NFT San Francisco Castro / Lower Haight

Castro / Lower Haight

Rainbow flags, leather bars, older guys letting it all hang out by going completely nude, daddies and their sugar boys dancing it up at the Café -- that's just the side of the Castro that is living up to the racy reputation. The other side of the Castro is intensely political -- this is where gay rights pioneers like the late Harvey Milk added impetus to a movement that's still in the headlines today, and where activists mobilized against the AIDS epidemic and made the disease part of the national dialogue when most people wanted to write it off as the "gay cancer."

The Castro supplies one of the biggest assets of a sleepless city: 24-hour food (Orphan Andy's, Sparky's). Local live music is fresh at See more.

>Café du Nord and the brave can make their own music with karaoke at The Mint. Lower Haight is brunch central at Kate's Kitchen and Café du Soleil by morning and beer heaven at Toronado by night.

Try Thep Phanom for Thai, Chow for a down-home diner, and NOPA just because it feels right. While Harvest Market is a healthyish store, Thorough Bread And Pastry makes everyone happy. Streetlight Records, Groove Merchant Records and Jack's Record Cellar are all great record stores.


This Neighborhood Featured in...
SF’s Indie Flick Havens

By Cynthia Popper
San Francisco boasts not one, but three—count ‘em—three amazing independent movie houses that keep it real, totally devoid of commercial blockbusters and overexposed A-Listers. Cythina Popper makes the rounds to give you the details.
Mission San Francisco de Asis: The Center of the City

By James Wigdel
The oldest extant building in San Francisco, "Mission Dolores" has weathered many storms, known many torrents. The times have changed, but the Mission remains.

No Cover, No Minimum

By Deborah Crooks
Music in San Francisco: It's crazy, but true. See the city's fledgling musicmakers now before they molt, grow wings, take flight and make for the Northwest Passage, never to return.

Biking the Hills of SF

By Jeremy Smith
Biking in San Francisco: So romantic, so liberated, so much more than you bargained for. Let Jeremy Smith guide your trembling hand cross the foothills, o'er the embankments as he leads you to a topographically enlivening land you never thought you deserved to see.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Carolyne Rohrig
Photo:  Carolyne Rohrig

Nopa's Custard French Toast is so spectacular you'll want to skip the main course and go straight for that. A full order is plenty for two people, or just you if you don't want to share. Believe me you won't. It comes bathed in warm butter, grilled kumquat slices and drizzled with warm syrup with a hint of orange. Other items on the brunch menu include the wood grilled garlic sausage, slow cooked pork, and the grass fed burger. The cocktails are gems. And they serve Blue Bottle Coffee. Nopa is a palate explosion on Divisadero.

Posted By:  Gerard Koskovich
Photo:  Gerard Koskovich

GLBT History Museum
At 1,600 square feet (150 square meters), The GLBT History Museum is fairly small, but it packs a punch, celebrating 100 years of the San Francisco's vast queer past through dynamic exhibitions and programming. Among the objects on display are personal belongings of Harvey Milk; the pantsuits worn by pioneering lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon to their 2008 wedding; a Laura Linney costume from the 1993 "Tales of the City" PBS miniseries; and photos, documents and artifacts telling the surprising stories of a century of everyday queer life among the diverse populations of San Francisco. Multimedia exhibits include historic film, video and audio. The museum is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.; Sunday, noon – 5 p.m.; closed Tuesday. General admission is U.S. $5.00; admission for California students with ID is $3.00; free for members; free to all visitors on the first Wednesday of each month (courtesy of the Bob Ross Foundation). Launched in January 2011, the museum is a project of the GLBT Historical Society, a San Francisco institution founded in 1985 that houses one of the world's largest collections of GLBT archival materials.

Posted By:  Cristian Cartes
Photo:  Cristian Cartes

Thorough Bread And Pastry
This bakery is proving to be the little bakery that could. It has seen an increase in business that can only be attributed to it's delicious pastries. Countless times I've walked by Thorough Bread, and while it took me a while to get the pun, it took me even longer to actually go in. I was urged to go in and try the almond croissant. Apparently it was to die for. Well it did not disappoint! It was probably on of the sweetest, richest, and most buttery croissants I've ever experienced. Yes, it was an experience. Also tasty, is an indulgent vanilla and coffee eclair. They a lot to choose from, savory and sweet breads, galettes, tarts, cookies, and more. I have yet to sample the sandwiches but if they are anything like I've had so far, then there's much to look forward to.

