I remember the feeling of excitement and anticipation as I walked down Market Street in San Francisco, surrounded by colors, glitter, and a palpable sense of celebration. It was the year 2019, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of the iconic San Francisco Pride Parade and Festival, an event that had been taking place annually since 1970.
San Francisco, often referred to as the “City by the Bay,” holds a unique place in the history of LGBTQ+ activism and liberation. The city has been a haven and a battleground for queer rights for decades. The Castro District, a neighborhood that gained prominence as an LGBTQ+ enclave, became a hub for queer culture and advocacy.
It was in San Francisco that Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, embarked on his groundbreaking political journey, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and challenging societal norms. His tragic assassination in 1978 cast a spotlight on the struggles that the LGBTQ+ community faced and galvanized a movement that continues to ripple across the globe.
Attending San Francisco Pride was a way not only to celebrate progress but also to honor the pioneers who had fought for the rights and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in this very city. The rainbow flags that adorned the streets were not just symbols of diversity; they were beacons of hope, reminding us of the journey that had been undertaken and the journey that still lay ahead.
Having said that, it’s time to talk about the Pride, and what you can do to make your experience truly memorable. Whether you’re planning to join in next time or are just curious, here are eleven invaluable tips to make the most of your Pride experience in this iconic city.
1. Arrive Early to Secure a Good Spot
You’ve probably heard stories about the massive turnout at San Francisco Pride, and let me tell you, it’s all true. The streets are teeming with people from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate love, diversity, and equality. To ensure a good view of the parade, you should plan to arrive early, especially if you’re aiming for a spot along the prime viewing areas.
I staked out my spot near the corner of Market and Steuart Streets hours before the parade. The atmosphere was already buzzing with excitement as others joined me in the quest for the perfect vantage point. This early arrival secured us front-row seats and allowed us ample time to connect with fellow attendees, share stories, and wait eagerly for the show to begin.
Pro tip: consider bringing along a foldable chair to make your wait more comfortable, as the hours leading up to the parade can be just as much a part of the experience as the parade itself.
2. Dress to Impress (or Express!)
One of the most memorable aspects of San Francisco Pride is the array of outfits and costumes on display. As I navigated through the crowds, elaborate rainbow-themed ensembles merged with whimsical fairy-tale-inspired costumes. I distinctly remember a group of friends dressed as a dazzling spectrum of crayons, each shade representing an identity within the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Their vibrant presence was a testament to the individuality that Pride champions.
Some donned intricate handmade pins that conveyed messages of acceptance, while others sported t-shirts emblazoned with artwork that celebrated LGBTQ+ love in all its forms. The overarching message was clear: Pride is not just a celebration; it’s an unapologetic declaration of identity, a symbol of resilience, and a beacon of hope for the. So, when it comes to your own attire, remember that every stitch, every color, contributes to this experience.
Whether you’re decked out head-to-toe in glitter or simply donning a rainbow wristband, your outfit becomes an artistic manifestation of support. If you want to wear assless chaps with glittery rainbow hair, go for it. If you’re comfortable with just a simple tee and a rainbow wristband, that’s okay too! You do you — that’s what Pride’s all about.
3. Stay Hydrated and Bring Snacks
With the California sun beaming down and the excitement of the crowd, it’s all too easy to neglect your own well-being. The hours can stretch on, and before you realize it, you’re dehydrated and exhausted. Trust me, parched throats and dizziness are unwelcome party crashers. That’s why you must have a hydration plan in place.
While water stations are stationed along the parade route, I learned firsthand that the lines can be as long as the parade itself. Not to mention, purchasing water from stalls can be insanely pricey, especially considering the long hours you might be at the event. To dodge these inconveniences, arm yourself with a trusty refillable water bottle.
And let’s not forget about sustenance. Packing some energy bars can prove to be a lifesaver. I’ll always cherish the memory of sharing a bag of rainbow-colored candies with those around me. I had packed some Pride-themed energy pars just for the occasion, and more than enough for a whole group of people, and I loved passing it around to other attendees.
4. Familiarize Yourself with the Parade Route
San Francisco Pride encompasses both the parade and the festival, with the parade typically starting on Market Street and ending at Civic Center Plaza, where the festival takes place. Knowing the parade route can help you plan where to watch from and where to head afterwards to continue the festivities. This also gives you the opportunity to explore nearby streets and establishments, discovering hidden gems along the way.
