Staycation Agenda: Our Ultimate Non-Touristy Guide To The Castro

Yes, it’s celebrated for being the gay H.Q. of the city (and perhaps the world), but San Francisco’s Castro District is so much more than rainbow flags and racy window displays. It also happens to be home to some of the best eats in the Bay (many of them available until late into the night), plenty of gorgeous tree-lined blocks to stroll, farmers’ markets to marvel at, amazing flower shops to explore, totally inspiring boutiques (especially for the fellas) to shop, and, randomly enough, the best shoe-repair spot in town. All of this makes the Castro one of our favorite 'hoods to visit. It’s a can’t-beat day trip (via MUNI!) that you need to put on your summer agenda, asap!
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Keep clicking to see our super-comprehensive guide to the Castro!
Clockwise from top left: Kasa Indian Eatery, Samovar, Hot Cookie, Starbelly, photo by Naseema Khan, Chilango, Super Duper, photo by Aubrie Pick.
Where To Eat:
Super Duper
Just over a year old, this joint has already made a big impact on the local burger scene (which, of course, is super competitive). Aside from the delectable 100% Niman Ranch burgers, veggie locals can also get in on the Super Duper action with a to-die-for fried portobello 'shroom "burger." Finish it all off with an organic malt (which you can have spiked), and you're good to go.
Super Duper, 2304 Market Street (between 16th and Noe streets); 415-558-8123.
Hot Cookie
Yes, this pint-sized spot is slightly touristy. But Hot Cookie is also definitively damn tasty! While you can splurge on the uber-popular penis-shaped macaroon or the utterly amazing Butch Bar (like a huge peanut butter cup), if you're looking to be thrifty, definitely scope the stellar day-old stash, which includes big cookies for just $.85 a pop (instead of $1.99).
Hot Cookie, 407 Castro Street (between 17th and Market streets); 415-621-2350.
Chilango
Skip the burrito shops in the area (unless it's 12:30 a.m. and you're near La Tortilla) and head straight to Chilango to get your Mexican fix. Although the prices are relatively low, this is far from taquería fare. The carefully crafted plates are a cut above most anything else in the city. Miguel Lopez and Gabriel Yanez, Mexico City natives and owners of Castro shop Sui Generis, go straight for the tortilla soup and carnitas. Personally, we can't get enough of the chilaquiles and cheese enchiladas. So, yeah, obviously it's all a-mazing, right down to the salsa.
Chilango, 235 Church Street (between Market and 15th streets); 415-552-5700.
Chow
Something like an upgraded diner (minus the all-day pancakes) this trendy Church Street spot specializes in comfort food with an all-natural, totally S.F. twist. All the juices are freshly squeezed, the chicken is organic and free-range, the seafood is wild, and the produce is local. If it's your first time there, try going for brunch and sitting on the back patio.
Chow, 215 Church Street (between Market and 15th streets); 415-552-2469.
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Ike's Place
Of course, every hood has to have its signature sandwich shop. The Castro's sammie joint Ike's is just more epic than all the rest put together. When it operated out of its original teeny-tiny 16th Street locale, Ike's was known for its insane all-hours-of-the-day lines, in addition to its crazy flavor mash-ups. Thankfully, Ike's now has a new, slightly expanded home across the street that even has some seating inside. Just get there early if you want to claim it.
Ike's Place, 3489 16th Street (between Dehon and Sanchez streets); 415-553-6888.
Kasa Indian Eatery
Because who can resist a delicious, flavor-packed meal for just $4.50?! Kasa Indian Eatery serves just that day in and out, along with a second option: An overflowing $10.95 plate. The formula is always the same and the kati rolls are always supremely fresh, a winning combination.
Kasa Indian Eatery, 4001 18th Street (between Noe and Hartford streets); 415-621-6940.
Starbelly
From the same folks that brought us Beretta (and Super Duper!), Starbelly had to be solid, right? Pretty much. The Californian cuisine here includes artisanal pizzas, porchetta sandwiches, super-fresh salads, a half-roasted chicken, and the like. During the warm-weather months there are family-style dinners hosted on the chic back patio where you can get your fill of grub and wine for $39 a person.
Starbelly, 3583 16th Street (between Pond and Noe streets); 415-252-7500.
