San Francisco/Castro-Noe Valley

Travel Guide North America USA Western United States California San Francisco San Francisco/Castro-Noe Valley

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Introduction

The colorful Castro is the famous gay center of San Francisco, a vibrant and historic neighborhood full of businesses geared towards the city's LGBT community. Adjacent to the Castro and sitting beneath Twin Peaks to the west is Noe Valley, a pleasant neighborhood with lots of lovely restaurants and boutiques to explore. The area is bounded roughly by the Twin Peaks on the west, Dolores/Church Streets on the east, Duboce Avenue on the north and San Jose Avenue on the south.

Originally an Irish working-class neighborhood of San Francisco, the Castro has been transformed for the past 35 years and recognized by many as the gay mecca of the world. Filled with bookstores, clothing outlets, video stores and bars (and practically anything else you can think of) that cater towards the LGBT community, the Castro is a required visit for anyone even slightly interested in gay lifestyle and culture, and is truly a local authentic gem of San Francisco.

Noe Valley is a long gentrified neighborhood in San Francisco with many hip and trendy restaurants and boutique shops. The main commercial corridor is on 24th Street between Church Street and Diamond Street. Walking along 24th Street during the day you will see well-attended coffee shops, chic boutiques and several baby strollers. You can learn more about the goings-on in Noe Valley by reading either the print or online edition of the Noe Valley Voice.

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Sights and Activities

The Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St (between 17th and 18th Sts), ☏ +1-415-621-6120. A lovingly restored Art Deco jewelbox of an independent movie theatre, with a Wurlitzer organ and splendid organist, special sing-along showings, and more. A "rep house" or repertory theater, it tends to screen a wide variety of classic or obscure but worthwhile films, and be a venue of choice of local film festivals. $11 adults, $8.50 seniors/teens/matinee.
LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market St (at Octavia), ☏ +1-415-865-5555. M-Th noon-10PM, F noon-6PM, Sa 9AM-6PM. The Center houses the offices of various community organizations, and has space for public events and meetings. The ground floor features a cafe space, and on the third floor there is a cyber center which offers an hour of free computer time.
GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St (between Castro St and Collingwood St), ☏ +1-415-621-1107. M, W-Sa 11AM-7PM, Su noon-5PM (except holidays), Tu closed. A GLBT history museum, with exhibits that take you from the bedrooms and back rooms to the bookstores and bars, from Harvey Milk's victories to transgender sex workers' riots, from social movements to secret fantasies. $5.
Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, ☏ +1-415-554-9600. Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM. A small but fun children's museum with several interactive exhibits, including live animals, a science exhibit, a toddler play area, and a railroad exhibit which includes a model railroad layout which is open on Saturdays. The museum is perched on a hill, offering great views of the San Francisco skyline. Free.

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Events and Festivals

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve - The US celebrates the outgoing of the old year and incoming of the New Year quite dramatically. Every state boasts its own parties to ring in the New Year, but none is more extravagant than New York’s Time Square, which sees people overflowing into the neighboring restaurants, bars, parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15. The holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.
  • St Patrick’s Day - March 17 celebrates the US’s large Irish population. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green. Be wary of the drunkenness that dominates as this is definitely a party-day.
  • Memorial Day - Memorial Day is an important holiday throughout the United States, but not for crazy festivities. Parades commemorating wartime heroes are often held and the day is also the ‘unofficial’ start of summer. Most visitors follow the crowds to parks and beaches, which are capped off with informal BBQs.
  • Independence Day - Also known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century. Barbecues, street parties, beach trips, and weekend getaways are commonplace to appreciate freedom.
  • Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor.
  • Halloween - Halloween is a fun holiday on October 31 for all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth. Children walk around the neighborhood trick-or-treating for candy, while adults attend parties. Other seasonal events include haunted houses, pumpkin farms and carving, and corn mazes.
  • Thanksgiving - On the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving is held in almost every home in the US. Tourists will have a hard time finding anything to do as the country essentially shuts down in observation. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie commemorating the original Pilgrim’s feast at Plymouth Rock.
  • Christmas - On December 25, Christians celebrate Christmas as the pinnacle of their calendar by attending church and opening gifts from Santa Claus. Almost everything shuts down to promote family togetherness. The northern regions hope to experience a “white Christmas,” with trees and festive lights blanketed by snow.

