Photo by Bouncer Pup

I recently attended the San Fransisco’s Dore Alley fair (also known as Up Your Alley), a Sunday outdoor street fair celebrating kink, along with the parties and events surrounding it. Since I’d attended the festival before, 12 years ago, it’s expanded greatly and it felt like a new experience. Many experienced kinksters will tell you that Folsom Street Fair has become too big and well-known to enjoy, attracting gawking tourists and ultimately taming down the shock value of the public kink while Dore is more “serious” and “hardcore.” Although Dore is still relatively small compared to Folsom Street Fair or IML, there’s a ton to do and see, whether you just picked up your first harness or if you’re an old pro.

The event is centered around the street festival on Sunday, filling up South of Market (a San Francisco neighborhood with an industrial feel that’s home to most of SF’s leather and kinky bars) with booths, dancing, musical guests, impact play demonstrations, and some public sex. I witnessed a variety of kinks displayed on all body types, including furries, leather, rubber. While gay men were the primary demographic, many identities were represented. (I overheard a conversation in the restroom line at Wicked Grounds, SF’s premier kinky coffee shop, about a woman’s first pegging experience.) I found my experience to be flirty and social rather than sexual, running into friends, chatting, getting drinks, but your mileage may vary. Pro tip: wear plenty of sunblock to avoid sunburns in the shape of a harness.

Outside of the fair, most bars and spaces had events going on, whether packed bar nights at the SOMA bars (and bleeding over into the Castro) or big parties. The official Dore Alley parties included an opening party at the Eagle as well as two circuit parties, Bay of Pigs and Rough. I attended Bay of Pigs and it was reminiscent of the Black and Blue Ball at IML, a packed club of men wearing harnesses and not much else, although this year was the first time it didn’t feature an accompanying play space. The other party I attended was Beta, a packed club hosted by a pack of human pups, with a similar circuit vibe but with an active play space.

I also attended Onyx at the Powerhouse, a much more low-key affair that shared the space with a rubber meetup. This was my favorite of the events I attended, with a diverse crowd of locals attending and more of a regular person vibe than the many exceptionally pretty people attending the above parties. Mr. S Leather also held an all-day party on Saturday that I quite enjoyed, for shopping, mingling, and beer.

Of course, it’s virtually impossible to attend every party or go to every bar event. Notable events I missed – that I would like to try next year – include Big Muscle, a party for muscle folks and their admirers, and Sneaks, a party centered around athletic gear fetish. If you’re more of a BDSM kinkster, the 15 Association party was highly recommended. Keep in mind that most of the big parties are easier to attend if you get your tickets in advance, though none are essential to enjoy Dore.

On a side note, one friend indicated to me that San Francisco has become a competitive city, particularly in the last several years. While Seattleites love to stand around, share subtle glances, and hope for the best when attending bar events, San Franciscans see what they want and go for it. Consider that advice as you attend events there.

In terms of practicality, you’ll ideally want to stay in SOMA if you want to walk to everything (or an easy rideshare). Some folks I talked to stayed in Union Square (close but touristy) or the Castro. Hotel prices are not cheap and rise steadily as the event draws closer, so book early if you can. I stayed at the Hotel Whitcomb and found it to be no-frills, but clean and well-located.

I’d recommend checking Dore Alley out if you’re intrigued. I feel like it’s a great first-time kink event (though not exclusively). There’s no titleholder contest involved, and you can dive in as deep as you want. One friend was nervous about the public sex element of it, and really that’s a small part of it. You can attend the fair, watch the crowd, chat with people, and it’s like any other outdoor festival. If you want to take it further, that’s available as well.