While the San Francisco neighborhood surrounding Haight-Ashbury has a history of more than 150 years in San Francisco, it is a single year – 1967, that has stamped it with its distinction. The Summer of Love seems to have made an indelible impression on the San Francisco enclave surrounding the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street, known locally as the Upper Haight.
It used to be that Haight Street, which is the path, around which all of the shops and people congregate, was filled with hippies, panhandlers, and vagrants with stores that sold smoking accessories, tie-died and slogan covered T-shirts, incense, crystals, and music. It used to be that way, and it still is that way. It seems that generations after those free loving days have taken up the cause of some of their parents and grandparents. Tourists also flock to the area and take photographs around the street signs of Haight-Ashbury where a clock with two faces is locked at both high noon and 4:20, which are nods to the marijuana culture very much alive there today. In-fact, marijuana can frequently be heard being called out for sale along the main street to those who look the part, or sometimes to those who don’t.
Haight-Ashbury has retained a lot of its original look since the earthquake of 1906 leveled much of central San Francisco, but left much of what was here, intact which, along with its culture, keeps it on the top of the list for many when making a list of San Francisco’s sightseeing attractions. You can embark on a self-guided tour of neighborhood Victorian Queen Anne homes which look much as they did 100 years ago; a testament to their solid construction using lumber from the local giant Sequoia Redwood trees. Some of the more impressive examples can be seen along Ashbury and Page Streets. The Grateful Dead band lived at 710 Ashbury for those curious about the musical influences of the time. Waller Street and Masonic Avenue also offer some prime home viewing. The oldest home in the area – 1111 Oak Street, was built in 1851 for Abner Phelps. To get a look at the neighborhood as a whole, Buena Vista Park offers good vistas (hence the name) and from there you’ll also get a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The vibe of the Haight these days does manage to strike a balance between the past and the present, commerce and culture. People fill the bars and cafes, and while you won’t find any corporate coffee shops here - instead there’s Coffee to the People, there is a McDonald’s that looms on the fringes, literally at the end of Haight where the street ends at the Golden Gate Park. But you’re far more likely to find people gathered at the nearby Pork Store Café where the weekend brunch scene is mobbed. The local movie theater, the single screen and unassuming Red Vic, serves its popcorn in wooden bowls that you return at the end of the film. Many of the stores use kitschy public art at the storefront entrances to attract patrons: a polka-dot dinosaur, sidewalk mannequins outrageously dressed and staging various still framed plays for the imagination. The venerable Booksmith store – where Allen Ginsberg gave his last reading, offers trading cards celebrating similarly noteworthy writers.
At the top end of the Upper Haight is the Golden Gate Park and if you enter from Haight Street you’ll immediately encounter Hippie Hill with all the music, dancing, and theatrics that go along with the moniker. But walk through the bongo playing, hippie stick twirling, juggling and hacky-sack kicking masses to find an expansive park with something for everyone: flower gardens, bison, lakes and waterfalls, beautifully manicured gardens, statues, a glass palace with 1,700 species of plants in the gardens, the redesigned de Young Art Museum with an observation tower, and the entirely redone cutting edge California Academy of Science with an interior rain forest. And befitting the free loving Haight-Ashbury mindset of 1967, Golden Gate Park seems to merge with its neighbor quite well, offering something for everyone and plenty of room to roam around and be who you wish to be.