It was remodeled and reopened in the 1970s. Its revival as a repertory cinema that catered to camp-attuned audiences helped to solidify the Castro as an LGBTQ neighborhood. It serves as a location for many film premieres, viewings and film festivals in the queer community.
Twin Peaks opened in the 1940s. Originally attracting a working-class clientele, it was purchased in 1972 by two lesbians, Mary Ellen Cunha and Peggy Forster, who transformed the establishment by installing large, vertical plate-glass windows. The bar is believed to be the first known gay bar in the U.S. that made it possible for passersby to view patrons seated inside, becoming a symbol of a liberated, proud and visible LGBTQ community.
This location was home to the NAMES Project, which created the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987. At this storefront, volunteers sewed three-by-six foot quilt panels commemorating people around the country who had died of AIDS. The quilt was displayed as 40 panels at events for the 1987 San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day, and later grew to encompass nearly 2,000 panels displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The full quilt and archives are still located in San Francisco.