The Castro is the heart of the San Francisco gayborhood

The City by the Bay is better than ever

BILL MALCOM | Special Contributor

The demise of San Francisco as reported in the mainstream press has been wildly exaggerated. The City by the Bay is back, and it is better than ever. And it’s still ground central for the LGBTQ movement.

There is lots of new stuff to do: Take the Central Subway to Chinatown. Check out the new Salesforce roof tops gardens. Visit the tunnel tops at the Presidio offering a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and more.

Thankfully, the homeless situation is much improved. But best of all, the drought is over. Plus, housing prices have fallen.

Getting there

I took Southwest Airlines both ways, without incident, through Denver. Fares were reasonable, and there were no annoying extra fees and charges. I flew into Oakland (OAK) and out of San Francisco (SFO), both of which are served by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).

They use the Harvey Milk Terminal One at SFO, which is full of displays of the history of the slain San Francisco supervisor who, along with Mayor George Moscone, was assassinated by Supervisor Dan White in 1978. It’s a fascinating history display, entitled Harvey Milk: Messenger of Hope, detailed in the exhibits in the terminal.

Don’t buy any hot food there, though. They slap on a surprise 5 percent airport surcharge. (I don’t pay resort fees, much less junk charges like this.)

But do check out the gay souvenir sections in the shops in the airport, and the food to go is surcharge free.

Where to stay, eat

I always stay at the Beck’s Motor Lodge, 2222 Market St., between Noe and Sanchez. It’s a family-run business that is close to the Castro and Upper Market neighborhoods. You can walk everywhere, and they offer free parking if you have a car. Rates are reasonable, and you can stumble home from the bars.

Peet’s Coffee is across the street, as is the sports bar Hi Tops (Try the nachos). Lookout Bar and Beaux bar are just steps away, as is the La Mediterranee on Noe Street.

Grab an It’s It ice cream sandwich (on graham crackers) at the Noe Valley Market or walk over to Courtney’s Produce on 14th Street and Castro for fresh juices and low-priced homemade sandwiches. Splurge for great French cuisine at L’ardoise Bistro on Noe Street.

The new Hotel Castro on 18th Street across from Molly Stone’s Market is another option. The Lobby Bar in the Hotel has a fun happy hour.

What to do

Where do I start? There’s so much but I will focus on the new and extra fun stuff.

• Explore the Castro and enjoy the sidewalk panels that highlight famous LGBTQ pioneers. Then head over to the GLBT Historical Society Museum on 18th Street.

• Walk up to nearby Corona Heights, Twin Peaks and Buena Vista Park for the stunning views.

• Take the Historic F Street Car to the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. Restored street cars from around the country are a treat. The Ferry Building has great restaurants. Try the empanadas.

• Take the new Central Subway from Powell Street Station north to Chinatown or south to Mission Bay and the new Mission Rock neighborhood. Explore the new Chase Center or catch a show there.

• Take the Muni Metro subway west to West Portal Station. Have lunch at Squat N Gobble. Try the salmon salad.

• Sign up for a ride on Cruise or Waymo, the new driverless cars. You will see them everywhere on the street.

• Take the J Church up to Duboce Park for magnificent views of downtown and then over to the Noe Valley for Chinese at Erics Chinese Restaurant.

• Hike with the San Francisco Hiking Club ( which goes to nearby parks in the region.

• Take a walk or run with the Frontrunners. They meet at the Stowe Lake Boat House in Golden Gate Park at 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Then walk along the car-free JFK Drive or take the free shuttle to the museums.

• Explore the Presidio. Take a hike or check out the museum in the Officers Club which also features a great Mexican restaurant. Enjoy the views of the Golden Gate Bridge in this huge former military reserve and the new Tunnel Tops and Visitor Center. Then take the free shuttle around the park or to the Embarcadero to explore the Salesforce Tower Transbay Terminal roof top gardens with Mediterranean plants from around the world that thrive on the moderate climate that lacks rain for much of the year.

• Take the Powell Street Cable Car from the Powell Street Station on Market up to Russian Hill for stunning views of Angel Island and Alcatraz.

Night life

The bars in the Castro are busier than ever. Beaux has many events as well as a Sunday drag brunch. The Midnight Sun on 18th Street is going strong, as is Moby Dick. Hi Tops on Market Street across the street from Beck’s is fun and has outdoor seating. Toad Hall is another option on 18th Street. The Twin Peaks at Market and Castro is always fun and, back in the day, was known for its big windows. The Castro Theater on Castro has shows and is a historic gem.

In conclusion

You cannot beat a vacation in San Francisco. With so much to do, a year-round mild climate and tons of new stuff, you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage to the original LGBTQ mecca. The homeless won’t bother you although the driverless cars might! And check out the art work at the stations at the brand new Central Subway.

Bill Malcolm lived in San Francisco for 12 years and founded the San Francisco Hiking Club which is still going strong today. He is a graduate of UC-Santa Cruz.