San Francisco has many faces and each neighborhood seems to have its own personality. Today we will venture into Haight-Ashbury, one of the most interesting districts in terms of history, culture, and architecture. The Haight (as its inhabitants call it) is the birthplace of hippy culture. It is in fact on these streets that the Summer of Love phenomenon exploded in the second half of the 60s, attracting crowds of young people who wanted to create a new utopian society characterized by the ideals of peace, love, and freedom.
What is left today of Haight-Ashbury’s past? What should you include in an itinerary to discover a neighborhood so rich in places of interest? Let’s find out together!
History of Haight-Ashbury
The neighborhood’s art scene began before the origin of the Hippy Movement, when in the early 1960s many members of the Beat Movement moved from the North Beach neighborhood to Haight-Ashbury due to rising rental prices. Over time, a counterculture movement (the Hippies) was formed that made the district the epicenter of a new way of conceiving community life, characterized by ideals of peace and love, massive drug use (especially LSD), and a new psychedelic musical style.
Many musicians took up residence in the neighborhood, including the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, featuring performances by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and The Mamas & the Papas, among others, helped to popularize the movement. The song by Scott McKenzie San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), fully captures the essence of that time period.
The huge media exposure given to the Hippy Movement attracted thousands of young people to the neighborhood (75,000 people during the summer of 1967 alone, known as the Summer of Love), but soon the momentum that existed at the beginning was lost and Haight-Ashbury became overrun by violence and degradation. In the fall, a few months after the excitement of the Summer of Love, many members of the Hippy Movement had left the neighborhood and some of those who remained ended the Summer of Love with a hippy funeral.
How to Get to Haight-Ashbury
Although the heart of the neighborhood is the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street, the easiest way to get to the area is by public transportation (lines 6, 7, 37, and 43). You will get off at the intersection of Haight Street and Masonic Avenue (one block east). From here, you can start exploring the main artery of the neighborhood (Haight Street).
Walk along Haight Street
Once you arrive at the intersection of Haight and Masonic, the first thing to do is to take a nice walk along Haight Street heading west. You’ll find many shops and cafes that try to recreate the atmosphere of the Summer of Love with brightly colored signs and furniture, colorful vintage clothes on display, flashy murals, smoke shops, Tibetan spiritual shops, and tattoo shops.
During the walk, take the opportunity not only to do some shopping in San Francisco (in many very unusual shops that sell products that are difficult to find elsewhere), but also simply to immerse yourself in a unique neighborhood, which in some ways still seems to preserve the idealistic dream of the Hippy Movement that fell apart in a short time.
Shops, stores and attractions
Here are some places of interest that I recommend you consider visiting (places are listed in order from East to West, from Masonic Avenue to Stanyan Street) as you walk along Haight St:
- Magnolia Pub & Brewery: a great place to have a snack, excellent craft beer, and their specialty, the pulled pork sandwich!
- Love on Haight: you can’t miss this clothing store, with brightly colored clothes influenced by the Summer of Love.
- Piedmont Boutique (1452 Haight St): just above the sign of this boutique, there is a pair of women’s legs sticking out from the window on the second floor to make you stop and take a look inside this shop that sells synthetic furs, disco dresses, feathered dresses, masks, wigs, and bracelets.
- Clock: right at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury, you’ll find a clock that is stuck at 4:20 pm, a slang term used by locals to refer to marijuana.
- Tributes to Jimi Hendrix (1524A Haight Street): as you continue on Haight St, you will find on your right the Jimi Hendrix Redhouse, a smoke shop that has a mural on the west wall, that is inspired by the house where the great guitarist lived.
- Haight Street Market: in the building adjacent to the Jimi Hendrix Redhouse, you’ll find Haight Street Market, where you can stock up on local organic produce and buy prepared meals (ideal for a quick snack).
- Burger Urge: this place is much more interesting for its Summer of Love look than for its hamburgers… it deserves at least one picture!
- Booksmith: an independent library active since the 70s. It organized several events and you will often find famous authors who come here to sign their books.
- Rasputin Music: a hippy record store that sells records, CDs, DVDs, and t-shirts. It is part of an independent chain (Rasputin Records) that has been operating in the Bay Area since the 70s.
- The Red Victorian: a historical B&B that has witnessed all of the historical phases of the neighborhood. It is impossible not to notice it when you pass it on the street.
