Neighborhoods / The Castro

The Castro

For so many seekers, The Castro is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, their own personal Oz.

A non-stop breath of life
Once Eureka Valley, a working-class neighborhood called “Little Scandinavia” by some because of its preponderance of Finnish, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish residents, The Castro began to take its modern form in the 1970s, when a flood of GLBT emigrants came to the neighborhood. That’s when the quiet, middle-class Eureka Valley transformed into the vibrant, colorful Castro. Today’s Castro is a slightly tempered version of the outdoor party it was then, still a melange of restaurants, bars and nightlife but also home to an increasing number of families drawn by its spacious homes and convenient location. They come for those things but also because it’s The Castro, a non-stop breath of life in a city that can sometimes become heavy and full of stress. The Castro is a joyous shout; who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Area Map

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Commute

Commuter Buses
The Castro is a tech bus rider’s paradise. Every bus you can imagine — Apple, eBay, EA, Google, Facebook and Yahoo — stops either in the neighborhood (14th and Market) or just outside of it (Dolores and 16th, Dolores and 18th).

SFMTA Buses
The J Church runs north-south directly along Church Street at The Castro’s eastern edge. The line continues east toward downtown at 16th and Duboce Streets and to all points west as the N Judah at the same point.

Light Rail / Buses
The Castro is well served by its combination of light rail and buses. As for the latter, there are two major lines bisecting the neighborhood: the 24 runs directly along Castro Street itself (north-south) and the 33 line travels east-west on 18th Street.

Nearest CalTrain station
Nearest CalTrain station: 3rd and King Streets

Nearest BART
16th and Mission Station or Civic Center

Estimated Commute Times
Financial District via auto: 20-25 minutes
Financial District via transit: 10-15 minutes
Financial District via walking: 55 minutes
South San Francisco via auto: 25-30 minutes
Silicon Valley via auto: 45 minutes – 1 hour

Around the Block

Who Lives Here
While known for its GLBT population, today’s Castro is home to a wide variety of people including an increasing number of young families.

Always in flux.
Though we know it today as the “gay Mecca” whose colorful daily parade has lately welcomed families and young professionals, The Castro/Eureka Valley has a long history of changing demographics. It would surprise no one familiar with the neighborhood when it was a Catholic enclave to find that its present character is in flux. Today’s Castro is home both to new arrivals and old-timers, young, enthusiastic bar-goers standing side-by-side with dignified elderly gay men who came here during the revolution. They’re joined today by straight and gay families, downtown professionals drawn by the 15 minutes it takes to get to the Financial District on MUNI, activists, just about anyone attracted to a neighborhood of sound and light. The Castro built its reputation by celebrating those who’d been ostracized or felt uncomfortable elsewhere. They come to The Castro and immediately feel at home, a tradition that continues today.

How They Live
The Castro is a classic “village within a city,” close to the Financial District but with a character all its own. Residents have the option of going about their day-to-day lives without ever leaving its charming streets.

An urban playground.
The Castro is similar to other San Francisco urban core neighborhoods in that its residents live a life that would not be possible in a small town or suburbia. Almost everything they need — restaurants, shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, rec centers, parks and schools — is located within easy walking distance. So walk they do, morning, noon and night. Castro, Market and 18th Streets are seldom free of pedestrian traffic, especially at night. This is not just a neighborhood; it’s a destination. While The Castro/Eureka Valley’s residential side streets get quieter as they move away from its core, the neighborhood’s character is built on its “anything goes” party reputation. On Friday nights, bar patrons spill out onto Castro Street; on weekday afternoons, activists set up camp on its wide sidewalks. The Castro is a place of connection, of unplanned meetings among friends and casual lunches that turn into early dinners. In many ways, Castro locals are their own urban tribe, inventing new definitions for “family” even as they make their way through each chaotic, urban day.

Housing Market
The Castro is mostly recession-proof, thanks to its high worldwide profile. That being said, it’s a diverse, large market where almost every kind of dwelling, save lofts, can be found.

Desirable, and getting more so.
The Castro/Eureka Valley built its reputation as a place where people could find large, perhaps slightly rough-around-the-edges homes that were also bargains. Those days are long gone. Today’s Castro is a place of finely restored single-family homes that command a premium, condominiums (mostly Victorian and Edwardian but with a significant number of buildings constructed after 2000)  that rank toward the top of San Francisco’s condo market and TICs that can — sometimes — be had at a relatively affordable price point. Over the past few months, single-family homes have been selling in SFAR District 5K at a median of $2.179 million; condominiums have fetched a median of $1.325 million and TICs have a median of $798,000. Homes presently on the market range in asking price from $695,000 (a one-bedroom condominium) to $3.395 million (a three-bedroom SFR). Like almost every San Francisco neighborhood, The Castro’s surge is due in part of limited availability. At present, there are only nine properties — one TIC, four condos and four SFRs — for sale in The Castro/Eureka Valley.