Posted By:  Cristian Cartes
Photo:  Cristian Cartes

Dear Blackbird, I must start by saying I love you. Over time you have become by far, my favorite bar in the city. Anytime I need to escape a hard day, rough work night or if I'm craving a delicious libation...there really is no other option for me. You have everything anyone could want in a drinking establishment, a pool table, photobooth, elegant bar, rotating artwork and chill ambience. Thank you bartenders, for always being genuinely sweet and friendly, not to mention hot! And thank you for your expertly crafted cocktails, including a delectably spicy Bloody Mary made with chipotle vodka, a refreshing Red Wine Crush which marries OJ, cabernet, and brandy, and of course all your other enticing concoctions. You are the hip place to be these days, packing quite a crowd on the weekends. And while it's always fun to mingle, I love being in your company on the weeknights, where's it somewhat more mellow and I can have a bit more intimacy with my cohorts. Speaking of company, the weekend is upon us and I think it's happy hour right now, which means it's time for a visit.

Posted By:  Cristian Cartes
Photo:  Cristian Cartes

Sui Generis
San Francisco men are ruled mostly by hoodies and flannels, perhaps it's the weather, always requiring a layer and also these are comfortable clothes for this popular biking city. Flannels and hoodies are hot but when I feel like breaking out of the mold, Sui Generis is the place for me. Like it's name, this boutique is unique in it's clothing options. First of all it only carries men's apparel. The owners are also the buyers and they have a style that would make Tom Ford proud. All is carefully selected vintage clothes of high quality. No throwaways here. Sifting through the racks I can find not only a handsome selection of vintage jackets and worn in t-shirts but also a selection by top designers. Need a sharp 3-piece suite? No need to look elsewhere, this little consignment shop is here to help you put your most stylish foot forward.

Posted By:  Cristian Cartes
Photo:  Cristian Cartes

The Castro is known for a lot of things, but for a being a great dining hub it's not. One new restaurant is poised to change that. Introducing Starbelly. Taking California comfort food to new levels with Mediterranean and European flourishes, the menu has an arsenal of snack as well as entrees. Some of my favorites on the seasonal menu are the house cured meats, the roasted porchetta with salsa calabria, a pizza with figs, blue cheese and proscuitto, and for dessert a warm fig crumble with balsamic caramel ice cream. The drink menu, while sans hard liquor, is bold and creative. With an extensive wine and beer list, it also features cocktails like Micheladas and a Madeira cobbler. The decor is minimal and spacious featuring a bar that extends into a long communal table made of recycled wood. During dinner time be prepared for a wait as this place is the new hot spot all the foodies in San Francisco seem to be flocking to, and with reason. Accessible prices for standout quality dishes, the service is knowledgable and unpretentious and the atmosphere is lighthearted and fun. Finally a worthy reason to dine out in the Castro.

Posted By:  Cristian Cartes
Photo:  Cristian Cartes

Needles and Pens
For a more authentic taste of SF culture check out Needles and Pens. The things you will find here you cannot get at any tourist gift shop. This space carries a large and thoughtful selection of zines, comics, books, jewelry, clothing, and art, all by local designers and crafters. Part art gallery, that is hosting monthly art shows, part boutique. This space has a charming thrift store feel. You can find pins, buttons, wallets, stickers, patches, postcards, silk screened tees, and reconstructed clothing and bags. Whether it be something for yourself or if you're struggling to find a gift for someone back home, this place is worth the stop. Most everything here is one of a kind, handmade, small press and in limited quantity, and following with the green trend, a lot of items are made from recycled material. Needles and Pens is true San Francisco in every stitch.

Posted By:  Carolyne Rohrig
Photo:  Carolyne Rohrig

Three Twins Ice Cream
Among the art galleries, clothing shops, painted walls and restaurants of Fillmore Street, you'll find the green aura of the Three Twins Ice Cream shop beckoning you to come in. This is no ordinary ice cream shop. Everything is green including the ice cream. Green as in organic. Luscious. Curiously different. Earth friendly. Recent selections included Roasted Peach, Mint Confetti, PBC3 (peanut butter, cookie confetti crunch) and Bittersweet Chocolate. Flavors vary by the day and with the seasons. What you taste today will not be there tomorrow, which means you'll be a repeat customer because the ice cream is amazing. Bring about six friends so you can taste everything at once.

Posted By:  Cristian Cartes
Photo:  Cristian Cartes

Dolores Park
If it's one of those rare hot days in SF, be warned that it might be difficult to find a quiet place in Dolores Park. Locals love this spot. The park and its people can be divided by sections. On the lower side (by 18th and Dolores) there are more bicycles than people. This is Hipster Hill. Here you'll see the latest and tightest skinny jeans worn by impossibly hip twenty-somethings who walked right out of an American Apparel ad. On the same side towards the top of the park you'll find hoola hoopers and the family friendly portion near the children's playground. At the very top you'll find a majestic view of the city. And last but not least, on the upper terrace you'll find Speedos and muscles. The six packs here are different from the six packs on Hipster Hill. Welcome to the Manshelf. Gays come prepared with their bubbly and tanning lotion ready to soak up the sun. If you want to cruise bulging biceps and washboard abs, this is your place. If you stroll through Dolores Park, you can find a bit of everything, stay long enough and you might have trouble finding your way home.