Anchor Oyster Bar
"A total hidden gem with amazing food," is how Todd Barket, owner of much beloved Castro shop Unionmade, describes this tiny spot, which resides just a few blocks north of the Castro Street hoopla. The concept is pretty straight up: Awesome seafood in a beautiful and intimate setting. Even if you don't eat oysters, we recommend just strolling by this cobalt-lit, wide-windowed place in the evening. The view is worth it.
Anchor Oyster Bar, 579 Castro Street (between 18th and 19th streets); 415-431-3990.
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Osaka Sushi
If cheap and fast sushi is your thing, Osaka is your spot. Located right in the heart of the Castro (the Castro Theatre is pretty much right across the street), this place has a great sushi happy hour, is open until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. every single day of the week, and is lively to boot.
Osaka Sushi, 460 Castro Street (between 17th and 18th streets); 415-255-8828.
Clockwise from top left: Unionmade, Crossroads, New Deal, Flowers via Flickr, MAAS & Stacks, Sui Generis.
Where To Shop
Unionmade
This nationally (and internationally) revered menswear shop specializes in modern Americana-leaning goods with a sense of heritage. The only store outside of J.Crew to carry the storied preppy label, Unionmade also stocks St. James tees, locally made Tellason denim, A.P.C., Billy Reid, Cartharrt, vintage Levi's, and the rest of the labels guys actually want to wear. Plus: Fancy grooming products!
Unionmade, 493 Sanchez Street (between Ford and 18th streets); 415-861-3373.
Crossroads Trading Company
While there aren't a lot of places for ladies to shop in the male-centric Castro, the 'hood does boast our favorite Crossroads shop of them all, smack dab at the intersection of Church and Market. The dressing rooms are a-plenty, the venue is relatively spacious, and the prices are, of course, close to dirt cheap.
Crossroads Trading Company, 2123 Market Street (between Church and Sanchez streets); 415-552-8740.
MAAS & Stacks
A newcomer to the Castro boutique pack, MAAS & Stacks is all about clean and minimal style and stocks upgraded men's basics by the likes of Band of Outsiders, Wings + Horns, and Patrik Ervell (an S.F. exclusive), along with cherry-picked accessories by Rachel Comey and Common Projects.
MAAS & Stacks, 2128 Market Street (between Church and Sanchez streets); 415-678-5629.
Sui Generis
Of course, when it comes to designer menswear, sometimes it's nice to get things at a steep discount. And that's where Sui Generis comes in. The lush, baroque-style consignment store stocks everything from Jil Sander suits to Marc Jacobs sweaters, all in pristine condition and for a fraction of what you'd pay at Barneys. The same goes for the new Sui Generis women's shop just a block away.
Sui Generis Ille, 2231 Market Street (between Sanchez and Noe streets); 415-437-2265; Sui Generis Illa, 2265 Market Street (between Sanchez and Noe streets); 415-437-2265.
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New Deal
After you spice up your wardrobe, think about giving your home a little love by heading to the over-15-year-old New Deal interiors shop, which specializes in modern, urban furniture and decor. If you're looking for art for your walls, they have a good stash of original works, too, and super-cool wallpaper.
New Deal, 4529 18th Street (between Douglass and Ord streets); 415-552-6208.
Books Inc
We love the Market Street outpost of the West's oldest indie bookstore. And not just for it's vast collection of erotic photo tomes (um, hello Castro!). We also can't get enough of the drastically discounted books in the—not one, but two!—sale sections, plus the stellar collection of international fashion mags towards the back. Recipe book addicts, this is your mecca.
Books Inc., 2275 Market Street (between Sanchez and Noe streets); 415-864-6777.
Urban Flowers
Todd Barket calls Urban Flowers "the best flower store around, and with the best prices," and we concur–at least in the area. The 18th Street spot offers elegant bundles of hydrangea, peonies, ranunculus, and other favorite blooms, for well under what you'd pay at Bi-Rite a few blocks away.
Urban Flowers, 4025 18th Street (between Noe and Hardford streets); 415-355-1028.
Eye Gotcha Optometric
This tip also in from constant Castro wanderer, Unionmade's Barket: "I love Dr. Higguchi at Eye Gotcha Optometric and the store has a great selection of frames from Persol to Oliver Peoples." Since this is a guy who definitely knows his fashion, we're going to trust him on this one.
