Your guide to Halloween weekend in SF's Castro neighborhood

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday October 23, 2023
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A skeleton crew was out in the Castro last year for Halloween. Photo: Steven Underhill
A skeleton crew was out in the Castro last year for Halloween. Photo: Steven Underhill

Ghosts and goblins of the friendly variety will likely be among the revelers in San Francisco's LGBTQ Castro neighborhood this weekend, as Halloween festivities will reboot for the first time in 16 years. The high queer holiday will see some changes, organizers said, and it won't be the street party of years past.

Most of the activities take place this weekend, October 28-29, as Halloween falls on a Tuesday.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, instead of the block party, there will be storefront activations, a movie marathon, a costume contest, and smaller gatherings.

The effort to reinvigorate the festivities had been bandied about for years — in 2021 gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said, "I've always felt it'd be great if we could figure out a way of how we can do these great parties," referring to Halloween and Pink Saturday.

Both unofficial street parties had been scrubbed due to past violence. In 2002, four people were stabbed on Halloween night in the Castro; but the death knell for the old-time Halloween festivities was in 2006, when nine people suffered gun-related injuries in a mass shooting while a 10th victim was trampled in the melee that marred the annual street party.

The new push of reinvigorating Halloween is the brainchild of Manny Yekutiel, a gay man who owns an eponymously named cafe in the Mission and is a member of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors. He told the Castro Merchants Association in August, "The original idea was to bring [the old Castro] Halloween back." But upon further discussion he and other community stakeholders realized that what they wanted to bring back was "a spirit of Halloween when it started in the Castro that was a community feeling," he said.

Pikachu made an appearance in the Castro last year for Halloween. Photo: Steven Underhill  

Storefront activations
Civic Joy Fund, a $2.5 million project Yekutiel co-launched to energize the city's commercial corridors, is spending between $100,000 and $150,000 on 43 storefront activations, he stated.

Yekutiel told the B.A.R. last week that the merchants participating in the October 28 effort will be reimbursed.

"That way we'll have all the receipts and we'll pay them for what they've spent," he said.

Surveying a map () of the activations, Yekutiel said, "This is kind of overwhelming. Wow."

"I'm so proud over 40 Castro merchants are going to be organizing activations on Halloween," he said. "This seems like the perfect way to bring back Halloween that's community focused, that helps the local economy, and I'm so proud to help the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence bring back the historic costume contest that hasn't happened in so long."

Mandelman is pleased with Yekutiel's efforts.

"When the Civic Joy Fund raised the idea of resurrecting Halloween in the Castro all stakeholders agreed it should be a family-friendly celebration and helpful to our merchants," Mandelman stated to the B.A.R. "I'm so happy to see so many Castro merchants sign up to host activations and I'm grateful to the event organizers for putting in the hard work to make this a reality."

Among the merchants who'll be activating her storefront is Terry Asten Bennett, a straight ally who is president of the Castro Merchants Association and the co-owner of Cliff's Variety at 479 Castro Street.

"Cliff's will have face painting and crafts from 1 to 5 [p.m.]," she stated. "Donations accepted."

There will also be a pie-eating contest there at 5 p.m., with a $5 entry fee and prizes.

"I think it is going to be a really fun weekend," Asten Bennett stated, adding she's happy with the number of participating businesses. "It should bring great energy and fun to our community."

Local Take at 4122 18th Street will be having do-it-yourself all-ages crafts, including creating felt pumpkins, from 1 to 3 p.m.

"Make your own mini pumpkin patch with mini felt pumpkins, a ceramic pot, and felt pumpkin patch accessories," stated Jenn Meyer, a straight ally who is the owner of the store.

From 4 to 6 p.m. a psychic will come to Local Take to do tarot and palm readings.

Over at Fabulosa Books at 489 Castro Street, there will be three events, gay owner Alvin Orloff told the B.A.R.

"Starting at noon, there will be a bookmark making contest for children and that will end at around 2 p.m.," Orloff stated. "After that, from 2 to 4 there will be an activity called 'Ask A Witch,' which is where all partygoers are encouraged to pick a question from the witches' cauldron and will be given their answer in the form of a book title! There will be an actual witch presiding over this activity. Our final activity will be tarot reading from 5 to 7."

Welcome Castro, the new pop-up gift shop and welcome center at 525 Castro Street, will be having three live musicians that day, gay owner Robert Emmons told the B.A.R.

