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Welcome to the Underground

It’s time to get weird.


Have you ever thought about running away to join the circus? If you live in San Francisco, there’s a chance it’s crossed your mind at least once. Since the city’s early days as a raucous port built on blue jeans and flecks of gold, San Francisco has been a place where dreamers dream big and an open mind reigns supreme. Today, counterculture is alive and well in the city’s multicultural melting pot—and not every alternative community is as dark as you might think. (And, yes, some are. The city did serve as the headquarters for cults like the Peoples Temple and fueled the anarchic exploits of the Suicide Club, after all.) But whether you’re into coding, coffee or carbohydrates (there’s even a Bay Area “pastafarian” society), if you can name it, chances are, you can find fellow devotees somewhere in the city. Here are six subcultures that may—or may not, we won’t judge—be right for you.

Satanic Bay Area
Target audience: Atheists/agnostics, political activists, performance artists
No, they don’t eat babies. Founded in 2015 as a grassroots atheistic group to fuel left-wing political action, Satanic Bay Area’s members say they invoke the Prince of Darkness as a wry subversion of mainstream religion. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find black robes, candles or invocations being recited at one of its Black Masses. “A lot of people’s ideas about satanism are influenced by pop culture,” says Simone C., who declined to give her full name. “So we decided to go with it.” Once a month, the group meets at Wicked Grounds coffee shop to plan some uniquely devilish activism. Recently, some members protested Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by holding a “curse-a-thon.” For every dollar donated, with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood, the group pledged to fax a letter embedded with a curse to Kavanaugh supporters in the Senate. They raised $666.

Spinsters of San Francisco
Target audience: Young professionals, unmarried women
Cast aside your notions of decrepit old women obsessed with crocheting and cats. A social nonprofit made up of professional, unmarried women between the ages of 21 and35, Spinsters of San Francisco has been fostering female fellowship in the Bay Area for nearly 90 years. “When the group was created, it was common for unmarried women in their mid-to-late 20s to be considered spinsters,” says SOSF’s Claire Callahan. “We take pride in the term ‘spinster’ because we have so many accomplished, worldly and ambitious women as members.” Today, the group continues its founding members’ legacy of volunteerism and fundraising. This February, members will gather for a gala at the Fairmont San Francisco to support La Cocina, a kitchen incubator program that works with chefs, primarily women and people of color from low-income backgrounds, to break into the food industry.

Photo: Christian Chen Courtesy of Unsplash

Biohackers San Francisco
Target audience: Health and wellness enthusiasts, science nerds
If you’ve ever relied on your morning cup of coffee to jump-start your day, you’ve already flirted with biohacking. With local chapters from Minneapolis to Moscow, Biohackers Collective provides a platform for perfectionists obsessed with optimizing their health and productivity—from edge-seeking entrepreneurs trying brain-boosting supplements to tech-savvy athletes. For the most part, the members of Biohackers Collective aren’t part of the “grinder” community, the DIY cyborgs splicing magnets into their fingertips and RFID tags under their skin. “It’s a misconception that we’re doing something complicated or super-risky,” says Thomas Melching, who organizes the collective’s San Francisco chapter. “[We] do a lot of research before trying anything.”

Target audience: Role-playing fanatics, board game aficionados
While not a subculture in itself, tucked away in the Lower Haight, Gamescape has been building a reputation as San Francisco’s friendly neighborhood board game store since 1985. But, if you stick around after buying the latest expansion for Cards Against Humanity, you might find yourself transported to another world entirely. On Tuesday nights, fledgling Pokemon trainers draw their best holographic Charizard card for the store’s weekly Pokemon League. On Fridays, they travel to the multiverse and duel other Planeswalkers in Magic: The Gathering. And, on Wednesday nights, up to 60 players, both newbies and role-playing vets alike, roll some dice and spin a good yarn as part of the store’s weekly Dungeons & Dragons conclave. “People get into the storytelling and the role-playing,” says Gamescape’s Tom Hamilton. “It breathes a lot of life into the store.” Just try to steer clear of the Demogorgon.

Bay Area Skeptics
Target audience: Scientific skeptics, lovable pedants
If you keep finding yourself wagging a disapproving finger at that friend who insists on peddling the latest pseudoscience trends and cargo cult science, you may want to check out Bay Area Skeptics. “We’re not skeptical of science; we’re all science fans,” says Eugenie “Genie” Scott, president of the local interest group. “We’re skeptical of extraordinary claims.” Following in the footsteps of renowned eyebrow-raisers like Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and Stephen Jay Gould, the San Francisco skeptical community has challenged everything from ghosts to astrology since 1982. Each month, the group’s recurring SkepTalk series brings a new brainy expert to Berkeley’s La Peña cultural center to debunk a different misconception. Last year, it tackled the top 10 myths about homelessness.

San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club
Target audience: Winter sports devotees, aspiring Olympians
Yes, curling is very much a thing in the Bay Area. With curlers spanning several different clubs from Silicon Valley to Oakland, the sport attracts both competitive curlers and recent converts. “In the Bay Area, you have a ton of curlers who are 30-somethings,” says Jay Diamond of the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club. “They’ll really do curling as counterculture, so they’ll come onto BART with their curling brooms.” Earlier this fall, the SFBACC leased a property in Oakland to build the state’s sole dedicated curling facility.


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco 

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