Eye Gotcha Optometric, 586 Castro Street (between 18th and 19th streets); 415-431-2988.
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Clockwise from top left: Churchill, Spike's, Churchill, Blackbird.
Where To Drink
Spike's Coffee
We love the calm and relaxed scene at the off-the-beaten path Spike's Coffee. The total local's haunt, which is named after the shop's mascot, has become the go-to place for coffee-drinkers with pets, who sit in the outdoor seating area out front while they and their pooches catch up. Fans of sweet chai lattes will also fall in love fast.
Spike's Coffee, 4117 19th Street (between Castro and Collingwood streets); 415-626-5573.
Peet's Coffee & Tea
Of course, when it comes to Castro coffee shops, Peet's on Market ranks right up there with the Starbucks on 18th for a super-lively crowd and great people watching. Peet's gets a slight edge, however, for having shorter lines and more breathing room. We suggest you grab a mug and sit right out front to take it all in.
Peet's Coffee & Tea, 2257 Market Street (between Sanchez and Noe streets).
Samovar
Tea lovers, on the other hand, should head straight to Samovar. The zen-centric spot has a ridiculous number of teas to choose from, plus yummy bites, and festive tea services of the Moorish and Japanese varieties to the English and Chinese versions. Fun fact: Samovar has a 'Tea Porn' section on its website. And that makes us like the spot even more.
Samovar, 498 Sanchez Street (between Ford and 18th streets); 415-626-4700.
Churchill
This brand new bar, located on the MUNI-rific northern corner of Church and 14th Street, is a welcome nightlife addition to the Castro for both gays and straights alike. Inspired by WWII (hence the name) and created by the team behind Bloodhound, the place not only has ten beers on tap and vintage-y cocktails, but rad interiors and pool table fun.
Churchill, 198 Church Street (between Reservoir and Market streets).
Blackbird
Another slightly upscale—yet super relaxed—new Castro spot is Blackbird, which is nestled next to MAAS & Stacks on Market. In addition to stiff and creative cocktails and a nice little happy hour, Blackbird also has some games in the back and a photobooth to document the drunkenness.
Blackbird, 2124 Market Street (between Church and Sanchez streets); 415-503-0630.
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Clockwise from top left: Noe Street, Castro Theatre via Flickr, Castro Farmers' Market, Harvey Milk Library.
Where To Play
Castro Theatre
This super-awesome old-time theatre, which also serves as one of the city's coolest landmarks, attracts flocks of folks, all days of the week, thanks to its stellar lineup of much beloved vintage films, fun double-features, and movie festivals.
Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between 17th and Market streets); 415-621-6120.
Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library
Definitely the swankiest of S.F.'s public libraries, this newly refurbished spot has a Hugh Hefner-worthy fireplace guests can snuggle up by while flipping through stacks of magazines. It also has a great roster of intriguing on-location art shows and events, along with a solid selection of LGBT-themed DVD's for the taking (er, borrowing).
Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library, 1 Jose Sarria Court (between 16th and 17th streets); 415-355-5616.
Castro’s Farmers' Market
Load up on fruit and veggies from local farmers, plus locally made sorbets, stuffed naan, hummus, pickled olives, and more. The market, which runs every Wednesday, from March to December, also sometimes includes interesting acts, like hulu dancing.
Castro Farmers Market, Wednesdays, 4-8 p.m.; Noe Street (at Market Street).
Noe Street
Definitely one of the most beautiful micro-hoods in all of San Francisco, the stretch of Noe Street that spans from Market to Duboce Park is consistently stunning. The tree-lined blocks, which hold a group of pretty, brightly hued Victorians, are a long-kept secret of the locals. Until now. "The abundance of tress and the places where you can take a seat and relax for a minute is just so perfect," says Sui Generis' Lopez.
Pioneer Renewer
And after all that walking, it might just be time to take a hard look at your shoes. Barket let us in on his shoe-repair secret, the Pioneer Renewer shop, which he says is the best in town and "a total throwback to the 1930's." The reviewers over at Yelp, who rely on the place for everything from repairing leather belts and broken snaps and buttons, seem to be similarly smitten.
Pioneer Renewer, 4501 18th Street (between Douglass and Ord streets); 415-255-4576.
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