If You’re Going to San Francisco
As much a mindset as a neighborhood, Haight Ashbury today retains associations to the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967 which made it so famous. In San Francisco, the corner of Haight Street and Ashbury Street became synonymous with the counter-culture that bubbled up in locations from Greenwich Village to the King’s Road in Chelsea, London.
Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair
Nearly 50 years ago, self-proclaimed hippies spread a message of flower power, free love and a call for world peace that began in this neighborhood and reverberated around the world through music, free newspapers and word-of-mouth fanned by international media.
In the Streets of San Francisco
Today, baby boomers come to soak up remnants of the psychedelic 60s, their kids Instagram the intersection of the decades as visitors roll through aboard open top sightseeing buses. Up and down Haight Street, shops selling rainbow tie-dyed T-shirts, vintage vinyl and incense blend with Ben & Jerry’s, brew pubs and clean, licensed tattoo parlors.
Most visitors pause at the corner to get a shot of the iconic Haight Street and Ashbury Street sign or the two-faced clock with its hands perpetually fixed at 4:20, commonly understood as a shortcut way of saying ‘marijuana.’
From this corner, the commercial part of the district now known as the Upper Haight stretches just a few blocks to the east and to the west.
And, on sun-drenched afternoons, the vibrant scene spills out into the Haight’s backyard, the open spaces of the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, the nation’s largest urban park.
You’re Gonna Meet Some Gentle People There
Boasting an eclectic mix of architectural styles and brightly painted Victorian houses that survived the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, visitors seek out famous places connected to great names in the psychedelic rock scene of the mid-60s. The take-away experience is unique: walking the streets that were home to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, the Animals, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Sly Stone, Santana, Country Joe & the Fish, The Byrds, Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
A 1960s rock-and-roll self-guided walking tour includes these addresses, now private residences: Pose for a photo in front of the pretty purple-painted 1890 Queen Anne-style Victorian at 710 Ashbury Street. The “Grateful Dead House,” was where San Francisco native Jerry Garcia and bandmates lived. It was at this address that police conducted a narcotics raid, arresting 11 residents during the mid-afternoon of October 2, 1967 for possession of marijuana.
Following commercial success in 1968 with Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” Jefferson Airplane decided to purchase a four-story colonial revival mansion on the northern side of Golden Gate Park at 2400 Fulton Street. Painted black at the time, the $70,000 “Airplane House” served as recording studio, office, party place and communal residence. The Doors and The Blues Brothers are the among those pitching up here.
There’s a Whole Generation
Wander over to the entrance of Golden Gate Park. Hippie Hill was, and still is, a grassy patch with views, a gathering place, a public forum, a picnic spot and a chill-out zone complete with a bongo drum circle. The “Human Be-In” event held in Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967, was when thousands gathered to hear rock bands and beatnik gurus such as Allen Ginsberg and Dr. Timothy Leary ("Turn on, tune in, drop out"), widely seen as the moment that inspired the shift from the Beat Generation to the “Summer of Love.” Over the years, nearby Kezar Stadium was the venue for concert greats including Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Starship, Joan Baez, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
As epicenter of the social phenomenon, Haight Ashbury’s prominence dissipated as even more quickly than it arose. Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers pouring into the district, on October 6, 1967, a mock funeral service was held in Buena Vista Park at dawn to mark the end of Haight Ashbury’s hippie scene.
With a New Explanation
With hindsight, we know that the grand sociology experiment that defined Haight Ashbury in the 1960s was the precursor of a philosophy that changed our nation, sparking advancement in civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and spawning movements embracing the ecology, organic food and anti-nuclear proliferation.
For the moment, visitors can simply enjoy having a look around.
Did You Know?
- John Phillips, The Mamas & The Papas, said he wrote the song "San Francisco” in just 20 minutes. The unofficial anthem of the 60s counter-culture movement went straight to #4 and to #1 in the U.K.
- Magnolia Brewery, a gastropub in a 19th century building at the corner of Haight and Masonic, brews their own beer.
- Since 1978, the non-profit, award-winning Haight Ashbury Street Fair is held on the second Sunday in June, when there’s dancing in the streets.
- Amoeba Music has the world’s largest collection of vintage vinyl, CDs, concert posters and memorabilia in three locations: Haight Ashbury, Berkeley and Hollywood.
- A Hop-On, Hop-Off San Francisco Tour is the easy way to get to Haight Ashbury.