- Decades of Fashion: this is the realm of vintage apparel, where you can find clothing from all eras of the past and step back in time. If you want to be a flower child, a nineteenth-century lady, or a suffragette of the 20s, you can do that in this store…
- Cole Street murals: take a small detour by turning left into Cole Street to admire 2 interesting murals. The first one depicts Jerry Garcia, the guitarist of the Grateful Dead. The other, Evolutionary Rainbow, is a historic mural from 1967 next to Café Cole; it was made by Joanna (Yana) Zegri during the Summer of Love.
- Amoeba Music: this independent record store is an establishment in Haight-Ashbury. Besides looking for rare finds, you can also attend many live performances (here you can find the calendar of events).
- Golden Gate Park: If you keep walking on Haight Street, you will find yourself at the entrance to one of the largest parks in San Francisco. At the time of the Summer of Love, it was not uncommon to see artists like Janis Joplin perform for free in this park. The park is so extensive that it goes as far as Ocean Beach. Given its size, this is not ideal for a quick walk. Instead, it might be a good idea to spend some time here walking around and to at least visit the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden (about twenty minutes from the intersection of Stanyan Street and Haight Street).
Colorful Houses and Homes of Famous Artists
Once you’ve explored Haight Street, the opportunities for things to do in Haight-Ashbury don’t end there! The neighborhood is one of the best areas to admire the Painted Ladies, colorful Victorian-style houses that have become true icons of San Francisco. The most interesting ones are not far from the Haight Street area. To find them, take a look at our guide on the Painted Ladies of Haight-Ashbury.
In the neighborhood, there are also a number of houses of historical and cultural significance that belonged to musicians, poets, writers, and illustrators who influenced the hippies. Here is a list with their addresses:
- 710 Ashbury St: home of the Grateful Dead;
- 635 Ashbury St: home of Janis Joplin;
- 122 Lyon St: another home of Janis Joplin
- 612 Ashbury St: home of Country Joe McDonald;
- 1018 Page St: home of Big Brother and the Holding Company;
- 1550 Page St: “Hippie Temptation”, a house that became particularly famous after being filmed in a CBS documentary;
- 1828 Page St: home of Ron Donovan (illustrator of posters for psychedelic rock concerts);
- 1452 Haight St: home of Jimi Hendrix
- 879 Haight St: home of the punk band Flipper;
- 636 Cole St: home of Charles Manson;
- 731 Buena Vista West: home of Graham Nash and Bobby McFerrin;
- 264 Downey St: home of poet and playwright Michael McClure;
- 32 Delmar St: home of Sid Vicious.
Buena Vista Park
Haight-Ashbury is surrounded by 3 beautiful public parks: Golden Gate Park, The Panhandle (the least interesting one), and Buena Vista Park, which surrounds the district on the opposite side of Golden Gate Park. Buena Vista Park is a pleasant place to eat, but also a great opportunity to take a refreshing walk to the top of the hill, which offers beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline.
There are various paths, all covered by trees, which sometimes obstruct the view a bit, but they also represent one of the main features of this park and resemble a small hilly forest. To get to Buena Vista Park, you’ll have to take Haight Street, but in the opposite direction that the itinerary has followed so far (towards East), and you’ll find the park on your right.
Guided Tours of Haight-Ashbury
There are some organized tours of Haight-Ashbury. If you want to have a “hippy” experience, I recommend The Summer of Love Magic Bus Experience, a themed minibus trip that will take you to the top cultural attractions of San Francisco (not only Haight-Ashbury, but also Chinatown and places related to the life of Kerouac). There are also other “Summer of Love Tours” (also on Summer of Love style minibusses), but they are not thematic tours; rather, they are sightseeing tours that go to the main areas of the city. There are tours during the day and at night and you can find the information by clicking on the 2 links below:
Where to Stay in the Area
The accommodations available in the area are not many, however it can be a good idea to sleep in the district, not only for its many points of interest, but also to make the experience of staying overnight in a residential neighborhood of San Francisco and live for a few days as a local. It can be a bit more out of the way than downtown San Francisco (e.g. Union Square), but you can easily visit the attractions and get around by taking public transportation (check out our article on how to get around San Francisco for more details).
The accommodations in this area are usually far different from the typical hotel. You are more likely to find an intimate B&B with a family atmosphere. If you want to sleep in this area, you’ll want to book in advance, since there are very few facilities. Here are 2 links where to look for accommodation in this neighborhood:
If you prefer to stay closer to downtown, I suggest you take a look at our guide on the best neighborhoods to stay in San Francisco.