Posted By:  Carolyne Rohrig
Photo:  Carolyne Rohrig

Koshland Community Park
Tucked away on a hill on Page and Buchanan Streets is the Koshland Community Park. It's a little oasis in the middle of apartment living and shopping. A great spot to eat a sandwich in, or pull away from the madding crowd, or take pictures of flowering plants and lush shrubs. There's a playground for the kids and a community garden there, too, where local elementary school children learn organic gardening and nutrition. Lining the walls of the park are a series of tiles painted by children that add to the creativity of the park. But most of all it's a place to regain your equilibrium after the day's chaos.

Posted By:  Elizabeth Hollis Hansen
Photo:  Elizabeth Hollis Hansen

What do Pliny the Elder, Big Daddy, and Blind Pig have in common? No, they're not characters in a gangster movie. Hint: They're on tap? You guessed it--beer! Beers are on rotation at Toronado, so things are always changing. One week Blind Pig, the next who know...maybe Dogfish Head. If you like beer and haven't been to this holy mecca of brew, I highly recommend you stop what you're doing and go down right now. With so many draught beers and bottles to choose from, it can be a daunting decision. But that's what the beer-tenders are there for. They may look gruff and sleep-deprived, but they don't bite. Don't be afraid to ask for a recommendation. There's plenty of entertainment here, too. If you're not mesmerized by the thousands of provocative beer stickers that cover the walls, there's always at least one person who falls off their stool, shouts a few obscenities, and crawls back up only to order another round.

Posted By:  Andrew Vennari
Photo:  Andrew Vennari

This storefront on Divis has been hawking its wares since the days of the Coltrane Church. Step inside from the soot-choked street and you find yourself amid the kitchen clutter of yesteryear. If you came for something specific, please ask; there is no way you will find it on your own. But if you've come for nothing in particular, and decide to wander about, you will soon find yourself navigating a maze of wares, a plethora of pots and myriad spoons, dishes, trinkets and thingummies. Among the treasure trove you might stumble on a fine enameled cast iron for a good price or that cheese grater from your childhood. Behind the counter, however, the owner has a way of striking conversation. She who some have referred to as the "Kitchen B*tch" I find to be a charming reminder that this city is full of restless natives like me hell-bent on speaking their minds.

Posted By:  Alex Orzulak
Photo:  Alex Orzulak

Five Star Truffles Co.
This gourmet munitions factory cranks out homemade velvet chocobombs that fuel my personal insurgencies. Owners Santos and Julio will pack up 10, 60, or 1400 (call ahead) of these compact morsels in natural flavors that will just mess you up with ambrosial mouthfeel. Jim Beam and dark chocolate, anyone? Just let one of their truffles melt in your mouth. There. See? We can win this thing. Order online if you don't want a free truffle with your coffee.

Posted By:  Alex Orzulak
Photo:  Alex Orzulak

Woodhouse Fish Co.
I'm giving this place the same stink eye that our server gave us on our 2nd visit. We got stink eye, stink service, and for the price, not enough fishbang for our fishbucks. Yes the food was tasty. Just don't slam our dishes down, ignore our requests for water, and generally act like you could give a shit towards paying customers. With so many quality seafood choices to be had in the same neighborhood for better prices--Chow for example--Woodhouse needs to wedgie that pissy server and pile a bit more on the plate.

Posted By:  Elizabeth Tauber
Photo:  Elizabeth Tauber

Noc Noc
Noc Noc might be San Francisco’s most palpable bar. There are strange painted appendages that come through the floor, and the bumpy walls beg you to run your fingers across them. If we one day found primitive alien caves, they’d probably look something like this Tim Burtonesque space, with its bizarre drawings painted on the walls and its eerie enclaves, some of which have guests drinking on the floor (cushioned, of course). The décor alone distinguishes Noc Noc from other Lower Haight dives, but DJs spinning each night of the week seals the deal. The bar only serves beer, wine, and sake, so don’t plan on coming if you want a cocktail. Or if you’re not ready to hole up in a dark corner.

