Folsom for First-Timers: 5 Tips for Navigating the World’s Sexiest Street Fair
San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair — the world’s largest leather event and California’s third largest public event — happens this weekend on Sunday, Sept. 24, from 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Although people attend for lots of reasons, newcomers can find it a bit intimidating. But the fair is a friendly place, and with the below handy Folsom tips, you’ll navigate it like a seasoned kinkster.
Before the fair even starts, there are tons of parties and bar events all weekend long. You can find out about them easily by talking to folks at local gay bars (like the Eagle, Lone Star or The Stud), by visiting the leather shops in San Francisco’s SoMa area, or by chatting with local guys via Hornet. Some of the parties require pre-bought tickets, which may be sold-out, but between social media, the apps and the city’s bathhouses, you’re likely to find some sexy fun before Sunday’s main event.
You can avoid the slow-moving, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and enjoy the vendors, sexhibitions, food and beer without much wait if you arrive early. Most vendors take cash only, and ATMs are seldom. Also, bring along your ID if you want to drink and your phone to locate nearby friends. And if you donate $10 at the entry gate, you’ll get a sticker for $2 off alcohol all day long.
Around 2 p.m., the Fair starts to get crowded, and by 3 or 4 p.m., it’s tightly packed. It’s easy to lose friends if they step away because they’re likely to run into unexpected pals, porn stars or friendly strangers. So texting and pre-setting meeting places can help keep you all connected.
While you can cruise and walk around naked at the Fair, sex is technically forbidden, and fair monitors watch for it. You can still photograph and fondle folks though (with their permission, of course). You’re also encouraged to let your freak flag fly by wearing your best, sexiest gear — or nothing at all.
Don’t be shy! Fair-goers are typically friendly and respond well to compliments like, “Wow! Very sexy!” Talking to folks can teach you a lot about BDSM, online kink communities and local groups. Some might even be willing to let you flog, pinch, kiss or humiliate them, assuming you ask nicely.
And if you’ve never been flogged, tied up or tried puppy play yourself, the Folsom Street Fair has stations for trying out all of those. Volunteers at each station will typically have folks sign a release form and negotiate their desires before starting.
It gets progressively sunnier throughout the fair, so it’s a good idea to wear shades and sunscreen and to locate shaded areas for preventing heat exhaustion. You can easily people-watch from a shaded area as crowds move around you. Some food vendors also offer bottled water to help stay hydrated.
But now let’s hear from the experts. Below are a few queer people who can offer up valuable Folsom tips:
San Francisco drag legend and owner of one of San Francisco’s leading gay bars, Oasis, Heklina had this to say:
“Pace yourself, and stay hydrated. Oh, and please, if you are a straight dude, don’t ask any woman to show you her tits. You may get punched. I actually heard this last year after they introduced a straight ‘play area!'”
We chatted with Demetri Sparks, who served as Executive Director of the Folsom organization for 11 years. Here’s what he has to say:
“If you’re coming for more than a few days, check out the Folsom website‘s calendar as well as the official guide, produced by The Fight. You can pick one up in any of the various shops in the Castro or SoMa. The point here is that there a lot of parties, and you should plan ahead, buy tickets, etc.
“If you’re not sure what to do, ask a local for guidance. The same goes for the fair itself. The main stage and the dance stages host sick lineups. Check the schedules and make sure you’re there to hear the best bands and DJs.
“Finally, come with an open mind or don’t come. It’s not about what you’re wearing, it’s about self-expression and a willingness to explore your kinky side with like-minded people. Folsom is what you make of it.”
Trevor Black, Mr. San Francisco Leather 2015, had some valuable Folsom tips for newbies:
“Maybe you’re driving in from a surrounding town, or from the Outer Sunset to park your car so you don’t have to pay for an expensive taxi. Either way, if you park your car in the streets, make sure that anything and everything that even appears to be valuable is locked in your trunk. San Francisco has one of the highest car break-in rates in the country, and you don’t want to come back to your car with a smashed window and all your leather stolen.
“OK, so it’s 3 a.m. Do you have your wallet, keys and phone? An easy way for you to ruin your Folsom experience is by losing your essentials. Whether you left your pants and wallet at a clothes check or your phone at a trick’s house, it’s hard to keep tabs when your clothes are gradually slipping off throughout the day. If you haven’t already, invest in a leather holster. Not only are they sexy, but for most you’ll be able to keep your cash, ID, debit card and some Truvada handy without having to lug a bag around with you. Folsom Street Fair has plenty of vendors that sell this style, as well as Mr. S Leather. This will save you and your friends a ton of grief, and you’ll be adding to your leather collection at the same time. Just like in the sheets, it’s important to be safe in the streets. Happy Folsom!”
She currently calls Los Angeles home, but drag performer Monistat used to host the street fair. Here’s what she has to say to Folsom first-timers:
“First off, wear closed-toe shoes. You never know what you’re gonna step on. Second, stay away from windows, because bodily fluids might fly out of them. (Unless you’re into that.)”
Adult film star Adam Ramzi knows his way around the street fair, and he offers an important Folsom tip regarding consent:
“Times have changed, and the old school ‘yes unless specified otherwise’ rule is no longer a thing. Read facial cues, gauge levels of interest and even ask if you’re not sure.
“Also, the best advice I can give is to say ‘yes’ as often a possible. Folsom feels like summer camp in the city, and you never know where you’re going to end up or with whom. The more memories you make, the more likely you’ll come back again, and every year will feel more like a family reunion.”
For more info about Folsom Street Fair, head here.
Featured image by Dusti Cunningham