Travel

Alternative Pride Guide: San Francisco

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Monday Jun 24, 2013
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It’s only appropriate that San Francisco, the gay capital of the United States should have the country’s largest, oldest, and certainly most outrageous Pride March. In 1970, only a year after Stonewall and the same year - and the same weekend - that New Yorkers also began marking the occasion, a small "gay in" took place in Golden Gate Park.

In the ensuing years, San Francisco has become the center of gay pride festivities for California and points beyond. The modern gay rights revolution’s own Betsy Ross, Gilbert Baker, created the now-ubiquitous Rainbow Flag for the 1978 Pride March. Over the years, the march has both reflected and added to the city’s deep sense of its gay history, marking events like the death of Harvey Milk, the AIDS epidemic and the fight for marriage equality.

Don’t worry: There’s plenty of sexy fun. In San Francisco’s march, seeing men’s asses hanging out of chaps or jockstraps is as unusual as kilts on St. Patrick’s Day. Speaking of men in dresses, nowhere but nowhere does drag like the denizens of Baghdad by the Bay. From the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to nationally themed outfits, these girls make sure they can be seen by everyone on the parade route - and most likely by weather satellites! The parade is held the same weekend as its counterpart in New York, always the last Sunday in June.


Chinatown

Don’t think that San Francisco’s Chinatown is a tourist trap. Far from it, it’s the oldest and remains one of the largest and most vibrant Chinese-American neighborhoods in the country. The Chinese have been a major part of the city since its founding. Near-constant immigration from the mainland means that newer arrivals more than take the place of those who have moved to other neighborhoods.

Chinatown is the most-densely populated area of the country outside of the New York City island of Manhattan. Chinatown was immortalized in the Broadway musical "Flower Drum Song," but you can discover "Grant Avenue, San Francisco, California, USA" for yourself. This is where Americanized Chinese food like Chop Suey was invented, but there are plenty (and I mean plenty) of authentic restaurants.

If there is one "can’t miss" destination, it’s Golden Gate Bakery, which is famous for its egg tarts. Be sure to bring cash as credit cards are not accepted.


Stay

San Francisco can boast some of the most famous hotels in the world. But if you’re coming for Pride, why book a suite in Union Square? The Castro is the center of the action all day and night. The Parker Guest House is ideally located within a short walk of the Castro, the Noe Valley and the Mission District. It’s also within walking distance (barely 15 minutes) from South of Market.
What makes the Parker such a great place to stay is that it is not a hotel; it’s a house.

Tucked amid the neighboring Victorians, the only giveaway that this is a hostelry is the discreet sign above the garage. The lobby and other public rooms have been lovingly restored to their original Victorian splendor. There are plenty of sheltered gardens dripping with hanging flowers where you can sun yourself in splendid isolation.
The rooms are spacious, the baths even more so; not that you’ll be there except for sleeping and maybe some other things that require the bed. This being northern California, of course you get a continental breakfast - and a complementary wine during the evening social hour out in the sun room overlooking the gardens.

For another cozy option, consider Inn on Castro. The Edwardian building is a stone’s throw from the action, but you’ll feel just as comfortable curling up with a complementary brandy and enjoying the property’s signature breakfast.


Eat

San Francisco is one of the two cities in the United States where you really have to look long and hard for a bad meal. (The other is New Orleans.) The city fully lives up to its foodie reputation. This is where the locavore movement started, where vegan cuisine is more common than a steakhouse, and where fine dining doesn’t mean dressing up.

L’Ardoise may be the best single distillation of the San Francisco dining experience. Located (where else?) in the Castro, it means "chalkboard" in French, which should give an indication of the flavor of the food and décor. This place has "bistro" written all over it.

Start with the Charcuterie Plate with Homemade Pates (no not foie gras - illegal in the Golden State), go on to the Coq au Vin in Red Wine Sauce, served with potato puree, bacon and pearl onions. Or, for real bistro fare, the Duck Leg Confit. Cooked for seven hours in its fat, it’s served with "pommes landaises" (potatoes cooked in duck fat) and a garlic sauce. As one would expect in this part of the world, the wine list is superior.

If you’re looking for a bit more pomp and circumstance, dive into the 16-course menu at Benu. Chef Corey Lee (who spent eight years as chef de cuisine at the French Laundry) delivers an array of east-meets-west dishes that earned him two Michelin stars, including sharkfin soup and beef braised in pear juice. Be prepared for a hefty price tag that will cost you $180.


Don’t Miss

This year, there is one absolute must-attend party. L.A.’s Masterbeat is bringing Spain’s hottest production company for a June 29 megaclub experience at the Regency Center that will blow your mind. With sexy-beyond-belief dancers from Spain, plus Spanish DJs Aron and Manuel de Diego, this party goes into the morning hours with Masterbeat’s own DJ Bret Henrichsen - and, if that weren’t enough, the legendary Susan Morabito will be on hand for your morning musical journey.


Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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