Visit the Epicenter of Fun in San Francisco: The Legendary Castro District

By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

There's lots to celebrate these days in The Castro, San Francisco's historically gay neighborhood. California's Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage, has essentially been overturned. And the Castro has been ground zero for what many have called this generation's biggest civil rights battle: the recognition of the right of marriage for all.

Although The Castro has a long and proud history of battling for gay rights (and may be best-known for electing this country's first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk), this neighborhood does not let politics get in the way of having a good time. No matter your political or sexual persuasion, this neighborhood is all about putting differences aside to make way for joy and fun. Remember the best rules for etiquette: never bring up religion and/or politics in social situations. And definitely don't be the stick-in-the-mud who wants to debate policy when the bass line is thumping, the Happy Hour is in full swing, and there's an endless dance floor just waiting for your best disco moves. So when you're finished with the necessary (but comparably mundane) tours and talks throughout San Francisco, put your best party outfit on and boogie down at one of our choice Castro nightclubs below. 

10. Pilsner Inn
Photo courtesy of Pillsner Inn

Although it's in The Castro, Pilsner Inn could be located anywhere in San Francisco because it has that everyday bar feel to it. Big TVs for sports and lots of beers on tap, plus a garden patio that's surprisingly peaceful even on most weekends. The bar's ownership has a long and lasting commitment to the community, especially the sports teams such as softball, bowling and pool. That commitment has drawn a devoted clientele, and this Castro locale might be the best place to belly-up to the bar and get some inside info on the best places to visit in the Castro.

9. The Cafe
Photo courtesy of The Cafe

The Cafe's motto is definitely "Go Big or Go Home." This large venue has been completely remodeled and features three full bars, a huge ance floor with LED "dance-grid," State-of-the-art sound system, twelve HD flatscreens, an open air patio with a retractable glass skylight, VIP room available for private parties (Supports events up to 30-40 people) and LED "splashers" on the facade of the building. If you're ready to be loud and proud about your Castro partying, then The Cafe is the place for you. "Sticky" on Wednesdays, which features $1 dollar ice cream, is quite the introduction to this always hopping Castro bar.

8. Blackbird Bar
Photo courtesy of dtlux.com

When you need a break from the "traditional" Castro nightclub scene, head to Blackbird Bar. This crowd has vowed to "bring the neighborhood bar back," and the vibe at this modest but comfortable space is relaxing and always welcoming. Where other Castro bars offer lots of drinks at low prices, the Blackbird offers quality cocktails at reasonable prices. this place is not trying to get you sloshed and out on the dance floor, in other words. they;d much rather you sit tight with one of their signature drinks, including the always yummy "Nice Melons" (vodka, Contratto Biano, Melon, Lemon and Honey).

7. Cafe du Nord
Photo courtesy of Facebook

This well-loved concert venue, also one of the hippest 18 and up dance clubs in San Francisco, is set in a 1907-era subterranean speakeasy and still exudes an alluring old-school ambiance. Deep red walls and Victorian-style mirrors surround a dimly lit space in which patrons lounge by the bar or dance feverishly to eclectic musical performances. Most shows allow all ages, making Cafe du Nord a prime party spot for the under-21 set. Still not convinced? Try the sell by Rolling Stone magazine: "Located in a former speak-easy, this dark-wooded, subterranean watering hole is the perfect place to lose a few decades over a batch of martinis."

6. The Edge
Photo courtesy of Facebook

If you're visiting The Castro on a Saturday night, its' best to sample as many nightclubs as possible. Pretend like you're desired guest, so many friends to see at so many different locations. However, if you've walked the hills of San Francisco all day and are determined to keep your fanny in one spot, make that spot The Edge. This large and popular gay bar lives up to its claim as the bar with the happiest happy hour and overall happy ambience. There's no question that gay also means happy at this establishment, so treat yourself and your friends to one happy night at The Edge.

5. San Francisco Badlands

There are Castro nightclubs, and then there is SF Badlands. If you're serious about taking in a true Castro night, then your first and last stop has to be SFBadlands. This is where the dancers go to dance, and the floor is packed almost every night of the week. Even id you're to shy to hit the floor, watching the action from a safe distance will offer plenty of stories for the folks back home. And it's not just the dancers - with a a state-of-the-art EAW-powered sound system, dazzling dancefloor lighting and a traditional rotating mirror ball, you'll leave Badlands with stars in your eyes.

4. Q Bar
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

If you're looking for a younger and livelier crowd in The Castro, head to Q Bar. Something's always stirring in this large, raucous atmosphere that features drink specials and dancing every night of the week, including Monday's 2 for 1 drinks during what local mag "7x&" calls San Francisco's "Best Indie Rock DJ experience." If you're really feeling frisky, head to Q Bar on Wednesdays for their infamous "Booty Call Shots" from 9-11. Don't know what a Booty Call Shot is? Believe us - words would fail to adequately describe the experience. If curiosity gets the best of you, you'll have to head to Q Bar to see for yourself.

3. Toad Hall
Photo courtesy of Facebook

Named after the home of Toad in the classic children's story "Wind in the Willows," Toad Hall was one of the first gay clubs in the Castro. It's run by the same management as Badlands, another Castro classic. The 2-1 cocktails from Monday through Friday until 8:30 make it one of the best deals in all of San Francisco. And on those rare but delightful warm San Francisco evenings, the outdoor patio is a great place to enjoy those cheap drinks. If you only have time for one club and want to get a sense of the Castro, make it a Toad Hall night.

2. Twin Peaks Tavern
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

If you've been to some of the younger clubs on the Castro strip, and your eyes and smarting from too many glow sticks and your head pounding from overamped bass, then head to Twin Peaks Tavern. There's still revelry here, to be sure, but it's conducted in a bit more genteel fashion, an atmosphere that comes from its gorgeous bar featuring large mirrors, brass railing and impressive slabs of marble. No Castro bar offers a better view, and people-watching in The Castro is an absolute necessity in this neighborhood where the residents go to be seen, seen and seen again.

1. Moby Dick Bar

Another venerable Castro club (not as old as Herman Melville, don't worry), Moby Dick is known for its 2 for 1 frozen margaritas. With a deal like that, even Ahab could forget about his white whale to drink, laugh and dance the night away at this San Francisco institution. The 250 gallon salt water tank above the bar is alone worth the trip - and the tanks only gets more interesting once the drinks go down and the night wears on. This Castro institution, ready and willing since 1979, is a must-stop to get the real feel of this unique San Francisco neighborhood.