Sport

  • Super Bowl Sunday - the world’s most watched sporting event and one of the highest grossing TV days of the year, Superbowl Sunday is a spectacular extravaganza. Held the first Sunday in February, the Superbowl is the final playoff game between the NFL’s top two teams. The venue rotates every year around America, yet the local parties seem to remain. Pubs, bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy the Superbowl or locals throw their own parties with different variations of betting.
  • The World Series is the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in North America, contested since 1903 between the American League (AL) champion team and the National League (NL) champion team. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner's Trophy. As the series is played during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the Fall Classic.

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Getting There

By Car

Don't drive into the area. Use public transit instead. There is a public parking garage on Noe just north of Market, but it is small. Street parking is very hard to find, especially on the weekends. If you park at the Safeway on Market and you don't go exclusively there, you will be towed. There are some metered spots along 18th between Sanchez and Eureka, but these are hard to come by. On weekends, parking is better as the 2-hour neighborhood permits don't apply. Noe Valley has one small public lot, but you will likely need to find street parking, and this can be particularly scarce on weekends during brunch and dinner times.

By Public Transport

This is the best way to get to the Castro. The K , L , or M MUNI Metro underground lines are the quickest way from Downtown, stopping at the Church Street station at Market and Church and the Castro Street station at Market and Castro, with the T line also serving trips inbound to Downtown. The J Church line can also get you to the Castro, although it comes above ground and turns south on Church Street, which runs along the eastern edge of the district. For a more scenic ride, take the historic F Market streetcar line from Fisherman's Wharf, the Embarcadero and Downtown down Market to Castro Street.

MUNI bus lines which serve the area include 24-Divisadero, which runs along Castro Street through most of the district, heading north to Pacific Heights and southeast to Bayview-Hunters Point, the 33-Ashbury/18th, which runs east-west along 18th Street, the 48-Quintara/24th Street, which runs east-west along 24th Street, continuing east to Potrero Hill and west past Twin Peaks, West Portal and into Sunset, and the 35-Eureka and 37-Corbett neighborhood lines.

The BART system runs through the nearby Mission neighborhood, where you can either get off at the 16th Street station and transfer to the 33 bus line, or get off at the 24th Street station and transfer to the 48 bus line.

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Eat

24th Street Cheese Company, 3893 24th St (between Sanchez and Vicksburg), ☏ +1-415-821-6658. Carries hundreds of cheeses where you can taste before you buy.
Eric's, 1500 Church St (at 27th), ☏ +1 415 282-0919, fax: +1-415-282-9989. M-Th 11AM–9:30PM, F 11AM–10PM, Sa noon–10PM, Su 12:30PM–9:30PM. California Chinese cuisine (e.g.: many vegs are fresh, white or brown rice, mu shu comes with grilled flour tortillas) with a nod towards Hunan and Mandarin styles. Tasty food in a bustling place. Accessible, vegetarian friendly, beer and wine. Minimum charge of $8 per person. $5–8 apps and soups, $8–11 entrees.
Firefly, 4288 24th St (between Diamond and Douglass), ☏ +1-415-821-7652, ✉ info@fireflysf.com. 5:30PM–10PM daily. A favorite neighborhood restaurant among locals with creative home cooking and friendly service. Vegan and gluten-free options. Not usually too noisy. Reservations recommended, especially on weekends. $35.
Haystack Pizza, 3881 24th St (at Sanchez), ☏ +1-415-647-1929. Su-Th 11:30AM-11PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-midnight. A neighborhood favorite with a full menu with many choices for various diets.
Hot Cookie, 407 Castro Street, ☏ +1 415 621-2350. Bakery known for their macaroon cookies distinctively shaped like a piece of male anatomy.
Kasa Indian Eatery, 4001 18th St (at Noe), ☏ +1-415-621-6940. 11AM-10PM. Indian food in a casual setting emphasizing from-scratch cooking with fresh ingredients. $5-12.
La Ciccia, 291 30th St (at Church), ☏ +1-415-550-8114. Tu-Su 5:30PM-10PM. Gourmet Sardinian food, Italianate but often surprisingly spiced. Large list of unusual Sardinian and other Italian wines.
Lovejoy's Tea Room, 1351 Church St (at Clipper), ☏ +1-415 648-5895. W–Su 11AM–6PM. Combination antique store and one of the best places to have a cosy high tea in the city. Pub fare also served. Minimum charge $12 per person. $20–30.
Noe Valley Bakery, 4073 24th St (at Castro), ☏ +1-415-550-1405, fax: +1-415-550-1485, ✉ contact@noevalleybakery.com. M-F 7AM-7PM, Sa-Su 7AM-6PM. Considered one of the best local bakeries in the area. They supply some of the better SF restaurants as well as neighborhood demand for baked goods.
Pomelo, 1793 Church St. Small, quiet restaurant with an affordable variety of international dishes.
Sausage Factory, 517 Castro St (between 18th and 19th Sts), ☏ +1-415-626-1250. 11:30AM-midnight daily. An Italian restaurant that's larger than it looks from the outside, extending back into the middle of the block. Delivery.
Savor, 3913 24th St (at Sanchez), ☏ +1-415-282-0344. M-Sa 8AM-10PM, Su 8AM-9PM. A popular brunch spot.
Sparky's 24-Hour Diner, 242 Church St (between Market and 15th), ☏ +1-415-626-8666. 24 hours daily. Delivery. Full-on diner fare, good salads and baked items.
Thai House Express, 599 Castro St (at 19th), ☏ +1-415-864-5000. 11:30AM-10:30PM daily. Excellent Thai food in a gay atmosphere, with some dishes that are not on the menu of most American Thai restaurants, such as Kao Soy, chicken with soft and crispy noodles in mustard sauce.
Alice's Restaurant, 1599 Sanchez St (at 29th St; bus route 24 and light rail KJ line stops are nearby), ☏ +1 415 282-8999. 11AM–9:30PM, later weekends. Good, not fanciful Chinese food, and quiet enough that you can talk to your dinner companions. $10–15.