What To Expect
Expect a colorful, vibrant neighborhood that is rightly proud of its “Gay mecca” status and aware of its place in history. Expect also one of the city’s best collection of Victorian homes.

A neighborhood like no other.
The Castro is a singular place, a neighborhood where expectations are different than those of other places. Here you can expect to navigate swarms of party people every weekend night, and to see the latest in high fashion displayed in boutique windows. Expect a simple walk down the street to become a lesson in civics as an activist educates you in a cause you may never have known existed. Expect steep hills lined with beautiful Victorian homes; expect an easy ride downtown on MUNI or, if you’ve got an hour to kill, a nice walk to the same destination. Expect few open tables outside at Cafe Flore, a wait at Starbelly and Monday Night Football at the Pilsner Inn. Expect naked guys wearing fanny packs, a Halloween you’ll never forget, double-entendres and to be emotionally moved when you least expect it. Expect to walk everywhere. Expect no shortage of night life, expect new restaurants and expect to have a great time at the Castro Theater sing-along.

What Not To Expect
Don’t expect a quiet stroll down Castro Street, for one, or a neighborhood unconcerned with local, national and global politics. And don’t expect to find an unrestored Victorian; they’re mostly gone.

You won’t be bored.
It’s important that newcomers to The Castro understand that this neighborhood revels in its uniqueness. Don’t expect to find some things you might take for granted in other places — like quiet streets. Don’t expect yards, easy parking, quiet strolls down Castro Street at night; don’t expect to be solicited by Republicans. Don’t expect everyone to always be clad in ways you’re used to. Don’t expect to find an unrestored Victorian; that ship has sailed. Don’t expect to have trouble finding somewhere to eat. Don’t expect to call up on Monday for a reservation at Frances on Friday. Don’t expect a quiet drink at The Cafe, don’t expect to not find what you were looking for at Cliff’s Variety, don’t expect to be unaffected by the Pink Triangle Park and don’t expect to compare The Castro to any neighborhood you lived in before. It’s a completely different animal.

PERFECT FOR
GLBTs, young and/or energetic singles, be they gay or straight, families needing and desiring large Victorian homes, people who enjoy views of the downtown skyline, pedestrians, public transit lovers, shoppers, diners, urban streetscape enthusiasts, quirky individuals, lovers of life.

NOT PERFECT FOR
Suburbanites, automobile enthusiasts, seekers of a quiet lifestyle, backwards-looking types, anti-activism types, those who are averse to crowds, noise and the constant buzz of a vital urban neighborhood, people who can’t walk up (and down) hills, dislikers of Victorian architecture, those for whom a spacious backyard is a must.

You’ll Fall In Love With
Living in the one San Francisco neighborhood where something’s always happening and soaking up history at every turn.

There is plenty of love about The Castro/Eureka Valley, from the unbroken low-level vibe of excitement coming from Castro Street to the intricate beauty of the restored Victorians climbing the hills alongside. You’ll love the variety of restaurants — and the fact that most seem to be perpetually crowded — and the variety of night spots. You’ll love having one of the city’s only repertoire theaters (The Castro) and constant thrum of history, impossible to escape in such a historically significant place. You’ll love finding that quirky item at Cliff’s Variety and standing outside ROLO wondering if those jeans would look good on you. You’ll love long lunches and outdoor brunches, late nights at Sparky’s Diner, neighborhood mom and pop (or mom and mom, or pop and pop) stores that can’t be found anywhere else, the simplicity of a 15-minute MUNI ride to Union Square, the family-friendly vibe at Chow, hordes of people simply sunning themselves outdoors on warm days. Mostly, you’ll love the overwhelming sense of life exploding forth from this vital, exuberant neighborhood.

Places to go

Hartford Street Zen Center
Hartford Street Zen Center
57 Hartford Street

San Francisco is a city of seekers. The more peaceful of them often end up here, at The Castro’s only Buddhist Temple.

GLBT Historical Society
GLBT Historical Society
4127 18th Street

The recently opened GLBT museum offers a history of the GLBT movement ranging “from things you may know something about (the assassination of Harvey Milk) to things you’ve never seen before.”

Bikram’s Yoga College of San Francisco
Bikram’s Yoga College of San Francisco
301 Eureka Street

26 classic yoga postures, always in the same order, in a studio heated to between 95 and 105 degrees F.

Joe’s Barber Shop
Joe’s Barber Shop
2150 Market Street

The classic barber shop reimagined as hip, stylish but authentic, the “go-to destination for the best flat tops, mohawks, buzzes, beards and fades.”

