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Enjoy a Sapphic San Francisco! These are the best lesbian and queer bars in the Bay Area

Robyn Exton

May 17, 2023

Enjoy a Sapphic San Francisco! These are the best lesbian and queer bars in the Bay Area
  • San Francisco: the city by the Bay, the land of cable cars and sourdough bread, and of course, a mecca for lesbian culture. And what’s a lesbian community without some fantastic bars to call home? From the Castro to the Mission, SF is packed to the brim with amazing lesbian and queer bars that will make your heart sing and your pulse race.  

    And we’re not talking about just any old bar, darling. We’re talking about the kind of places where you walk in and you know you’re among your people. The perfect spot to go on your first date with a lady you met on HER.

    So, are you ready to get to know San Francisco’s real queer scene? Then check out these spots!

    The Stud

    The Stud is a fabulous and legendary LGBTQIA+ bar that has been a staple in San Francisco’s nightlife scene since the 1960s. Known for its mission of keeping SF queer, this bar is the perfect place to let loose and party. It provides a safe, welcoming venue for creative expression and celebration. 

    Source: San Francisco Chronicle

    It is a must-visit hotspot since it has received tons of stars like Lady Gaga, Bjork, RuPaul, and more! Every night at The Stud is a unique experience, with different themed events and performances, from burlesque shows to lip-sync battles to queer comedy nights. 

    Their specialty-crafted drinks are a little bit more on the expensive side, but they have more affordable options, such as beer. Something great about them is that the bar staff is super friendly, making it easy to feel right at home. Plus, it is a co-op, which means it’s by and for the community, thriving on values such as respect, collaboration, and sustainability.

    “The Stud is a fantastic historic place that generally feels like a home”

    — Katie Keech


    If you’re looking for an unforgettable night out with your queer crew, then Oasis is the place to be. Located in sophisticated SoMa, this trendy performance venue and nightclub is known for its top-notch drag shows since it’s co-owned by drag legends Heklina and D’Arcy Drollinger

    You’ll be wowed by the talent and dazzled by the glittery outfits and fabulous wigs. The atmosphere is lively and energetic, with young and fashionable patrons letting loose on the dance floor. 

    Source: Oasis

    This SF legendary bar pays host to international drag superstars, including those from RuPaul’s Drag Race and Dragula, and it is constantly voted “best nightclub” by the local LGBTQIA+ community.

    The catch? They are open only Thursday through Sunday, but you can start partying early in the evening. The drinks can be a bit pricey, but it’s worth it for the unforgettable experience. Come in your fiercest outfit and get ready to slay the night away!

    “Incredible queer vibes, inclusive and vibey, fantastic drag and dancers with great bartenders! My partner and I visited from out of town, and out of all the LGBTQIA+ places we visited, this was our favorite! Highly recommend if you are looking for a more queer/diverse atmosphere.”

    — Olivia Parvin


    Are you ready for a wild night out at one of the hottest lesbian bars in San Francisco? Then Jolene’s the spot for you, a trendy and inclusive bar that’s all about celebrating diversity and having a good time. They are home to the famous “UHaul SF” parties, dedicated to girls who love girls, every single Frigay, as they like to call it.

    Source: San Francisco Chronicle

    They are open 4 days a week, with awesome drag and burlesque brunches on Sungays, and other themed parties that range from the 90s, western, hip-hop throwbacks, and more. All their drink specials are 13 dollars and full of flavor! So you can make the most of your night and let a little loose at this exciting place!

    “Jolene’s is the spot. I am on the Board of HRC, we have hosted events at Jolene’s in the past and had a blast. The staff was amazing to work with, and we had so much fun. Great food, drinks, and lots of dancing as an added bonus. My go-to for queer non-male-centric space in SF!”

    — Lindsey Mazza

    The Café

    As interesting as it may sound, The Café is not a coffee shop where you can get a beloved oat milk lavender latte – it’s a popular gay nightclub that offers delicious drinks and a state-of-the-art clubbing experience. You’ll feel like you’re part of the queer family here, with a diverse crowd of locals and tourists dancing and sippin’ on their fave cocktails. 

    Source: SF Gay History

    The Café also hosts a variety of live events, like themed nights with go-go dancers and amazing DJs that will make you make you dance like nobody’s watching! Cover and entrance may range from $7 to $20 depending on the occasion, though. A tip from loyal visitors: don’t forget to bring cash!

    “The Cafe is my favorite bar in SF. I love how diverse the staff is, and the drinks are good and priced well. Every time I’ve ever been, I’ve always had the best time! I feel safe, the bathrooms are great and newly remodeled. Drinks are strong, music is fun. Everyone is always having a good time!”

    — Estefania Mones

    El Rio

    El Rio is more than just a bar – it’s a community space, an event venue, a gathering place, and a Mission mainstay. This spot is proud to be LGBTQIA+ run and welcomes all good people, regardless of their gender, sexuality, or identity. 

    Source: El Rio

    But El Rio doesn’t just talk the talk – they actively invest in communities to promote social change, whether it’s through hosting fundraisers for queer and trans organizations or partnering with local groups to support marginalized communities.

