Discover the neighborhood where the counter culture was created that transformed modern society by tripping through San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. Home to the hippies, psychedelic rock stars and the Summer of Love, the City by the Bay’s renowned birthplace of the ethos of peace, love, freedom and happiness reached the apex of its celebrity in 1967 as the center of the youth movement that swept around the world.
Millions of young people descended on the area, “turning on, tuning in and dropping out,” transforming the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets at the heart of the neighborhood into a symbol of rebellious youth famous round the world. While no longer the hippy bastion it was almost 50 years ago, “the Haight” in local parlance, still retains enough of its counter culture vibe and sixties flavor to make it one of San Francisco’s most distinctive destinations. Now home to a lively mix of independent shops and restaurants surrounded by side streets lined with impressive examples of “Painted Ladies” as the city’s colorful and ornately detailed Victorian residences are known, fronting on the vast expanse of Golden Gate Park, the neighborhood is easy to walk with singular points of interest worthy of any visitor’s time and consideration.
The main shopping and dining area is the seven-block stretch of Haight Street starting at the east from Central Avenue on the edge of Buena Vista Park to the west at Stanyan Street where Haight dead ends at Golden Gate Park. Unique boutiques along the way sell everything from vintage clothes to designer originals, black light posters to fine art, CDs to old school vinyl, new age religious items to head supplies and everything in between.
Among the Haight Street landmarks are the circa 1904 Red Victorian, a bed and breakfast with attached Living Peace Museum devoted to art celebrating peaceful themes and Peaceful World Café where you can nibble a vegetarian sandwich, munch a vegan muffin and sip an herbal tea. Today the famed corner of Haight and Ashbury is graced with a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream stand surrounded by a cavalcade of decent burger joints, creperies and taco parlors up and down the street that offer more substantial repasts. A collection of amusing dive bars and popular music clubs rounds out the variety of establishments.
When the psychedelic rock scene took off in the sixties it was lead by a group of bands and artists that were Haight Ashbury residents and neighborhood fixtures. Still popular after all these decades, fans flock to ogle the 1890 Victorian known as the Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury just below Haight where the band lived communally until 1968. The apartment building where Janis Joplin lived at 122 Lyon prior to her death and the Jefferson Airplane house at 2400 Fulton where band members lived in their heyday, both steps off Haight Street attract their fair share groupies too. All are currently private residences that can only be appreciated from the outside.
Stroll the blocks surrounding Haight Street to take in the stunning Victorian architecture, much of it spectacularly renovated and brightly colored. The devastating fire that destroyed most of the city following the 1906 earthquake never burned as far as the Haight-Ashbury leaving it as one of the most cohesive and intact neighborhoods of “Painted Ladies” in the city. The blocks east of Haight Street and Masonic Avenue surrounding Buena Vista Park are particularly rich with magnificent examples in all the styles of the Victorian vernacular from Queen Annes with their witches cap turrets to Italianates featuring extravagant wood detailing to Gingerbreads covered in elaborate fish scale shingling. The Spreckels Mansion at 737 Buena Vista West, though quite subdued for a Victorian is famous for its former tenants including the writer Jack London, the actor Danny Glover and the musician Graham Nash.
Hike through Buena Vista Park itself, a hilly forest preserve that is one of San Francisco’s oldest parks and anchors the eastern edge of the Haight. Climb the trails that lead to a vantage point at the top boasting a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to Downtown. Don’t skip a trek to Golden Gate Park anchoring the western end of the neighborhood where beginning at Stanyan Street an area referred to as Hippy Hill opens to the vast stretch of manicured grounds leading to the De Young Museum, Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers and finally to the sands of Ocean Beach.
Though gentrified and evolved from when it was at the nexus of the youth movement, the Haight is still a preserve of San Francisco’s fabled independent thinking and alternative lifestyles. If you want to watch someone letting their freak flag fly or even want to let your own flap in the breeze just a little, Haight Ashbury is still the place to do it.