I t's all about the heights in this fabled city, with its foggy views and massive natural harbor. For LGBT visitors, The Castro is not simply a gay neighborhood; it's a central player in the history of gay civil rights—a refuge for gay people escaping prejudice in the 1960s and '70s. Although gay bars can be found all over the city, there's plenty to keep you occupied in The Castro, starting with 573-575 Castro Street, site of the famed camera store that served as HQ for gay icon Harvey Milk during his four campaigns for public office.
Arts & CultureThe modernist de Young Museum, in Golden Gate Park, is one of the most visited art galleries in the U.S. for good reason. Its American collection represents a vast survey of the continent's history in art, from native and Spanish colonial art to Pop Art, and its outdoor sculpture park is an Alice in Wonderland treat of oversized objects, from 12 giant glazed apples to Claes Oldenburg's 21-foot-tall safety pin.
Off the Beaten PathIt's been more than a century since the U.S. Army started planting trees in San Francisco's Presidio, in the north of the city. Today it's a woodland wonderland—1,491 acres of hiking trails and eucalyptus trees, dotted with site-specific installations by British artist Andy Goldsworthy. Try the Bay Area Ridge Trail (through the Arguello Gate) for some of the most spectacular views of the bay.
Not to Be MissedIs there any place quite like the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Plaza on Embarcadero? It's open three days a week, but get there early on a Saturday morning and take in the color, the smells, and the bustle as a great city's great market leaps into life.
Get in the MoodRead: Anything and everything by Armistead Maupin, author of the 8-volume Tales of the City series.
Listen: Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Linda Ronstadt.
Watch: Howl, in which James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg in a movie about the Beat poet's relationship with Peter Orlovsky, and his most famous poem.
Insider TipsLocal hero Bob Mould, the out gay musician, and frontman of Hüsker Dü, recommends The Manshelf, at the top of Dolores Park in the Mission—"the best sunbathing in town, not to mention the stellar view of downtown."
Gay TriviaSan Francisco is home to City Lights, the world's first all-paperback bookstore, and publisher of Allen Ginsberg's seminal Howl in 1956. Named after the Charlie Chaplin movie of the same name, City Lights is landmark of counter-culture writing that became a veritable showcase for the Beats.