Skip to main content

Neighborhood Spotlight: The Castro

Neighborhood Spotlight: The Castro

The Castro is one of San Francisco's most storied districts and contains a multitude of history, restaurants, and cultural events. Team


5 min read

June 05, 2023

Disclaimer: is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

Nestled in the Eureka Valley and bordered by the Haight-Ashbury and Mission District neighborhoods, the Castro in San Francisco is one of the city's most iconic neighborhoods. Its central location and vibrant history make it a truly special place for anybody looking to have an authentic experience of what San Francisco is all about. 

From its rich LGBTQ+ history to amazing murals, many things make this neighborhood special, and many ways to explore it, whether you’re into dancing the night away or just want to go on a quaint walking tour. Let’s dive into this historic San Francisco district and see just what it has to offer. 

Historic Beginnings 

The Castro neighborhood has a long and colorful history that is a key part of its unique character.

The Castro district was founded in 1887 and was named for Castro Street, which in turn was named after Jose Castro, a Californio politician who was the governor of Alta California, the Mexican province of upper California in the late 1800s that today encompasses the modern U.S. state of California. The area has had a remarkably diverse and complex history owing to the many cultures that passed through it. 

Imperial Origins 

Long before the Castro, the San Francisco area was a place with several imperial influences. San Francisco itself began as a Spanish mission in 1776 and was then part of Mexico until California was seized by the United States in 1836. Fort Ross, a fortress just north of The City, was an outpost of Russian America, and so many ships from the Russian Empire came to San Francisco to trade furs. 

Many of Russia’s sailors and ships in the late 1700s were from the Grand Duchy of Finland, and so many Finnish sailors settled in the Castro and made significant fortunes there. A legacy of this history was the longstanding Finnish baths that operated in Castro in the twentieth century. 

The Castro district's colorful row houses became the new home of San Francisco’s LGBT community.

Gold Rush

The California gold rush brought more Finns, along with other Scandinavians from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to the neighborhood. This meant that the Castro district became known as Little Scandinavia for a brief period in the early 1900s. This began to change in the 1930s with the arrival of large numbers of Irish and Italian immigrants who made the Castro into a more diverse neighborhood. 

LGBTQ+ Haven

By the 1940s the Castro became a safe haven for gay men, mainly those who had been discharged from the U.S. military because of their sexuality in the 1940s. All this meant that the character of the neighborhood began to change as the Castro became the gay district of San Francisco, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s when it became a nucleus of the counterculture movement. This, combined with low real-estate costs, attracted more young LGBTQ+ folks to the area. The most famous Castro resident Became Harvey Milk in the 1970s. He was a major political activist and became the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California. It remains one of the major centers for the LGBTQ+ community, and the district’s hidden history is slowly being rediscovered.    

Recomended businesses

Show me
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.

Things to See

Go see a classic obscure film at this stunning baroque movie palace located right in the center of the Castro.

As you might expect, a colorful neighborhood like the Castro has no shortage of interesting things for you to do and places to see. It’s a bustling hub where many different cultures come together, and so it has a lot to offer to everyone. 

Catch a Flick at the Castro Theater SF

Back before we all had televisions and smartphones, the movie palace was the place Americans went to catch the latest Hollywood thriller. Opened in 1922, the Castro Theater is the last of its kind in San Francisco, and its distinctive baroque styling and opulent art deco interior harken back to the golden age of silver screen cinema. In addition to new releases, you can also watch classic and more obscure films at the Castro Theater as part of their regularly scheduled special programs.  

Take in glorious panoramic views of the San Francisco cityscape from this luscious park.

Check Out Mission Dolores Park

While technically not in the Castro district, Mission Dolores Park is nevertheless intimately interlinked with the neighborhood's unique history and character. Situated in between Castro and other San Francisco neighborhoods, it is locally known as the “Gay Beach” and is the perfect place to unwind under the bright sun. As one of the most popular green spaces in the city, there’s always a diverse crowd at Mission Dolores Park. 

Castro Street Fair

Started by historic LGBT activist Harvey Milk in 1974, the Castro Street Fair is meant to be a celebration of the unique artistic creativity of the Castro community. It attracts artists and organizations from all over the city along with live entertainers that cater to all music tastes from house to country western. All proceeds go to charity, so you can enjoy the Castro art scene and help out at the same time. 

Dining In The Castro 

Enjoy an amazing cheesy burrito or anything you desire from the Castro’s sumptuous selection of nutritious eats.

After a long day of walking around the city’s colorful streets, you’ll probably be famished. Fortunately, the Castro has no shortage of delicious five-star restaurants that cater to every palate. As with everything else in the district, the restaurants in the Castro offer a huge variety of cuisine options, so no matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll find something to your liking here. 

El Castillito 

A list of great places to eat in San Francisco would be incomplete without a great Mexican cuisine venue. There are so many Mexican food options in Castro, but El Castillito makes the list thanks to its fast-casual Mexican fare that’s affordable and delicious. El Castillito is reputed to be one of the best burrito spots in San Fran, and on a hot day, it’s a great place to grab an aqua fresca.  

Dinosaurs Sandwiches is by sure the best spot for some tasty Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.


All banh mi connoisseurs know that the West Coast, in general, is a great place to find these delicious baguette subs thanks to its large Vietnamese communities. San Francisco is no exception and one of the best banh mi joints in the city is located right in the heart of Castro. Dinosaurs Sandwiches has got the banh mi game down to an art form thanks to their incredible variety of meat and vegetarian options, thick fluffy baguettes, and beautifully spiced ingredients. 

La Méditerranée

Yet another great place for amazing food is La Méditerranée, the perfect spot for all kinds of Middle Eastern-style eats. This humble award-winning establishment is especially known for its distinctive chicken drumsticks marinated in pomegranate sauce and served over pilaf. However, there are many other options besides shawarma to dolma as well. This is a great dinner spot thanks to La Méditerranée’s rather good portions and compelling prices.

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter Your Zip Code

Enter Your Zip Code

RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We're committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that's just the beginning…
Purpose section
Purpose section