Polk Gulch

Catch a glimpse of the old San Francisco in this pocket of the city that has escaped gentrification, where grit and glitter remain firmly embedded in the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare.

While tech startups and sleek new ventures have been slowly but surely smoothing San Francisco’s rough edges, Polk Gulch remains true to its roots. Experience the refreshing honesty of this neighborhood, which ushered in San Francisco’s early gay community before the Castro had even come out. In fact, the district’s arterial boulevard, Polk Street, has been on the scene since day one. It was laid out as part of the early settlement that rode the coattails of the California Gold Rush.

If you want to see flaws-and-all ‘Frisco, take a walk down Polk Street. Actually, it’s one of the few places in the city that’s easy on the knees. After the endless climbs and steep descents of San Francisco’s hillsides, Polk Street is gloriously flat. Bookended by Geary Street and Union Street, Polk Gulch embraces the bordering neighborhood of Lower Nob Hill, sometimes affectionately known as Tendernob (that’s a fusion of Nob Hill and Tenderloin, by the way).

Peep into Polk Street’s original mom-and-pop shops, hole-in-the-wall eateries, down-home dive bars, and restaurants that haven’t had to change a thing in 30 years. You can even visit San Francisco’s one and only Antique Vibrator Museum. Sure, the Castro is undoubtedly S.F.’s leading gayborhood, but that title formerly belonged to Polk Gulch. The city’s first pride parade was held here in 1972. Take a trip back in time and discover the clubs and bars that introduced San Francisco’s gay scene. The Cinch Saloon and Gangway still carry the torch for the old-guard gay bar, and are perfect for a no-frills night out.

Polk Gulch has seen it all, but you won’t catch a trace of cynicism in this neighborhood’s candor. Down-market and down to earth, Polk Gulch shows a side of the real San Francisco that is increasingly hard to find.