50 Perfect Hours: The Castro

Each week, travel writer Katie Morell will detail how to spend 50 hours in a different San Francisco Bay Area city for the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee’s #Perfect50 Hour Series.

San Francisco’s Castro District is one of the most eclectic and vibrant, with independent shops, a variety of restaurants, nightlife options and a deep cultural identity found in historic walking tours and museums. The Castro is known as the city’s gay district, and has become an inclusive and tolerant neighborhood that welcomes people from all walks of life.

Here, we detail the perfect way to spend a 50-hour getaway in the Castro.

Day 1

9:00 a.m. – Wake up in the beautifully appointed Parker Guest House, a bed and breakfast near the corner of Church Street and 17th Street. Dress in some comfortable clothes, put on sunscreen and bring a light jacket, then walk to the kitchen and enjoy a Continental breakfast of fruit, pastries, coffee and orange juice while you chat with other friendly travelers.

10:00 a.m. – The Castro is a district seeped in fascinating history and there is no better way to start your tour than on the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walking tour that honors 20 important people in the LGBT movement. Use this map and start on the corner of Collingwood Street and 19th Street at the Harvey Milk Academy. Click here to read more about the history of each honoree.

11:30 a.m. – Walk over to 4127 18th Street and into the GLBT History Museum ($5 for adults, $3 for California-based students). Enjoy learning about the history of the area and its people and check the event calendar online before you go.

1:00 p.m. – The Castro is a walk-friendly neighborhood; you won’t need your car all weekend. Instead, walk two blocks east on Market Street and grab an outdoor table at Café Flore, an institution in the area since 1973. Start with the avocado salad and sausage scramble and then move on to the flank steak salad and a veggie burger.

2:00 p.m. – Time to relax, and there is no better place to do that (especially on a sunny day) than in Mission Dolores Park. Take 16th street two blocks east until you hit Church Street. Make a right and two blocks later you will be standing at the northwest corner of a 16-acre park. Choose a patch of grass on the top of the hill for the best views of the city, throw down your blanket or play catch for the next few hours as you enjoy the California sun.

4:30 p.m. – After getting your fill of the outdoors, walk three blocks west near the corner of Castro Street and 18th Street and into Blush! Wine Bar. This place has an excellent selection, so order a few varietals and enjoy chatting with your travel partners about the fun you’ve had today.

6:00 p.m. – Finish off your last glass of wine and walk north a block and east on Market Street for a few steps until you get to Catch, a seafood restaurant that showcases its dedication to the neighborhood with a 12-foot by 12-foot panel of the original AIDS Memorial Quilt that shows the name of people who’ve died from AIDS. Once you sit down, ask your server about specials and then dig into some beer-battered crab beignets and Ahi tuna tartare. For your main course, try the seasonal salmon, seared chicken breast and braised short ribs. End your meal with the caramelized banana split—its to die for.

7:30 p.m. – A weekend in the Castro isn’t complete without a visit to The Castro Theatre, a circa-1922 restored playhouse that now showcases live events and fun movies of the past such as Sound of Music and Mrs. Doubtfire. Look online before you go for up-to-date show times.

Day 2

9:30 a.m. – Wake up, put on breathable clothing and comfortable walking shoes, and then make a left out of Parker Guest House and another left on 16th Street. Stop right before you get to Sanchez Street and walk into Kitchen Story, a popular breakfast spot that serves California cuisine. Start with KS’s Own Omelet (pork wine sausage, lemongrass, asparagus, bell peppers and soy sauce) and the move on to the friend chicken and ricotta hot cakes. Wash it all down with a hot cup of coffee.

10:30 a.m. – Next up is a 2.5-hour walking tour with Roam Local, a tour company led by Ryan Curtis, an incredibly dynamic guide and former live theater performer. During the “Castro Mission Loop Tour” (which should be booked in advance—you can do that online here), you will hear about the history of the area and learn about the various murals in the nearby Mission District.

1:30 p.m. – Hungry after so much walking, grab a table at Anchor Oyster Bar over on 579 Castro Street. This place has been around since 1977 and is an area favorite for its clam chowder, oysters and mussels—go nuts and try all three!

3:00 p.m. – Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring. Be sure to duck into shops like the Castro Village Wine Co., Human Rights Campaign Action Center & Store and Books Inc.(check online for events and author readings).

5:00 p.m. – Walk back to Parker Guest House and take a nap or catch up on your vacation reading. When you are ready, take a shower and change into fancier dinner clothing.

6:30 p.m. – Walk a block down the street into Frances, arguably one of the hottest restaurants in San Francisco right now (reservations are highly recommended). Chef Melissa Perello changes up her California-inspired menu on a daily basis. Ask your server for the menu of the day and take their word on all suggestions. Get ready for a culinary treat.

Day 3

10:30 a.m. – Wake up late this morning, grab a quick breakfast in the kitchen and then check out of Parker Guest House. Before leaving town, walk a few blocks over to Through Bread & Pastry. Order an almond croissant and pack some cookies and scones for the road. This is the best way to end a 50-hour getaway in San Francisco’s Castro District.

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Katie Morell is an independent journalist based in San Francisco who writes about travel, business and social justice issues. Her work has appeared in Hemispheres, Fast Company, USA Today, Diversity Woman, BBC Travel and others. Read more of her work at www.katiemorell.com