12 Hours In The Castro: A Visitor's Guide

If you only have 12 hours to spend in the Castro, you don’t have enough time—so why bother? Get your photo with the rainbow crosswalk, buy yourself a leather sex swing, and be gone!

We’re joking.

But if you're visiting from outside the neighborhood or city, and really want to know how to spend a day immersed in heavenly Castro bliss, here are our recommendations for how to spend 12 hours in the neighborhood as a local would. (Got recommendations of your own, Castro locals? Let us know in the comments.)

Stop 1: Brunch (12pm)

The best days begin with brunch, especially in the Castro. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, jump over to Kitchen Story (3499 16th St.) for some “Millionaire’s Bacon,” mascarpone-stuffed deep-fried French toast, and bottomless mimosas to start your whirlwind visit off right. (If it's a weekend, you may want to get an earlier start—waits can run an hour or more at peak times.)

Stop 2: Historic Walking Tour (2pm)

Although a walking history lesson might sound like the absolute last thing you’d want to do after a midday feast, too bad. Twelve hours in the Castro isn’t enough, and besides the above-mentioned memorabilia, you need to leave knowing one or two things about the history of this neighborhood.

We suggest Cruisin' the Castro Walking Tours, although there are a lot of walking tour options to choose from. Like, a lot. So, get outside, move your feet, and learn something.

Rainy weather, or walking not your thing? Head over to the GLBT History Museum ($5 general admission) to take in some queer history in an indoor setting.

Stop 3: Shopping (4pm)

When it comes to shopping in the Castro, Cliff’s Variety (479 Castro St.) is the belle of the ball. Sure, you can find comic books and sexytime supplies and vintage porn at stores around the neighborhood, but you can only get that 80-year-old-general-store-that-sells-everything vibe in one place: Cliff’s.

Stop 4: Happy Hour (5pm)

With all of the brunching, walking, and shopping you’ve been doing, you probably didn’t notice that it’s happy hour. We associate happy hour with people-watching, so we’d recommend either paying a visit to Twin Peaks Tavern (401 Castro St.) if you’re looking for big windows and good views, or Lookout (3600 16th St.) if you’re looking for no windows and good views.

Stop 5: Dinner & Dessert (7pm)

If you’re hoping to keep it cheap and still get a filling meal in the Castro, that’s possible; however, because you only decided to visit for 12 hours, you might as well treat yourself.

For dinner, we recommend Lark (4068 18th Street), and more specifically, the Lark burger with truffle fries. For dessert, either stay put, or walk next door to Easy Breezy Frozen Yogurt (4092 18th St.) for something sweet.

Stop 6:  Nightlife (9:30pm)

When the lights go down in the city, the Castro comes alive.

If you feel like catching a classic film or belting out all of the lyrics to West Side Story, check the Castro Theatre's listings to see what's on tap. Notable events on the way include the annual film noir festival, which runs January 20-29, and the West Side Story sing-along, which runs February 10-13. (Note: it screens at 7pm, so you may want to dine afterwards).

If you’re looking to experience a drag performance, head to Midnight Sun (4067 18th St.) or The Café (2369 Market St.). And if you just want to dance, head to 18th Street between Collingwood and Hartford—you'll find something happening every night of the week.

Whatever you end up doing, it’s almost midnight, Cinderella, and your 12 hours in the Castro are nearly at an end. Unless, of course, you decide to extend your stay ...

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