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Where to Eat, Drink, and Snack in the Bay Area: A Queer Locals’ Guide

For every part of the Bay, places where LGBTQIA+ folks feel safe, seen, and known

A corner in the Castro District.
The Castro isn’t the only place in the Bay Area for queer folks to get something to eat and drink.
Getty Images

The Bay Area is known for its long commitment to providing safe spaces for queer people. But the area can be harder to navigate for those who are not white gay men. The Harvey Milk-era of gay rights activism is no less important — it’s just that the LGBTQIA+ communities are vast and contain myriad ways to express and represent sexuality and gender. Finding places to eat, drink, and chill out is important for everybody, especially for those who don’t always feel safe and seen. These eight queer Baydestrians can guide you to businesses all over the area where you might find yourself a bit more at ease, no matter how you present yourself.

Jess Semaan

Holding it down as a Lebanese born-and-raised poet and psychotherapist in the United States isn’t terribly easy. For Jess Semaan, to add living as a queer woman can sometimes feel like too much. That’s why she’s thankful for the Bay Area, where she says she feels a bit more at home and at ease. Here are a few of her favorite places in Oakland.

A medium tight photo of Jess Semaan.
Jess Semaan is a poet, artist, and psychotherapist.
Jess Semaan
Where to eat

“I love to go to Daytrip,” Semaan says. “Oh my god, it’s the best. But it’s also a queer vibe, and everyone who works there is queer.” She adds the fermented cuisine and rotating menu keeps things fresh and unique.

Where to drink

Semaan doesn’t drink much booze, but she has her nonalcoholic drinks at the Lede. “The staff feel like family,” Semaan says. “They’re all engaged with the guests.” The strawberry vanilla NA cocktail is her favorite.

Where to kick it

Friends and Family is the go-to place for Semaan and her friends. “Everyone there is so stylish,” Semaan says. “It’s all these stylish queer people from Oakland, and they have good music.” Semaan loves the bar so much that when she marries her partner this summer, the reception will be at the James Beard Awards-recognized bar.

Miah Jeffra

Growing up gay in the American South was not a pleasant experience, Miah Jeffra says. Jeffra moved around a lot, due to their parents’ work in the military, which definitely inspired their work in the literary world and their eventual four books of prose. They’ve since founded the all-queer non-profit publisher Foglifter Press and teach at Santa Clara University. These are the places Jeffra says are the most respectful of who they are in the South Bay (and a few in the city).

Where to eat

Jeffra says Ike’s for sandwiches and Sara’s for a homey breakfast. They also recommend Puranpoli for Maharashtrian food and Tay Ho for Vietnamese.

Where to drink

Voyager for coffee, hands down,” Jeffra says. “They took over an old Starbucks, which makes me even happier.” For beer in Santa Clara, they head to Taplands, a “sweet locals spot with a good selection of beers and friendly vibes.”

Where to kick it

In the South Bay, they go to the off-the-beaten-path gay bar Renegades. But mostly they like hanging out in San Francisco. Jolene’s and El Rio are two of their favorites, and they’re “desperately waiting for the Stud to find its new digs, as it was the best queer bar in the known universe,” Jeffra says. “And Last Call Bar is like visiting your favorite queer relative.”


The joy of launching and running a business is all the sweeter when doing it with your cat as a business partner. For Dee, a Black non-binary artist who runs Hey Neighbor Cafe in the Bayview, their cat Boots make each day brighter. Partnering with Rize Up Bakery and making their own marmalade isn’t bad, either. These are a few of the spots Dee recommends in San Francisco.

Where to eat

Papalote has my heart always,” Dee says. Known for its burritos and salsas, Papalote Mexican Grill has been around since 1999 with two brick-and-mortar locations, plus a food truck.

Where to drink and where to kick it

For this entrepreneur, only the heart of the Mission District will do. “Find me at the Makeout Room every weekend with a tequila in my hand,” Dee says. The cash-only bar is a venue to tons of community events, like Happy Endings reading series and lively DJ sets.

Michael Foulk and Sam Sax

Helping run Gilman Brewing in Berkeley is, believe it or not, just one part of Michael Foulk’s full life. Their passions lie in beer, yes, but also in genre fiction, comedy, and podcasting. When not hanging out with their partner, poet, and educator Sam Sax, plus their dog Susan, Foulk can be spotted everywhere from the Brava Theater in San Francisco doing stand-up to Comics Bookcase, where they write a column on the X-Men. Foulk and Sax name a few of their favorite places in the East Bay.

Where to eat

One spot Foulk enjoys for food and cocktails with “a fairly queer vibe” is Low Bar. The octopus is just one of many terrific options, and they’re a fan of the churros, they say. The natural ingredients and house-made extracts are big draws.

