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How did a Spanish mission dedicated to St. Francis and the Presidio military base became a city that has become a beacon for gay men around the world, one of the epicenters of gay life in the modern world? 

The Gold Rush of 1848 made San Francisco a boom town. Known as the "Paris of the West," to many, it more closely represented Babylon. In the freewheeling anything-goes atmosphere, a tradition of a bohemian subculture was formed. As the major supply and embarkation point for World War II's action in the Pacific, it saw wave after wave of men arrive and leave. Many of them, including a sizable number of gay men, never left. 

The 1967 Summer of Love, centered in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, made the city a center of the hippie counterculture, another inducement to men stifled by repression in the rest of the country. Gay men and lesbians were also attracted by the radical culture and politics that pervaded the city. When the Haight became a haven for drug abusers rather than users, gay men moved over the hill to the Castro, which quickly became synonymous with the freewheeling sexual spirit of the '70s. 

With thousands pouring in from around the country, the LGBT population flexed its political muscle, most notably promoting Harvey Milk. Milk's assassination and the AIDS crisis were major blows. Today, the problems may be a result of too much success, as high housing prices are causing many gay men to create mini-Castros in other neighborhoods and satellite cities like Oakland. 

There's still plenty of gay life left in this most beautiful of major U.S. cities. The bar scene, although not unaffected by high rents, continues to flourish. As for nightlife, San Francisco may boast more gay dance venues and gay nights at clubs than any other U.S. city, including New York and Miami. 

The Castro remains the nexus for gay boutiques like gear-and-sex emporium Mr S Leather. The city's legendary bookstores, such as Northern Lights, continue the city's proud tradition as a haven for literary movements from the Beats to Punks and Ravers. A definite foodie town, the restaurants range from three-star to hippie vegan. 

The famous fog that rolls in nearly daily, plus the cool weather year-found, make this an ideal place for a visit any time of the year. Whenever you visit, plan for a long layover, because there's so much to see and do in this walking city that a few days won't do it justice.