Eureka Barber Shop
Eureka Barber Shop
4222 18th Street

A classic barber shop with all of the personality and quirks expected thereof. This longtime Castro business has won the loyalty of many.

Castro Day Spa
Castro Day Spa
4105 19th Street

Facials, waxing, enzyme peels, brow tinting and “skin fitness for men.”

The Center Studio for Pilates
The Center Studio for Pilates
300 Sanchez Street

“The Center Studio was founded to provide a serene, supportive environment where adults of all fitness abilities and aspirations would be able to experience the muscular conditioning of Pilates.”

Ace Morgan Fitness
Ace Morgan Fitness
2164 Market

Ace Morgan has been voted “Best Personal Trainer” in a Bay Guardian poll. His eponymous studio was founded in 2006.

Fitness SF Castro
Fitness SF Castro
2301 Market Street

Fitness SF Castro’s 16,000 square-foot, two-floor facility includes state-of-the-art equipment and access to nationally certified personal trainers.

The Castro Theater
The Castro Theater
429 Castro Street

As playful as taking in a movie in a classic palace may be, The Castro amps it up with regular sing-along screenings. Want to sing along to “Grease?” This is your place.

Men’s Dodgeball in the Castro
Men’s Dodgeball in the Castro
100 Collingwood Street

Just like it sounds: a bunch of men getting together at the Eureka Valley Rec Center on Saturdays to play dodgeball.

Eureka Valley Rec Center
Eureka Valley Rec Center
100 Collingwood

When it’s not being used for men’s dodgeball, The Castro’s own rec center and playground plays host to a number of classes and recreational opportunities.

Five Star Chocolate Truffles and Coffee
Five Star Chocolate Truffles and Coffee
4251 18th

Santos Euan keeps The Castro sweet, serving up 25 different flavors of truffles in his tiny shop.

Easy Breezy Frozen Yogurt
Easy Breezy Frozen Yogurt
4092 18th Street

This being the Castro, Easy Breezy offers more than simple low-fat indulgence, mixing in full-fat frozen custard with its less indulgent offerings.

Hot Cookie
Hot Cookie
407 Castro Street

This long-time Castro Street institution is not large (it’s located in a small storefront with no seating) but its menu of homemade cookies and erotic treats is unsurpassed.

Whatever Store
Whatever Store
548 Castro

One of San Francisco’s best locations for graphic novels, action figures, games and collectables.

Kenneth Wingard
Kenneth Wingard
2319 Market Street

Designer Kenneth Wingard comes to The Castro to hawk home decor and furniture.

Cliff’s Variety
Cliff’s Variety
479 Castro Street

There is no greater Castro fixture than Cliff’s Variety Store, now in its ninth decade of operation. Cliff’s is The Castro’s general store. If they don’t have it, you probably don’t need it.

A & G Merch
A & G Merch
2279 Market

One of two branches (the other is in Brooklyn) of this very hip, very stylish furniture and housewares dealer.

Fable
Fable
558 Castro Street

Modern American Cuisine is served at this popular casual, intimate neighborhood eatery.

Frances
Frances
3870 17th Street

This California cuisine spot is known for two things: its commitment to “the shortest distance between the source and the table” and the near impossibility of getting a table.

Catch
Catch
2362 Market Street

Located in an historic storefront, this seafood spot “Catch aims to create a new legacy while honoring the spirit of creativity and expression rooted in its surroundings.”

HECHO
HECHO
2200 Market

A relative newcomer to the Castro scene, this stylish Mexican restaurant aims to “satisfy the purist as well as the diner looking for something beyond what is typically found.”

Manos Nouveau
Manos Nouveau
3970 17th

Another intimate Castro restaurant, this time boasting a creative French-Latin menu and an inspired setting.

Toad Hall
Toad Hall
4146 18th Street

One of the most popular of the many dance-themed Castro night spots, Toad Hall also has an outdoor patio for cooling off after fierce dance sessions.

Midnight Sun
Midnight Sun
4067 18th Street

Recently renovated, Midnight Sun has been a Castro fixture since 1971. “The nation’s premiere video bar” also features theme nights including go go dancers and drag shows.

Brewcade
Brewcade
2200 Market Street

San Francisco’s entry into a growing nightlife field, the combination bar/video arcade boasts 21 video games and 25 beers on tap.

Twin Peaks Tavern
Twin Peaks Tavern
401 Castro Street

This historic spot is known not only as one of the first gay bars in San Francisco but the first to have open windows facing the street.

Hi Tops
Hi Tops
2247 Market Street

Something missing from the “gay Mecca” for too long: a hip, approachable sports bar with several TVs, an impressive beer list and the best nachos in the city.

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