San Francisco's gay village is most concentrated in the business district that is located on Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street. It extends down Market Street toward Church and on both sides of the Castro neighborhood from Church Street to Eureka Street. Although the greater gay community was, and is, concentrated in the Castro many gay people live in the surrounding residential areas bordered by the Mission District, Noe Valley, Twin Peaks, and Haight-Ashbury neighborhoods. Some consider it to include Duboce Triangle and Dolores Heights which both have a strong LGBT presence.
Castro Street was named for José Castro (1808-1860), a leader of Mexican opposition to U.S. rule in California in the 19th century, and governor of Alta California from 1835-1836. The neighborhood now known as the Castro was born in 1887 when the Market Street Cable Railway built a line linking Eureka Valley to downtown.
From 1910 to 1920, the Castro was known as "Little Scandinavia" on account of the number of people of Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish ancestry who lived there. A Finnish bathhouse (Finilla's) dating from this period was located behind the Cafe Flore on Market Street until 1986. The Cove on Castro diner used to be called The Norse Cove. The Scandinavian Seamen's Union was near 15th Street and Market, just around the corner from the Swedish-American Hall which remains in the district. Scandinavian-style "half-timber" construction can still be seen in some of the buildings along Market Street between Castro and Church Streets.
According to Morgan Spurlock, who filmed "Straight Man in a Gay World", a 2005 episode of his documentary TV series 30 Days in the Castro, the U.S. military offloaded thousands of gay servicemen in San Francisco during World War II after they were discharged for being homosexuals. Many settled in the Castro, and this began the influx of homosexuals to the Castro neighborhood.
The Castro came of age as a gay center following the controversial Summer of Love in the neighboring Haight-Ashbury district in 1967. The gathering brought tens of thousands of middle-class youth from all over the United States. The neighborhood, previously known as Eureka Valley, became known as the Castro, after the landmark theatre by that name near the corner of Castro and Market Streets.
By 1975, Harvey Milk had opened a camera store there, and began political involvement as a gay activist, further contributing to the notion of the Castro as a gay destination. Some of the culture of the late 1970s included what was termed the "Castro Clone," a mode of dress and personal grooming -- tight denim pants, black combat boots, tight T-shirt, possibly a red plaid flannel outer shirt, and usually sporting a mustache or full beard -- in vogue with the gay male population at the time, and which gave rise to the nickname "Clone Canyon" for the stretch of Castro Street between 18th and Market Streets. There were numerous famous watering holes in the area, contributing to the nightlife, including the Corner Grocery Bar, the Norse Cove, the Pendulum, the Midnight Sun, Twin Peaks, and the Elephant Walk. A typical daytime street scene of the period is perhaps best illustrated by mentioning the male belly dancers who could be found holding forth in good weather at the corner of 18th and Castro, on "Hibernia Beach," in front of the financial institution from which it drew its name. Then at night, after the bars closed at 2 AM, the men remaining at that hour often would line up along the sidewalk of 18th Street to indicate that they were still available to go home with someone.
The area was hit hard by the AIDS/HIV crisis of the 1980s. Beginning in 1984, city officials began a crackdown on bathhouses and launched initiatives that aimed to prevent the spread of AIDS. Kiosks lining Market Street and Castro Street now have posters promoting safe sex and testing right alongside those advertising online dating services.
Straight families have moving into the Castro at an accelerating pace.
- Castro Theatre, a movie palace built in 1922
- Corner of 18th St.-Castro
- The F Market heritage streetcar line's turnaround at Market St.-17th St.-Castro
- The Castro Street Station, a Muni Metro subway station
- Hartford Street Zen Center
- Harvey Milk Plaza, location of Muni MuniMetro Lightrail-Subway Castro street station
- Site of Harvey Milk's Camera Store - 575 Castro St.
- Pink Triangle Park - 17th Street at Market 
- Badlands SF
- Twin Peaks (Bar)
- The Bar on Castro
- Starbucks (aka Bear's Den or Bear Trap)
- Moby Dicks (Bar)
- Asher Second Hand Store
- Castro Street Fair
- Dyke March
- Halloween in the Castro
- Pink Saturday
- San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival
In November 2000, the Noe Valley Voice reported the following statistics for city District 8, which includes Noe Valley, Diamond Heights, Glen Park, Twin Peaks, Corona Heights, Duboce/Reverse Triangle, and Castro/Dolores Heights. The paper cited a 1999 poll of registered voters by David Binder Research, a prominent local polling agency.
- White: 81%
- Age 30-49: 54%
- Male: 58%
- Gay/Lesbian: 41% (15.4% city-wide)
- Rent housing: 55%
- College graduate: 71%
- Democrat: 72%
- Republican: 12%
- Religious affiliation: 56%
- Not religious: 40%
In popular culture
- In one episode of The Simpsons, The Castro is mentioned by Cuban President Fidel Castro. He suggests to a room full of his subordinates that he is thinking of calling the USA to let them know that Communism hadn't worked out, and that Cuba was on the verge of going bankrupt. Castro responds to a disbelieving military officer by saying, "Eh, they're not so bad---they even named a street after me in San Francisco." After his right-hand man whispers to him (inaudible to the audience, but presumably about the obvious number of gays in the area), Castro replies with shock, "It's full of what?!?".
- In Carlos Mencia's stand-up performance, No Strings Attached, he states that he inadvertently visited Castro thinking it was a Hispanic/Latino suburb.
- In "Straight Man in a Gay World", a 2005 episode of the documentary television series 30 Days, Ryan Hickmott, a small-town Christian man with anti-homosexual beliefs, lives in the Castro for 30 days.
- Dave Chappelle's 2004 stand-up For What It's Worth was performed in San Francisco, and his opening act discussed the Castro Neighborhood.
- In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the Queens neighborhood in San Fierro, which is a parody of San Francisco, is based on the Castro. The neighborhood is decorated with the 'Rainbow Flag' and stereotypical homosexual people.
- ↑ Buchanan, Wyatt. S.F.'s Castro district faces an identity crisis: As straights move in, some fear loss of the area's character San Francisco Chronicle. Accessed 3-27-07.
- Demographics: "AND NOW FOR THE RUMORS BEHIND THE NEWS" by Mazook. Noe Valley Voice, November 2000. 
- Demographics, see also: "District 8: Under the rainbow" by Betsey Culp. San Francisco Call, 25 September 2000. 
- Castro SF - The Complete Local Guide
- OnTheCastro - TV in Your Neighborhood
- Guided photo tour of Castro
- SF Gate: Gay & Lesbian Guide: Castro
- Uncle Donald's Castro Street
- GayCities San Francisco: Gay/Lesbian nightlife & hotel guide to Castro and SF
- Castro demographics data
- ClubFly Castro St: Gay bars, clubs and a google map
- Gay SF and Castro online