San Francisco Sights to See
Haight Ashbury
The corner of Haight and Ashbury Street of Hippie fame

Chinatown isn't San Francisco's only culturally distinct neighborhood. In some ways similar to Greenwich Village in New York City, the legendary Haight Ashbury district has its own distinct attitude of flare and dare.

From an area uptown near the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets (hence the name) sprawls "The Haight". Its several blocks of record shops, restaurants, antique stores and more still bears the look and feel of the mid-60s "Hippie Revolution".

It's amazing, but true, that some parts of The Haight have changed but very little since 1967 and the famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view, Summer of Love. The restaurant names have changed and there are now guided tours where once there was just wandering about, but if you're looking for an original Jefferson Airplane or Grateful Dead album on genuine vinyl, this is the place to come.

Brightly painted Victorian homes dot the area among the shops and theaters. And the Red Victorian hotel (1665 Haight Street, Phone: 415-864-1978), alias "The Red Vic", offers themed suites, including the "Flower Child" room". The architecture is actually Edwardian, but never mind. Historical accuracy isn't what this neighborhood is all about, man.

The proprietor herself, Sami Sunchild, is the genuine article (even though she only bought the house in 1978). Eighty and still full of the activist vigor she displayed 40 years earlier, you can have a "Peace Breakfast" and discuss the issues of the day.

Whether you stay at the Red Vic or in some cookie cutter, "leave the light on for ya" motel, you have to visit the 60s-themed Magnolia Pub & Brewery (1398 Haight St., Phone:  415-864-7468 ) Have a beer and listen in to the latest heated rhetoric about... whatever is heated today. If you get a little worked up or suffer a sudden case of "beer mug elbow", don't worry. The Free Medical Clinic is still in its original building nearby and still free.

Have yourself some organic snacks, and then head to a head shop to check out the artisan crafts. "Head shops" traditionally - a descriptive word that doesn't normally (Oops, not that one either!) sit well with counter-culture movements - sold paraphernalia for consuming illegal drugs. These days, in their kinder, gentler form, they offer jewelry, decorative items and all manner of clothing.  You can check out "Daydreams Smoke Shop" (1589 Haight St., Phone: 415-554-0246) to get a feel for the head shop phenomenon.

hippiesThough many of the shops are faux-hippie, offering Che Guevara T-shirts and ceramic peace symbols to decorate million dollar homes, there still remains the opportunity to uncover the genuine article here and there.

Once advertised by tour companies as the "only foreign excursion on U.S. soil" the area still retains the iconoclastic bent for which it became famous. There's a 2,5 hour offering called the Flower Power Walking Tour that provides an accurate overview of the history of the neighborhood and a flashback to the 60's.  You can get tickets in advance through Zerve, or call .1-800-979-3370.  If calling from outside the U.S. call 212-209-3370.

The Herb'n Inn (525 Ashbury Street, Phone: 415-553-8542) offers a bed-and-breakfast experience that's an interesting mixture of old and new. Hints of the era, such as Woodstock and the Vietnam War, can be found both among the residents and the decor.

There's even evidence of the pre-Hippie era - the one that gave birth to it - in the few Beatnik shops where a first edition of "On The Road" by beat legend Jack Kerouac, sells at a 'slightly higher than the original" price.

Ballet fans might even be interested in checking out 42 Belvedere Street where ballet legends Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were busted at a pot party in July 1967. For some, even the dancer's life isn't all serious all the time.

Just down the street at 710 Ashbury is the former home of members of the Grateful Dead from 1965 to 1968. "Dead Heads" visit it as others would a shrine.

That's the Haight, man.

To find Haight and Ashbury, just ask anyone who doesn't look too stoned. They'll "probably" point you in the right direction.  Of course, they might just be pointing to Venus.

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Page Updated 6:54 PM Wednesday 5/5/2015