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How to spend a day in the Castro, San Francisco's LGBTQ+ heartland

Local resident and drag queen extraordinaire Nick Large describes his ideal day in San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ heartland.

By Nick Large
Published 5 Nov 2020, 08:52 GMT

When Life magazine named San Francisco the ‘gay capital of the world’ in 1964, it was talking about the Castro.

Photograph by Andria Lo


11am: On the weekend, I’ll go for brunch. If I’m in the mood for a drag brunch, I go to Hamburger Mary’s — it pioneered them. Or I’ll go to Harvey’s, where I’m all about the fried chicken sandwich.


1pm: I head to HRC Store. All the profits are invested locally — proceeds from Harvey Milk-branded things go to the GLBT Historical Society. It’s a lighter way to talk about history and what people died for.

3pm: Cliff’s Variety is a shop that sells everything from household essentials to makeup, gemstones and glitter paints. I get my fake eyelashes there, and they’re great for crafting materials. I can say, “I want to make this headpiece” and they’ll help me do it.

4pm: In 1972, same-sex intimacy was illegal, and LGBTQ+ bars didn’t want people to be able to look in. As far as I know, Twin Peaks Tavern was the first LGBTQ+ bar with windows, and it was owned by women.


6pm: Cafe Mystique is great and always affordable. I usually get the chicken parmigiana, and I love the string beans — they’re served in soy sauce with freshly diced tomatoes and sundried tomatoes. Absolutely heavenly. 

8pm: Head to Harvey’s. After Harvey Milk’s murderer was sentenced to just seven years, riots broke out across the city and the police retaliated by coming to this bar, dragging patrons out and beating them up. Today, it’s been renamed in honour of Milk.

10pm: The Café I go to this club because they have a big dance area — plus there’s a great mural of Harvey on the side.

The local hero: Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by a former colleague on 27 November 1978. Milk knew he was a target, and shortly after being elected as a Supervisor recorded a message to be released in the event of his death. “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” he said. He’s since become a human rights icon; Terminal 1 at San Francisco airport was renamed the Harvey Milk Terminal in 2019.

Discover more Tales of San Francisco

Published in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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