Guide to LGBTQ Travel in the San Francisco Bay Area

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San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge at sunset.
AdobeStock/Heyengel

I never get over looking out of the plane window from my seat and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and the City of San Francisco perched on the edge of the bay.

San Francisco always inspires adventure and excitement for me. From its heady Gold Rush days to today’s technology boom, the city is known for adventure, experimentation, and innovation. It is also the gateway to multiple experiences throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, especially in California’s premier wine regions of Napa and Sonoma.

I’m a little bit biased, though, since San Francisco is my home. On any typical weekend, I dine and drink with my girlfriend in the city, wine country, or around the Bay Area, where we enjoy many LGBTQ events and cultural offerings with our friends.

San Francisco, Sonoma, and the greater Bay Area are once again welcoming visitors and events. Here is an insider’s guide for a fabulous week of exploring San Francisco and Sonoma’s rainbow wonderland.

What’s happening

Pride Month is right around the corner. Visitors can check out Pride events in San Francisco (June 24-26) and Sonoma (June 3-5), along with Out in the Vineyard, Pino on the River (dates to be determined), The Laugh Cellar (year-round), and the many themed weekends, such as Women’s Weekend (May 20-22), Lazy Bear Week (August 1-8), and the gay rodeo known as Best Buck in the Bay, which takes place at the Russian River. If you’re in San Francisco in September, the leather crowd will gather for the Folsom Street Fair on September 25.

A carnival dancer at San Francisco Pride.San Francisco Travel Association

“We’ve got some gay going on,” Gary Saperstein, a former New Yorker who has called Sonoma his home for more than 25 years, said about the LGBTQ events in Sonoma this season.

A gay wine hospitality and travel company, Out in the Vineyard, is kicking off its season April 9 with Black Vines. Guests will sip wine crafted by gay winemaker Jérôme Chéry at Fog Crest Vineyards, a Black woman-owned winery in the Russian River Valley.

Later this year, Out in the Vineyard will host Pink Saturday (May 14), a day celebrating rosé, and Gay Wine Weekend (July 15-17), which has attracted as many as 800 LGBTQ wine aficionados. Saperstein said more smaller events might be announced throughout the season.

The Laugh Cellar’s annual Wine Country Comedy Festival is one of the hottest events. Prior to the pandemic, it drew up to 1,200 people at some of Napa and Sonoma’s iconic wineries. The festival’s 2022 dates and comedian lineup are on the verge of being announced. Check The Laugh Cellar’s website for festival updates.

San Francisco

Get the San Francisco experience when you arrive. Book a bay room at the Harbor Court Hotel, which is perfectly situated on the Embarcadero and features a YMCA. It is steps away from the world-renowned Ferry Building and provides easy access to the Castro and the city’s popular neighborhoods — Union Square, North Beach, Chinatown, the Mission District, and the Haight Ashbury.

There are some must-do things in San Francisco, especially for LGBTQ visitors: Explore the Castro and Transgender District, go on the Cruisin’ The Castro Walking Tours, visit the GLBT Society History Museum, and check out the city’s newest gay-owned art gallery, Schlomer Haus Gallery, in the Castro.

Stop in at lesbian-owned cafes like Equator Coffee, the newest location at the Golden Gate Bridge’s visitor’s center, and refuel at the Dolores Park Café on the edge of the Castro and Mission neighborhoods.

Get a different view of the city from the observatory Ferris wheel, SkyStar Wheel, in Golden Gate Park. The wheel will be open through March 2025.

At night, enjoy the neighborhood’s lively nightlife, from the historical landmark, Twin Peaks Tavern, to Harvey’s, named after Harvey Milk. Head out to dinner and dancing at AsiaSF.

On weekends, get your drag on at Oasis or enjoy drag brunch at The Vault Steakhouse.

The San Francisco Bay Area is a gastronomic paradise. It’s hard to go wrong dining here. Some of my favorite restaurants in the city are Boulevard, Fiorella, Foreign Cinema, Mandalay Restaurant, Ozumo, Kabuto, Osha Thai, Fior d’Italia, and Harris Ranch, to name a few.

Sonoma

Regardless of the style and vibe you are going for on your vacation, you can find it when you cross over the Golden Gate Bridge for the hour-long drive to wine country. Check into the Flamingo Resort for a cool retro chic vibe in Santa Rosa or try out the Duchamp Hotel in Healdsburg for modern wine country. The Kenwood Inn and Spa offers the classic wine country experience. Other options include the lesbian-owned Boon Hotel + Spa or gay-owned The Carriage House at Olive Queen Farm in the Russian River Valley.

A view of Sonoma’s vineyards from MacRostie Winery in Healdsburg, California.Heather Cassell

Delight in California’s food and wine offerings with guided and self-guided food tours with Sonoma Food and Wine Tour and Savor Healdsburg. Alternatively, venture out on your own on the California Cheese Trail.

There are so many great restaurants to select from in Sonoma. When I get hungry, one of my favorite places is Boon Eat + Drink. I also head to Brava Bar de Tapas, Spoonbar, Campo Fina, Catelli’s, Girl and the Fig, El Dorado Kitchen, or Salt and Stone.

To get my day started right, I there’s no place like The Spinster Sisters or queer couple-owned Brew Coffee and Beer House.

To satisfy my sweet tooth I get an ice cream cone or pie at gay-owned Noble Folk.

Mike Kobler, gay co-founder and chief operating officer of Kobler Estate
Winery, explains the wine process with a gay couple at the winery’s tasting room in Healdsburg, California.
Heather Cassell

I pair the great food with amazing Sonoma wines from Black gay-owned Corner 103. The owner, Lloyd Davis, truly elevates the wine tasting experience in downtown Sonoma. There are more than 425 wineries and many LGBTQ winemakers in Sonoma, such as Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery’s Latina lesbian winemaker, Theresa Heredia, as well as gay-owned wineries like Equality Vines, Mercury Wine, Kobler Estate Winery, and Roadhouse Winery.

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