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Drink

Cafe Flore, 2298 Market St (at Noe), ☏ +1-415-621-8579. Su-Th 7AM-11PM, F-Sa 7AM-midnight. Go for the good tea or latte and the prime people watching, not necessarily the food.
Samovar Tea Lounge, 498 Sanchez St (at 18th St), ☏ +1-415-626-4700. 10AM-10PM daily. Live jazz on Fridays, a Stitch-and-Bitch knitting aficionado gathering on Sunday afternoons, over 100 kinds of tea. Comfortable hangout.
Cafe Sophie, 3463 16th St. A great local cafe serving excellent cappuccino.
Noe Valley also has the nickname "coffee gulch". While Starbucks is popular, the locals prefer Martha's (24th Street between Church and Sanchez) and Bernie's (24th between Noe and Sanchez).
440 Castro, 440 Castro St (between 17th and 18th Sts), ☏ +1-415-621-8732. Noon-2AM daily. Heavy gay bar with a rowdy crowd and lots of bears, but for some this is the definitive Castro bar.
The LookOut, 3600 16th St (at Noe/Market), ☏ +1-415-431-0306. M-F 3:30AM-2AM, Sa-Su 12:30PM-2AM. Very popular gay bar with great food, a nice balcony, and a much calmer crowd than the 440 Castro.
Mix, 4086 18th St (between Castro and Hartford), ☏ +1-415-431-8616. M-F 7AM-2AM, Sa-Su 6AM-2AM. Billing itself as a "neighborhood bar", Mix has strong drinks and a great back patio.
Moby Dick, 4049 18th St (at Castro), ☏ +1-415-294-0731. Noon-2AM daily. Great bartenders, cheap strong drinks, music videos, and pinball.
Pilsner Inn, 225 Church St (between 15th and Market Sts), ☏ +1-415-621-7058. M-F noon-2AM, Sa-Su 10AM-2AM. A low-key, unpretentious gay bar with plenty of room inside.
Twin Peaks Tavern, 401 Castro St (between 17th and 18th Sts), ☏ +1-415-864-9470. M-W noon-2AM, Th-Sa 8AM-2AM, Su 10AM-2AM. Very nice gay bar with a great atmosphere and nice staff. Historically this was the first gay bar in the US to display its patrons to the public, offering large windows looking IN to the bar. Until this addition, most all gay bars were underground bars/clubs that kept the clientele hidden from the general public.

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Sleep

Inn on Castro, 321 Castro St (at 16th), ☏ +1-415-861-0321, ✉ Innkeeper@innoncastro.com. An upscale bed and breakfast in a restored house. $95–190.
Parker House, 520 Church St (at 17th), ☏ +1-415-621-3222, fax: +1-415-621-4139, ✉ info@parkerguesthouse.com. A gay owned and operated hotel in a very pretty old building. $139–249.
Twin Peaks Hotel, 2160 Market St (between 14th and 15th), ☏ +1-415-863-2909. Not the Ritz but a cheap budget hotel option.

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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This is version 2. Last edited at 13:17 on Sep 18, 19 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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