San Francisco is the heartbeat of the LGBTI community in the United States.
While New York has Stonewall, Los Angeles has West Hollywood and Fire Island is Fire Island, the home of the Golden Gate Bridge lives and breathes the rainbow.
The city is lined with Pride flags, kisses between same-sex couples are frequent in public, and it is not uncommon to spot a naked gentlemen wearing a single golden codpiece having a chat with a Santa Clause looking man selling newspapers (I’m speaking from experience) all make San Francisco what it is.
So heading there this June was a way for me to see a world so embedded in a gay community. Here are a few recommendations.
The Axiom Hotel
Right in the middle of the city, round the corner from the main shopping areas, is this chic and contemporary hotel.
The modern-day rooms offer all everything you could need, while there’s also a bar, fitness center, game room and café.
If you need somewhere to stay in a good location as well as being good value for money, this is it.
Museum of Modern Art
Andy Warhol, Anthony Gormley, Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso are all showcased in this beautiful building.
Designed by the same family that owned Levi’s,
A restaurant featuring the best cuisine from around the world, with recipes donated by over 80 chefs, is open now.
Make sure to download the app on your way around the museum. Using technology similar to Google Maps, it takes you around the labyrinthine of twisting walls and bridges to make sure you don’t miss a single piece of work.
Boat Trip Under Golden Gate Bridge
If you’re coming to the Bay, you have to experience it from the water. On my trip, we took two trips: one to Alcatraz and the other to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Both windy, so prepare for that. But if you’re here for the photo opportunities, then this is the best way of seeing the city and the surrounding islands.
Be sure to book months in advance for the notorious prison island just off the coast of San Fran.
You are given an audio tour and you are plunged into the depths of history. A well produced tour, it gives you a slice of the prison riots, the inmates and what it was like to be holed up on the Rock.
Mr S Leather
Unexpected? Why not for one of the iconic gay landmarks of San Francisco?
This shop is an adult playground of fetish and fun.
Staffed by a team of gay men (and one bisexual dominatrix), it’s incredibly friendly for both newcomers and old hats at the kinky world. All questions are answered.
If you’ve been feeling interested in leather or rubber or toys to spice up your sex life.
Check out our video with several staff members at Mr S Leather on the kink community.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Tired of the sights of the city, take an hour’s car trip down south to Monterey. A favorite with families, Monterey feels like quintessential small town America.
Whenever they’re talking about the ‘real’ America, one would assume it looks a little like this.
The crown jewel of the town is the aquarium, hailed as one of the best in the entire country. It is built directly onto the coast, so there is a steady supply of sea water.
What’s important is they have a policy to not house mammals, which is important for any aquarium, and are more focused on education rather than entertainment at the expense of the animals.
Just be wary to not trip over any kids.
Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum
This curiosity is a call-back to the sideshows of old, a time when you would stumble on a place like the world’s tallest chair or the biggest ball of twine.
This wax museum is filled with animatronic robots that tell the story of the town. They are not convincing models, and the voiceover tells a (bizarrely racially-insensitive – to put it mildly) story of how Native Americans were actually happy the settlers came and took their land in exchange for clothing and disease.
There are moving skeletons, rape and torture scenes, and is so dark and strange. It’s like a particularly bad karaoke show – enjoyable if you can get past the initial horror.
They may very well be in the joke. When we wondered whether to go inside the museum, we were asked by the attendant whether we had been drinking.
Yes, we had had a couple of glasses of wine. Perfect, they said. And yes, it is a good idea to go with people who have a sense of humor and feeling a little tipsy.
It is the Castro, San Francisco’s gay neighborhood, that makes you feel at home.
There’s the Eagle for bears and leather, Toad Hall for people-watching, Hi Tops is a great gay sports bar and the Twin Peaks Tavern is a historic must.
Gay and Lesbian History Museum
If you do go to San Francisco, and you’re LGBTI or just a supporter, I’d highly suggest a trip to the Gay and Lesbian History Museum.
Nestled in the Castro (if you buy something from the Human Rights Trust you get a couple dollars off entry), it holds monuments from our collective past.
Back in 1978, the world was in shock when Harvey Milk – the first openly gay person to be voted to public office – was assassinated. I couldn’t help but think while I was there, what would Harvey have said about 49 people in a gay club being murdered?
And that brings me to why this has taken me a long time to write this. I was in San Francisco when, a few thousand miles away on the opposite side of the country, tragedy struck.
A gunman in a gay nightclub in Orlando killed 49 people on the Sunday morning I was there. This isn’t news to you, or to anyone. But I couldn’t help but think, what would Harvey had said?
On that day thousands of people marched on the Castro, rainbow flags waving and candles burning.
We were all connected, as one, as a family. The heart was beating strong, in defiance, in loss.
History is being made all around us, and Orlando will stand as one of the saddest dates in our memories.
It reminded me of Harvey Milk’s quote, ‘If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.’
And that legacy is his, the Orlando victims, and any person who has been a victim of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.
For when shots fired on 12 June, 49 hearts may have stopped beating. But others were galvanized.
During the vigil on the Castro, hearts beat as one.
Just watch the videos. You could feel it, hear it almost, telling the world the heartbeat of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people will carry on no matter what happens.
Trip courtesy of WOW Air.
WOW air currently flies from London Gatwick to San Francisco five times per week and from Bristol and Edinburgh three times per week, all via Reykjavik. From 27 March 2017, flights from London Gatwick will increase to daily.
London Gatwick – San Francisco fares currently begin from just £149.99 each way.
Created in November 2011 by Icelandic entrepreneur Skúli Mogensen, the purple airline flies with Airbus A320 aircrafts and Airbus A321/A330 models.
As of Winter 2016, the airline will service 30 destinations across Europe and North America including Los Angeles, Boston, Montreal, Toronto and San Francisco. WOW air also recently launched routes to Miami (commencing April 2017) and Pittsburgh (commencing June 2017). The airline currently flies from three UK departure points: London Gatwick, Bristol and Edinburgh.
WOW air launched a new flight route from London Gatwick and Bristol to New York in November 2016, with fares from £129.99 one way.
WOW air was ranked as the 7th best low-cost airline in Europe at the 2013 and 2014 Skytrax World Airline Awards and was the youngest airline in the top 10.
For more information or to book please visit WOW Air’s website or call 0118 321 8384.