Posted By:  David MacFadden
Photo:  Lillian Kang

Dolores Park
During these seven slightly warmer months, on the second Thursday of each, this friendly, neighborhood-focused organization shows a free film in Dolores Park. It’s as simple and brilliant as that. Show up early—by 90 minutes for the best seats—and enjoy some local music, and independent short films while you imbibe and picnic as freely as if you were on your own davenport. The city-renowned tamale lady is on hand, dishing out one of the best things that pairs with beer besides more beer. But be sure to buy some popcorn and donate cash to help defray the costs of putting on this event. The audience picks the following month’s film by round of applause, and at the April event, after three nail-biting rounds in the Charlton Heston in memoriam head-to-head, Soylent Green squeezed out a victory over Planet of the Apes. It will screen May 8th, at 9 pm. Check the website each month for updates.

Posted By:  Eva Silverman
Photo:  Eva Silverman

Edo Salon & Gallery
I live in North Oakland and travel to the Lower Haight to get my hair did. I'm sure there are great places to go in the East Bay, but still I choose Edo. Here's why. My hair stylist Sarah Moore knows exactly what I want when I give her my sort of vague sort of specific instructions, for example: 'I want to continue growing it, don't want the top to flow over and get annoyed when the back gets too long'. Then she cuts it exactly how I imagined it. I've learned to use the words 'choppy' and 'angled' which makes me think I know what I'm talking about. It's a nice establishment and has rotating art installations, which matches the hipster-like quality of much of their clientele and stylists. Not that it's a bad thing. I get in and out in less than 30 minutes and they offer me tea, wine or water when I get there. The price for my shorter hair is $50. Though I'm still living in the days of my youth when a haircut meant $8, I've come to realize that if you go any place other than Sal's Barber Shop, you're looking at $40+. So, next time you're shopping around for haircuts, I highly recommend Edo Salon.

Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

Chilli Cha Cha
Never underestimate hole-in-the-wall ethnic joints, especially in Lower Haight. Even when you expect the offerings to be nothing more than basic, no-frills but perfectly fresh and tasty grub, they’ll serve up a delicious meal presented in a way you thought you’d only find in some posh restaurant that was completely out of your league. Chilli Cha Cha, despite the name, provided me with a wonderful Thai meal on a cold Friday night, amid the slightly sketchy Lower-Haight surroundings. Paintings depicting scenes from Thailand added a bit of ambience to the otherwise humble setting. My companion and I had a pretty memorable meal that brought back memories of own travels in Thailand, with traditional noodles and a duck curry as well as the nicest surprise, our appetizers of ahi tuna balls drizzled in chili mayonnaise, soy sauce and Thai hot sauce. That night, we feasted like royalty—and didn’t have to empty our wallets.

Posted By:  David MacFadden
Photo:  Courtesy of Film Noir Foundation

Castro Theatre
The 6th Annual Noir City film festival is stocked with 20 cinematic treasures cherry-picked from the country’s best archives; many of the selections have yet to debut on DVD. These films were sparked by the notion that WWII veterans returned to the states to find that their dames weren’t interested in housewifery, but had instead become power players in the veterans’ old lines of work. The gents sought new schemes, but were always double-crossed by the femme fatales. Crime, corruption, seduction, and exploitation followed suit, leaving in their wake one of the great American film traditions: films noir. This year’s opening night is a double-feature tribute to Joan Leslie, who will be in person for a Q&A between screenings of two of her films: Repeat Performance and The Hard Way (January 25th). Contemporary hard-boiled prose stylist James Ellroy will introduce a newly-restored print of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s The Prowler on January 26th. That same evening, curator Eddie Muller will give his short film, The Grand Inquisitor, its world premiere screening. Lies! Blood! Action! Deception! Everybody has an angle at this ten-day festival.

Posted By:  Elise Burger
Photo:  Elise Burger

One in a crop of specialty boutiques that have popped up in the Mission over the past few years, Studio 3579 is the brainchild of former business woman-cum-designer Priya Saraswati, who opened up shop just over a year ago. Studio 3579 is an artist-run endeavor: Saraswati’s own line of colorful, well-tailored digs, Saffron Rare Threads, saddles up against the wares of jewelry designer Joy Opfer (Joy O Designs) and Illustrator Hannah Stouffer (Grand Array). Warning: the store’s obsessive arrangement may conjure fear in the visitor; I, for one hesitated for a moment before touching anything. Saraswati’s collection appears as a rainbow that’s lost its curve: it is organized by color, and hung meticulously along the straightest of metal rods. Opfer’s necklaces snake artfully along the bottom of the glass display case, their tags tucked discreetly in order to obscure prices. Stouffer takes the cake: her menagerie of illustrations, t-shirts, and other assorted hipster ephemera (read: lots of silk-screened t-shirts, pillows, and even panties) stack atop one another in a tableaux so cluttered that it is almost difficult to look at. Studio 3579 is worth a few extra moments of perusal, however. Objects this beautiful deserve the attention.

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See Castro / Lower Haight...
Restaurants (53)
Nightlife (28)
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