12 Gay Hours in San Francisco


12 Gay Hours in San Francisco

SFO International Airport is one of the major hubs for many airlines and sometimes you have a long layover. What to do? Here is what I did with my 12 Gay Hours in San Francisco. 

WSGT San Fran Golden Gate Bridge 12 Gay Hours

The BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit makes it very easy to leave the airport and explore the bay area. On my recent trip from Vancouver to Sydney I found myself with a 12 hour layover and took the opportunity to get my gay on in San Francisco.

8:30AM – Jumping on the BART was super easy and in just thirty minutes I was in the heart of the San Francisco with my first stop at the Civic Centre. Having a big travel day ahead I choose to get out and walk down Market street towards the Castro. Along the walk I passed by Twitter’s head quarters which made me a bit giddy with excitement to be in the Tech capital knowing that anything is possible.

9:30AM – As I continued my journey I stopped in at the San Francisco LGBT Community centre to pay homage to this great American city championing LGBT rights long before it was vogue. I grabbed my Castro Map and other LGBT printed materials to help me plan out the day. Something about having printed reference material to use while at a cafe or bar makes finding hidden treasures you may have missed while surfing online.


Next on my list was to do a selfie at the Castro & 18th Rainbow Crosswalk. In recent months there have been a few municipalities claiming that the colour intersection is actually a motor vehicle hazard. When I looked into it and asked a local San Fran motorcycle policeman if there was any truth to the matter, he just laughed and said, “…if anything it calms the traffic. I am not aware of any incidents in which the Rainbow Crosswalk was a cause of an accident.”

11:00AM – As I sauntered my way down Castro I stopped in at one of the Gay’s favourite Java stops – the Castro Tarts. I had a fresh backed snack and an Iced Vietnamese Coffee. I loved the vibe in the cafe. As the locals continued to flow through the usual pleasantries were exchanged and “the usual” for each customer was expertly anticipated and ready in minutes of arrival. This gave me a chance to dive into the Castro Fun Map and plan out what I wanted to experience next as I took in the neighbourhood vibe.

12 Gay Hours in San Francisco - Castro Tarts

11:30AM Along the stroll I stopped into what was the camera shop of the late Harvey Milk. Milk also affectionately known as the “Mayor of the Castro” became one of the first openly gay elected officials in California. His infectious charm and sincere interest in people helped him to create an enduring legacy and inspired others to rise up and be visible. His classic rally cry “I recruit you” enabled the community to come together and champion sexual diversity. His camera shop is now the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) retail store. I was first introduced to the HRC more than a decade ago and learned how this organization continues to fight to protect the LGBT community in the workplace and beyond.  They always have some great pride gear and you know that when you buy merchandise from the HRC it is going back to support the community. I continued down the strip browsing at the various boutiques along the way.

12:00PM 17th + Castro – this corner has three significant landmarks that every gay needs to see. The first at Harvey Milk Plaza flying high above the Castro is the Rainbow Flag. The Rainbow Flag was introduced by Gay Activist and Fabric Artist Gilbert Baker the LGBT’ community’s “gay Betsy Ross.” In 1978 Harvey Milk put a call out to artists to come up with a new symbol for the LGBT community that would replace the “Pink Triangle” symbol used by Nazi Germany to identify the Queer Community. Harvey wanted this new symbol to be a positive power symbol the LGBT community would want to rally behind and embrace. The Rainbow flag is used throughout the world today indicating LGBTQ Pride.

I took some extra time to sit back and soak up the California sunshine and watch all the activity all around the gateway to the Castro in front of the famous Twin Peaks cafe. There were a couple film crews shooting a reality TV show. It was fun to watch the hustle and bustle of movie magic while everyone around goes on with their everyday life.


Next I took some time to explore the “Pink Triangle Park and Memorial.” This public art piece created by Robert Bruce and Susan Martin to commemorate Human Rights Day on December 10, 2001. The public art project was lead by San Francisco Mayor, Willie L. Brown Jr. Each of the 15 white granite pylons represents 1,000 LGBT people sent to the concentration camps many suffered torture and death during the the Nazi Holocaust (1933-1945).

1:00PM – Lunch at (verify swarm). Though the service was a bit slow to start the food and drinks came out quick. I loved the outdoor seating and having a choice of shade, sunshine or inside.

2:00PM – Time for a little TLC. I headed down Market Street to check out the M-Spa (2187 Market Street + 15th). The spa specializes in male treatments. I took in a 90 minute deep tissue massage. The therapist was amazing long rhythmic stokes followed by intense deep pressure releasing the tight muscles and breaking up the crystallize fascia in my neck and shoulders. Next I enjoyed a nice long steam meeting some of the fellow clients and getting some tips on places to see next.

5:00PM – Off to the Lookout for Happy Hour. This infamous bar perched on the edge of the Gay Village was the perfect vantage point to watch the after work crowd file in for a quick libation before heading home.

6:00PM – Taking in a little stroll down the Mission and through San Francisco’s iconic Mission Dolores Park. There is a scene in Sense8, an amazing gay positive Netflix Original TV series,  from this park so it was fun to imagine being there. I can only imagine what this park must be like in the height of Pride week. Great panoramic views of the city on the big open grassy hills.

7:00PM – I found my way to the Osha Thai restaurant for dinner. The restaurant slowly started to fill up and I can see why. The aromas filling the space was quite intoxicating. I ended up having their classic Pad Thai.

After dinner I continued down the road and jumped back on the BART to be whisked away to the SFO International Airport. Collected my luggage at the baggage storage place (airlines will not check your luggage for layovers in excess of 8 hours typically). Checked my bag with United and off to security and onto the gate. Arriving with plenty of time to catch my outbound flight to Sydney.

About Dean Nelson

i Love Gay - Dean Nelson Social Media contributor @gayWhistlerDean Nelson is a social media contributor and freelance travel writer. Dean was awarded the LGBT Tourism Leader of the year (2017) by Travel Gay Canada and this year (2018) will receive the “Pioneer Award” for his contribution to LGBT Travel from the International Gay Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). You can follow him on social at @gaywhistler

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