The Castro district of San Francisco is often seen as a haven for members of the LGBTQ+ community so it’s not surprising that it’s a popular place to visit for people from around the world looking to discover what makes this district so unique. The history of this small area of San Francisco runs deep and its ongoing importance within the LGBT+ community can not be overstated. The Castro is the largest Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Queer community in the world and for these reasons, it was a very important part of my trip to San Francisco. I decided to join the Cruisin’ the Castro Walking Tour to find out more about the area with an expert guide.
We met our tour guide, the fabulously welcoming and knowledgeable Kathy, under one of the icons of the Castro, the huge rainbow flag, where our tour began. Our small group was led through various areas of the Castro covering the history of the area and the LGBTQ+ community. Including why it became a focal point for people from the gay community after the gold rush, how it became known worldwide during the summer of love, the legacy of Harvey Milk, the affect of the aids epidemic, how the area functions in the current day and plenty more.
Along the way you visit many famous sites in the Castro including The Castro Theatre, the Harvey Milk Plaza and the Pink Triangle Memorial Park which honours the LGBTQ+ Holocaust victims, here we were encouraged to take home a rose crystal from the park as a memento ( I always keep mine in my pocket on Pride day). You get to see part of the famous and moving Aids Memorial Quilt, the Castro library, the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and many important sites, catching lots of beautiful murals along the way.
Along the tour you will also pass the Rainbow Honour Walk, bronze sidewalk plaques which line the streets and honour famous LGBTQ+ people who have made an important difference for the rights and lives of the LGBTQ+ community. There is an ongoing fundraising campaign to add more names and faces to this walk so check out their webpage if you want to donate.
The tour ends at Harvey Milk’s camera shop which is now the Human Rights Campaign Action Centre so it’s a great place to grab some Castro merch to remember your trip and donate to a good cause all at the same time.
Kathy is the perfect host of this tour, she is incredibly knowledgeable and personable and really adds the human angle to the history of the area. This tour is a really important one for anyone with even a passing interest in LGBTQ+ history and I can’t recommend it enough if you are visiting San Francisco, I learnt so much and at times it was incredibly moving. If you still aren’t certain the Cruisin’ the Castro Walking Tour is now celebrating its 30th year and in recognition, the city this year made the first and only legacy business tour company, what an accolade!
Tours run on various days throughout the week but not every day so make sure you check out their calendar and book early. The Cruisin’ the Castro Walking Tour takes 2 hours and costs $29 per person. While you are in the area after the tour, why not check out the GLBT History Museum where you can see among other artefacts the original Harvey Milk campaign materials, it’s a $5 entry or free on Wednesdays.
Is the Castro somewhere you’ve looked to visit?