    They are also strong supporters of the local arts scene, providing a platform for up-and-coming drag artists and musicians to showcase their talents. The bar is always looking for ways to serve underserved communities and give back to the neighborhood that has supported it for so long. And bonus info: can even host your wedding here!

    As for the costs, drinks prices are pretty average, less than 13 dollars for a cocktail, 7 bucks for craft beer, and 4 dollars for a good ol’ regular Tecate.

    “Only the best queer dive bar in all of San Francisco. My ride or die, my booze muse, my number one crush.”

    — Tanya Wischerath

    Twin Peaks Tavern

    Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, Twin Peaks Tavern is a true staple in the SF LGBTQIA+ community. 

    This historic bar first opened its doors in 1935, making it one of the oldest gay bars in the country. But don’t let its age fool you – Twin Peaks is just as fresh and vibrant as ever, with a cozy and welcoming aura that draws in visitors from all over the city.

    Source: Star Observer

    One of the standout features of this spot is its large plate glass windows that overlook the bustling Castro Street scene. This unique design element was groundbreaking when the bar first opened, as it allowed patrons to see and be seen in a way that was previously unheard of in the gay bar scene. Today, the windows still offer an inviting glimpse into the bar’s warm and friendly interior, which is filled with comfy booths, vintage decor, and friendly staff who are always ready with a smile and a warm welcome.

    This Bay Area landmark opens every day at noon, all drinks are less than 13 bucks, and the vibes? Impeccable. 

    “This adorable neighborhood bar is cute and clean and smells like cookies (Hot Cookie is next door) and has a super friendly staff with a very LGBTQIA+ friendly vibe. Not fussy, the cocktails, beer, and wine are reasonably priced but bring cash! The bartenders voted I looked like a cross between Julia Roberts and Posh Spice soooo of course I love them for life 🏳️‍🌈❤️”

    —  Sydney Marti

    Midnight Sun 

    Midnight Sun, besides a spin-off Twilight novel, is a beloved gay video bar that’s been a pinnacle of San Francisco’s LGBTQIA+ scene for over 40 years

    Source: Gay San Francisco

    This cozy and inviting spot in Castro is known for its friendly atmosphere, tasty drinks, and live events like Timeline Tuesdays with the best 80s hits, Media Noche Latinx Thursday Nights, and Boogie Wonderland every Sunday.

    Their base craft cocktails are all $12.50, but you must try their seasonal drinks! Like the summer favorites “Henny Please” and “Castropolitan.” Midnight Sun is open every day since 2 PM, so it’s the perfect place to get some afternoon drinks with your co-workers or friends, but also a chill party spot to stay until 2 AM.

    “This place is so much fun! Friendly people, great happy hour, and super fun Wednesday night karaoke. Had a blast. Loved the margaritas. Definitely going back again next visit to San Francisco!”

    — Ron GR GR

    Wild Side West

    If you’re looking for a cozy little hideaway where you can let your hair down and feel free to be yourself, then Wild Side West is the perfect spot for you, honey! This lesbian bar is like a warm and inviting living room, but with pretty patio seating, opened by two wonderful lesbians, Pat Ramseyer and Nancy White, back in 1962.

    Source: Wild Side West

    They’ve got everything from craft beers to specialty shots, and their cocktails are simply divine, also known for their great prices. So whether you’re in the mood for something sweet and fruity or strong and smokey, you’re sure to find something that will tickle your fancy.

    This neighborhood gem has range since it hosts community fundraisers but is also the perfect spot to watch your favorite game and even attend their free trivia nights!

    “A favorite neighborhood bar. Always has been, always will be. The best part is the coolest, funkiest beer garden out back. A quintessential Bernal Heights experience.”

    — Nina Roberts

    Source: San Francisco Bay Times

    440 Castro

    This legendary spot is an absolute must-visit for anyone looking to soak up some of San Francisco’s rich LGBTQIA+ history. 

    The bar first opened its doors in 1979 as the “Bear Hollow” and quickly became a hub for the local gay community. Today, it’s still going strong, with a diverse crowd of locals and visitors alike flocking to 440 Castro to let their hair down and have a good time.

    Source: Nightflow

    Even though this spot is more oriented to the male gays (male gaze, lol) with their monthly “Battle of the Bulge,” it is a welcoming place for the whole community, especially with their $3 beer Tuesdays!

    The atmosphere inside 440 Castro is pure magic, with a vibrant energy that’s contagious. From the rainbow flags flying proudly outside to the colorful hues above the dance floor, this place is a celebration of queer culture and community.

    “440 is the best and my local. The staff there are friendly, remember your drink, and great you with a smile. Underwear night is Monday, Two Dollar Tuesday for beer is the best, 2 for 1 Wednesdays, and drink specials every day. Low key, no attitude bar.”

    — T.J. Lee-Miyaki

    San Francisco’s lesbian and gay bars are more than just places to grab a drink or hit the dance floor. They’re vital community hubs that have been around for decades, providing safe spaces and support for generations of LGBTQIA+ folks. 

    They’re places where you can be yourself, let your hair down, and feel like you belong. And while the city has seen some changes over the years, these bars have remained steadfast, continuing to serve as beacons of hope and joy for all who enter. 

    So the next time you’re there, make sure to visit these incredible establishments and raise a glass to the lesbians who have come before us, and to those who will come after.

    Robyn Exton

    Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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