5. Immerse Yourself in the Festival
Once the parade concludes, the party doesn’t stop. The Civic Center Plaza transforms into a lively festival space filled with stages, booths, and activities. In 2019, the main stage featured performances from LGBTQ+ artists and allies. Leading the charge of entertainers was the prodigiously talented pop sensation, King Princess. Her charisma and artistry are unmatched, and when she serenaded the crowd with her hit “1950,” the entire Civic Center Plaza sang in unison.
This is the time to unleash yourself—to dance without inhibition, to sing at the top of your lungs, and to relish the shared sense of elation that radiates through the air. The festival is where the boundaries between performer and spectator dissolve. I remember finding myself in a spontaneous dance-off with a group of performers. And even though I was born with two left feet and couldn’t carry a note to save my life, no one gave a hoot!
6. Engage with Community Organizations
The festival isn’t just about entertainment – it’s also a platform for various LGBTQ+ community organizations to showcase their work and create awareness about important issues. I remember spending time at the booths, engaging in conversations with representatives from organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD. These interactions provided me with a deeper understanding of the ongoing challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, including healthcare access, new anti-gay legislations, and more.
7. Capture (But Also Experience) the Moments
Pride is a visual spectacle, and you’ll want to capture the moments that resonate with you. While it’s important to be present and enjoy the experience, don’t hesitate to snap a few photos to commemorate the day. I found that candid shots of people’s reactions, the colorful floats, and the overall atmosphere brought back the feelings of joy whenever I looked at them later. While capturing the moment is important, it’s equally important to live the moments. So once you’re done with a shot, put down the camera and just be in the moment.
8. Respect Everyone’s Space and Boundaries
As you immerse yourself in the festivities, it’s important to remember that personal boundaries still matter. Consent and respect should always be a priority. While many people are open to interaction, always approach others with kindness and be mindful of their comfort levels. A friendly smile and open body language are indicators that someone is receptive to interaction. However, should you sense hesitation or observe cues of discomfort, gracefully step back and allow that individual their space.
Respect also extends to language. For instance, when meeting someone new, always ask their pronouns first. It’s a small gesture, but it conveys a deep sense of respect for individual identities. Likewise, you might be tempted to touch someone’s outfit in admiration, but remember that admiration should never cross the boundaries of personal space. Always seek consent before touching anyone or their outfits.
9. Explore Nearby Landmarks
San Francisco is a city full of iconic landmarks, and Pride is the perfect opportunity to explore some of them. If you have the time, consider visiting nearby attractions like the Castro District, a historic LGBTQ+ neighborhood, or the Twin Peaks for a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. These side adventures can complement your Pride experience and give you a more comprehensive understanding of the city’s LGBTQ+ history.
10. Plan Your Transportation Ahead
San Francisco Pride draws attendees from all over, which means transportation can get crowded and parking can be a nightmare. I made the rookie mistake of driving on the first day and, trust me, you don’t want to spend your Pride experience searching for parking. If you’re able to, opt for public transportation or ride-sharing services to avoid the stress of finding parking. The last thing you want is to miss out on the festivities because you’re stuck in traffic.
Public transportation is truly a lifesaver in San Francisco. The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and MUNI (San Francisco Municipal Railway) stations are walking distance from the festivities. Most stations, including the key hubs like Powell or Civic Center, are conveniently located just a short stroll away from the main event venues. So, go for public transportation or ride-shares, but never ever under any circumstance drive yourself to San Francisco Pride.
11. Spread Love and Acceptance
As the day comes to an end and you reflect on your experience at San Francisco Pride, remember that the spirit of Pride goes beyond the event itself. Carry the messages of love, acceptance, and inclusivity with you wherever you go. Share your experience with friends and family, engage in conversations about LGBTQ+ rights, and do your little part to create a more welcoming and equitable world for all. You can have more of an impact on the world than you think.
Attending the 2019 San Francisco Pride Parade and Festival was a powerful experience for me. As you plan your own visit to this iconic event, keep these eleven tips in mind. Remember to arrive early, embrace your personal style, and engage with the community around you. San Francisco Pride is more than a parade – it’s a celebration of love and a reminder that together, we can create a world where everyone is free to be their authentic selves.