"From 11 to 2 we'll have Clementine Darling, from 2 to 5 we'll feature Sibly Moon Dreamer and we'll end the day from 5 to 8 with A Talent for Mischief," Emmons stated. There will also be a game of cornhole.

The Castro LGBTQ Cultural District is hosting a meet and greet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the GLBT Historical Society Museum at 4127 18th Street.

"I am very happy that the Meet and Greet features comedians [former San Francisco supervisor and assemblymember] Tom Ammiano and Marga Gomez," Tina Aguirre, a genderqueer person who is director of the district, stated to the B.A.R. "Community members — you're invited to meet current and newly-elected advisory board members along with our staff. Costumes encouraged!"

With support from Civic Joy Fund, the museum will be free for visitors throughout the day, according to Andrew Shaffer, the historical society's communications director.

"Spellbound" at the Academy, 2166 Market Street, will be from 7 to 11 p.m. Members can go for free but others will need to purchase a ticket, according to gay co-founder Nate Bourg.

"We are excited about our Halloween event this Saturday," Bourg stated.

Other storefront activations include "Nightmare on Noe Street" at Flore Dispensary, 258 Noe Street; live music, free samples of fun buns and dough boys and chances to win cash at Chadwick's, 2375 Market Street, from noon to 4 p.m.; a drag show and DJs at Freeborn Designs, 463 Castro Street; and contemporary gender-affirming haircuts, live entertainment, food, beverages, gift bags and photography at Headprint Studio, 4327 18th Street.

The fun continues with "I Ain't Afraid of No Ghost" at the Lookout, 3600 16th Street; "Little Shop of Spooky" at How's It Hanging, 548 Castro Street; a Halloween tunnel and pumpkin decor at Hernandez Chiropractic, 550A Castro Street; "Naked and Unafraid: A Reading" at Theatre Rhinoceros, 4229 18th Street; a hot spot at Hot Cookie, 407 Castro Street; a "safe and fun Halloween event" at Oz Pizza, 508 Castro Street; a fortune teller at Does Your Mother Know, 4141 18th Street; and "Tricks For Treats" at Jeffrey's Natural Pet Foods, 284 Noe Street;

Other participants will be the "Halloween Extravaganza" at Eureka Sky, 3989 17th Street; "Halloween Airbrush" at Skin on Market, 2299 Market Street Unit C; the "Freak Show" at Queer Arts Featured, 575 Castro Street; "Dirty Carnival" at Copper, 4092 18th Street; "Spiders" at Adult Store, 518 Castro Street; and Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza's "Castro's Lesbian Bar" at Harvey Milk Plaza at Castro and Market streets.

Flicks and costumes at the Castro Theatre
A key part of the festivities October 28 will be $5 film tickets all day at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, punctuated by a costume contest hosted by Sister Roma and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The contest will be from 8 to 9:30 p.m. at the theater, followed by "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at 10 p.m. Admission to all films is free with a costume, up to 200 people.

Sister Roma did not return a request for comment by press time. David Perry, a gay man who's a spokesperson for Another Planet Entertainment, which runs the theater, stated, "We are thrilled and honored to be part of this neighborhood celebration on one of San Francisco's favorite holidays."

The other films are "Death Becomes Her" at 1:30 p.m., "Edward Scizzorhands" at 3:45 p.m. and "Hocus Pocus" at 6 p.m.

Don't forget Sunday Funday
The weekend's festivities don't end there. On Sunday, October 29, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Noe Street between Market and Beaver streets will be closed for the Castro Family Halloween Block Party.

Lauro Gonzales, founder of ArtyHood, told the B.A.R. that this is the second annual iteration of this event. Gonzales is expecting a crowd of 4,000 people throughout the day.

"We're organizing a mass trick-or-treat with the businesses in the Castro. That's an important thing to highlight," Gonzales said. "It's mostly for people of all ages, the families, but mostly for the kids."

The trick or treating will be between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. During that time kids can also get free photos with the "Wicked Witch of the Castro," watch a drag queen storytime at 11 a.m., and participate in a costume contest at noon (the winner gets a gift card to Cliff's Variety) and an arts and crafts table.

There will also be a pet costume contest at 2 p.m. (the winner gets a gift basket from Jeffrey's Natural Pet Foods worth $150) and an adult costume contest at 4 p.m. (the winner gets $500 in cash).

People and pet-owners interested in competing have to report to the main stage 15 minutes before the contest time. All contestants have to register in advance.

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