Where to drink

Sax likes Cafenated Cafe in Berkeley, pointing out that the back patio is huge, like a deconstructed greenhouse. “During pandemic season one and two, anywhere with just interior was not an option,” Foulk says. “Studying and writing in addition to the nice coffee and on draft beer is great.”

Where to kick it

The couple tends to end up at the Berkeley Marina or Cesar Chavez Park with their dog as “it’s conducive to picnicking,” Foulk says. Sax adds that sitting at Lake Merritt and hitting the South Berkeley farmer’s market every Tuesday on Adeline Street is a treat. “It’s a fairly queer space with an eclectic selection,” Foulk says. Honorable mentions from Foulk go to Lovely’s and Two Pitchers Brewing for their “whole cute situation,” and Sax throws in White Horse Bar, but “explicitly, mid-afternoon on a weekday.”

Nico Fain

Growing up in Castro Valley as a trans person meant Nico Fain looked forward to the day when they could get over to the city. They love hitting the scene with their partner Mad Marie, a local drag queen and performer. The duo throws a party at Casements called Family Affairs every month when Fain isn’t teaching at the Children’s After School Arts (CASA) program. These are just a few of the places they enjoy in San Francisco.

Where to eat

Fain hits La Cocina Municipal Marketplace on Hyde Street, the Soma StrEat Food Park, and Mythic Pizza for a slice. The big wins in Fain’s mind are, respectively, the empanadas, grilled cheese sandwiches, and customizable pizza slices.

Where to drink

The go-to for one of the Bay Area’s favorites, boba, is Little Sweet. “The lemonade boba is so bomb,” Fain says. (Boba Guys gets an honorable mention, too.) For coffee, Fain hits Cafe International on Haight Street. For booze, they opt for Junior; one of the managers used to work at legendary queer bar the Stud.

Where to kick it

El Rio is a favorite of many on this list, and it’s the same for Fain. “You can’t go wrong,” Fain says of the Mission Street bar. “They have something there for everyone, and Mothership is right next door, too.” Fain says that QBar is their all-time favorite bar as, to them, it’s one of the only bars in the Castro that feels truly inclusive of any and all. “They also have a killer happy hour,” Fain says.

Cal Calamia

Cal Calamia is known for their love of running, their energetic dalmatian, and their fierce honesty in sharing their experience transitioning. Now working as a high school teacher as they pursue an MFA at the University of San Francisco, Calamia spends their time living it up in San Francisco. These are a few places you’ll see Calamia after they lace up their sneakers outside their NoPa apartment.

Where to eat

Calmia says Manitas Cafe is an unsung hero in the cafe scene. The excellent service, impeccable platanos, and proximity to their university and apartment make it a go-to restaurant.

Where to drink

Cumaica, a Nicaraguan and Latinx-owned and operated cafe, is the first place that comes to mind for Calamia. They like the California Street location for studying, working, and writing. “Early in my transition, the folks at cumaica were calling me ‘chico,’ which was super gender-affirming,” Calamia says.

Where to kick it

“In the queer, adult drinking world, I don’t think anything can top El Rio,” Calamia says, joining the chorus. The $2 Tecates are to die for, and the prioritization of queer DJs and performers, who often collaborate with LGBTQIA+ nonprofits, feels very San Francisco to Calamia, they say. “Jolene’s is also a spot that is working hard to de-cis-gay-man the queer nightlife scene,” Calamia says. “And last but not least is the neighborhood queer dive, Trax. It can range from mellow to walking across the bar in heels.”

Blair Hutto

For those who know Hutto, his tall frame and rolling laugh are their own invitation to break bread with him. He’s the kind of person who paints himself a place wherever he goes, which came in handy after his family moved to Upstate New York from San Jose. These days he lives in San Francisco and commutes to Menlo Park for work at Meta (the artist formerly known as Facebook). He says he feels his queer community is as strong as ever, and he still has a few places in San Jose where he feels at home in the city of his birth.

Where to eat

A lesser-known part of the city in Hutto’s mind is the SoFa District. He says it’s an arts and queer district that used to feature literal sofas on the street for SoFa Fridays. The market provides a lot of Asian food and Mexican options, so “if you don’t know what you want to eat it offers a lot of variety and ambiance,” Hutto says.

Where to drink

Hutto is a big fan of the Voyager coffee shop in San Pedro Square. “The employees bring really good vibes,” Hutto says. “I’m always greeted with kindness and fun conversations. They pride themselves on their really nice employees.” He says the specialty drinks, as the destination drinks and custom lattes rotate, are always a bang.

Where to kick it

“One really obvious one is Splash,” Hutto says. “It’s like San Jose’s only queer nightclub and it’s really close to my parents’ house. That’s a place where I feel comfortable in my queerness: a lot of queer people, chill environment, and a fun place to be with your friends.” Between Britney Spears and other 2000s pop hits, the nostalgic dance energy, and upstairs balcony, it’s always a good time, he says.

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