A Rough Guide to San Francisco's fetish fair

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 16.07.2019

OK, it’s now time for Rough Guides to get a little, er....rough. On 29th September, over 400,000 men, women, masters, slaves, subs, bears, dominatrixes and more will all descend on San Francisco for the city’s annual Folsom Street Fair.

Arguably the world’s most famous fetish fair, the event is about to celebrate its 30th year of debauchery. Demetri Moshoyannis, Executive Director, says "Folsom Street Events is anticipating one of the biggest and best fair and events seasons to date. We are looking forward to a massive blowout for our ‘XXX’ celebration."

Spreading itself over thirteen blocks of the city, more than 200 stall owners will be setting up shop preparing to tease, tempt, discipline and dominate you. You can be a voyeur or get a little more hands-on, whatever tickles your fancy.

Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco

As well as street performers, there will be DJs, musicians and drag queens performing for all your aural pleasures, with house/dance act Hercules and Love Affair headlining this year's musical entertainment, as well as DJ Tony Moran and Miss Suppositori Spelling who will be on hostess duties.

On hand to greet you will be the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a collective that uses drag and religious imagery as a way of protest and to perform charitable work. Sister Mora Lee D’Klined (say it again quicker) explains it better: "As a 21st century order of queer drag nuns whose mission is to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt, we can think of no greater way to accomplish this than greeting fair goers to the largest kink and alternative lifestyle fair ever. The Sisters will be there to welcome you with open arms and to accept donations at the gate, which go towards the multitude of organisations we support. Come dressed to kill or just to people watch, but most importantly come to have a kinky good time!"

As Sister Mora rightfully points out, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that whether you’re fresh out the gate or a seasoned pro, Folsom welcomes everyone and encourages you to wear whatever makes you feel good – even if that’s nothing at all. Yes, San Francisco may have had its nudity laws clamped down upon recently, but that all gets forgotten at events like Folsom. So if you want to be chained up in a gimp suit or just prefer to let it all hang free, the choice is all yours. Unless you’re a slave of course...


© David Tran Photo/Shutterstock

Given the theme of the event you’d be forgiven for thinking this all begins in the early evening and rolls on late into the night. But no, things kick off bright and breezy at 11am and heat up from there. The fair itself closes at 6:30pm and things move behind closed doors and into the clubs for the closing parties.

But even if you’re travelling to San Francisco out of Folsom season, the city still has a lot to offer. Known for being one of the gay capitals of the world, so much has happened here that it’s a great place to discover the LGBT Community’s history. The first place to head to is the GLBT History Museum which documents not only the queer history of San Francisco but also the rest of the world. Exhibits like Harvey Milk’s megaphone are especially moving and once you've finished there you can move up to his camera shop where he started most of his campaigns. He famously used this as his base before becoming the first openly gay person in public office in California, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Directors before being assassinated ten months later.

The fact that San Francisco has such a strong LGBT history means it also has an equally strong community that welcomes you with its big strong manly open arms, and the Castro is famously where it’s at. You’ll see young LGBT couples holding hands, same sex parents out with their kids, or men in their 80s meeting for their evening sherry at Twin Peaks. If you’re an LGBT traveller, San Francisco really offers you everything and more. You can get freaky at Folsom, discover the LGBT history and feel part of that close-knit family too. Like the song says, we definitely left our hearts in San Francisco and we’ll be returning to pick them up very soon.

Explore more of San Francisco and this part of the USA with the Rough Guide to California. Book a hostel in San Francisco here, and don't forget to buy travel insurance before you jet off.

Top image © FETISH DELUXE/Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 16.07.2019

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