“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair“. No truer were musician Scott McKenzie’s words than in 1967.
It was in the summer of that year that thousands of young hipsters – “hippies” – flocked to San Francisco to live out their ideals of peace, love and freedom. Like their predecessors, the Beats, the hippie movement began as an underground rebellion against societal norms. Rejecting commercialism and oppression, hippies opted for a new way of living that included experimenting with music, drugs, sex, clothing and communal living.
If San Francisco was the center to the hippie movement, the suburb of Haight Ashbury was the epicenter. Named after the Haight/Ashbury Street intersection, the area extends from Golden Gate Park to south of the Panhandle. Thirty years later, Haight Ashbury is significantly more commercialized and gentrified than it was in the ‘60s, but it still bears markers of its bohemian past. So let down your hair, adorn it with flowers, and take a stroll around the neighborhood: its time to get in touch with your inner hippie.
Start the day at All You Knead, an old school diner on Haight Street between Ashbury and Masonic. With everything from omelettes and fry ups to crepes and vegetarian dishes, the menu offers something for everyone, and a meal here will keep you sustained well into the afternoon.
After breakfast, walk two blocks east along Haight Street and turn left into Lyon Street. Number 112 is a tall mauve Victorian where folk singer Janis Joplin lived in the late 1960s. A key figure in the hippie rock revolution, Joplin and her band “Big Brother and the Holding Company” immortalized the Haight in their music.
Haight Street is lined with copious stores selling smoking equipment, crystals, vintage clothing, and other ‘60s memorabilia. One such store is Positively Haight Street, right on the Haight/Ashbury intersection. Inside, browse for pipes, crystals, incense, hippie trinkets and Eastern clothing from Thailand, India and Nepal.
Leaving the store, cross the road and walk up Ashbury Street to number 710. From 1966 to 1968 this was the home of psychedelic rock group the Grateful Dead. Along with bands such as Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company, “the Dead” epitomized the “San Francisco sound”, which was characterized by lengthy improvisation sessions during live performances.
Return to Haight Street and continue past Cole Street to the Red Vic Movie House. An independent movie theater, the Red Vic serves tea in real mugs and beer in real glasses. It’s worth watching an art house film here just for this while relaxing in the theater’s comfy couches.
Just past Shrader Street is Amoeba Records, the largest independent record store in San Francisco. Although it didn’t exist in the hippie era, the store features over 100,000 CDs, vinyl records and cassettes spanning a wide range of ‘60s classic rock and folk music. Housed in a former bowling alley, the record store is as good for people watching as it is for finding old school vinyl records.
Past Amoeba, Haight Street dead ends into Golden Gate Park. As you enter the park, walk through the subway towards Hippie Hill which faces south. The hill is the venue for a daily drum circle, which forms a backdrop to the park’s locals including modern day hippies, musicians, and Frisbee players. Relax on the grass for a front row seat in which to soak up the atmosphere.
After the park, a great option for the rest of the afternoon is the Magnolia Pub and Brewery at the corner of Haight and Masonic streets. The brew pub produces its own range of beers, including the acclaimed Blue Bell Bitter and Ruby Mild, so secure a vinyl booth and sample a pint or two. As well as beer, the pub offers a full food menu, from light snacks like cheese plates and sandwiches, to more substantial dinner dishes like tomato and goat-cheese fondue, roasted quail, and pork chops.
After a day in the Haight, you’ll gain an appreciation of the central role that San Francisco played during the hippie revolution. Even if you have to take your tie-dyed shirt off when you leave, chances are your spirit will feel a little freer. And if it’s still not satisfied, there’s always next weekend: for now at least, the Haight isn’t going anywhere.
What and Where:
All You Knead (1466 Haight St.; 415-552-4550)
Positively Haight Street (1400 Haight St.; 415-252-8747)
Red Vic Movie House (1727 Haight St., (415) 668-3994)
Amoeba Records (1855 Haight St.; 415-831-1200)
Magnolia Pub and Brewery (1398 Haight St; 415-864-7468)
Catherine Parker is a South African freelance food and travel writer based in the Bay Area. She moved to San Francisco from London in 2006.