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San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury

Haight Ashbury
San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury

Chinatown isn’t San Francisco’s only culturally distinct neighborhood. From an area uptown near the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets sprawls “The Haight”. Several blocks of record shops, restaurants, antique stores and more, it still bears the look and feel of the mid-60s ‘Hippie Revolution’.

Parts of The Haight have changed little since 1967 and the Summer of Love. The restaurant names have changed and there are now tours where once there was just wandering. But if you’re looking for an original Jefferson Airplane or Grateful Dead album on vinyl, this is the place to come.

Brightly painted Victorian homes dot the area among the shops and theaters. And the Red Victorian hotel offers themed suites, including the ‘Flower Child room’. The architecture is actually Edwardian, but never mind. Historical accuracy isn’t what the neighborhood is about.

The proprietor herself, Sami, 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.

Visit the 60s-themed Magnolia Pub & Brewery. Have a beer and listen in to the latest heated rhetoric about… whatever is heated today. If you get a little worked up, don’t worry. The Free Medical Clinic is still in its original building nearby and still free.

Have some organic snacks, then head to a head shop to check out the artisan crafts. ‘Head shops’ traditionally – a word that doesn’t sit well with counter-culture movements – sold paraphernalia for consuming illegal drugs. These days, they offer jewelry, decorative items and all manner of clothing.

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

Once advertised by tour companies as the only ‘foreign excursion on U.S. soil’ the area 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.

The Herb’n Inn offers a bed-and-breakfast that’s an interesting mixture of old and new. Hints of Woodstock and the Vietnam War can be found 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 sells at a ‘slightly higher than the original’ price.

Ballet fans might even be interested in checking out 42 Belvedere Street where 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 point you in the right direction.

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