In the psychedelic 60's, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia (left) and Phil Lesh were local fixtures.
Yes, the Grateful Dead lived there, and their house at 710 Ashbury is a landmark. Yes, Janis Joplin lived there, briefly. And all the big groups—Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service—visited and played impromptu shows in nearby Golden Gate Park.
But one memorable moment came to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District on August 8, 1967—smack-dab in the middle of the counterculture phenomenon that would become known as the Summer of Love–when George Harrison visited. He’d heard about the hippies living there in communal "pads," extolling free love, and, if they were political, protesting the war in Vietnam. As an embodiment of unfettered expression, the neighborhood called out to tens of thousands of other young people. Singer Scott McKenzie harmonized, "If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." And they did come: men, women, and Beatles.
That day, Harrison strolled along Haight Street with his wife, Pattie, wound up on a patch of the park known as Hippie Hill, borrowed a guitar, and began playing and chatting with his fans.
"What do you think of the Haight?" one of them asked.
"Wow, if it’s all like this, it’s all too much," Harrison replied.
But years later, he changed his tune. "I expected them to be nice and clean and happy," he said. Instead, he found the hippies "hideous, spotty little teenagers." It was like that for the Haight—one minute a funky oasis bathed in a psychedelic glow; the next, a battered testament to human frailties and excess.
Before all the hype, the Haight was a residential neighborhood whose large Victorian houses and cheap rents drew college students and professors from San Francisco State—and, in the early ’60s, beatniks, artists, and others.
"The Haight," says Charles Perry, author of The Haight-Ashbury: A History, "was just a neighborhood where rather a lot of people were interested in art and getting high."
By the time the media and the hordes descended, most of the original residents had fled. Within a year, the area had begun its descent into disrepair.
Then, in the mid-’70s, baby boomers began moving in and fixing up neglected homes. Nice restaurants, boutiques, and bookstores popped up. So did a Ben & Jerry’s, serving up "Cherry Garcia" ice cream, on the corner of Haight and Ashbury.
That’s where fans of the Grateful Dead gathered when Jerry Garcia died in 1995. And that, according to Gary Frank, owner of the Booksmith on Haight since 1976, was a turning point. Before then, he says, whenever a Dead show was on the horizon, the Haight would draw "a mix of flower children who experienced the ’60s and a new generation of flower children who were babies in 1967. They came here to experience the spirit of the ’60s. But for Haight Street, the ’60s died when Jerry died."
The Haight itself, however, remains very much alive. Those pining for what it was like 40 years ago can pick up tie-dyed souvenirs at Positively Haight Street. Nirvana (and Nirvana) awaits music aficionados at Amoeba Music, an old bowling alley now crammed with thousands of new and used vinyl albums, CDs, and DVDs. Aardvark’s caters to clothes hounds in search of vintage threads, from patchwork pants to Hawaiian shirts. Patrons at the Red Vic Movie House relax on couches and munch on organic popcorn while watching an eclectic lineup of films.
The local eateries also provide a taste of the neighborhood, from the pork quesadillas at Cha Cha Cha to the Moroccan lamb sliders at the Alembic. Cap off your meal with an old-fashioned martini at Zam Zam. More mellow spirits may be found at the 36-room Stanyan Park Hotel, where guests enjoy afternoon tea.
Here, there, and everywhere, you can find something new along with vestiges of the way things used to be when, as one famous visitor put it, it was "all too much."
Photography by Ted Streshinsky/Corbis
This article was first published in May 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Pick up the AAA San Francisco map. Area code is 415.
Stanyan Park Hotel 750 Stanyan St., 751-1000, www.stanyanpark.com.
Summer of Love 40th Anniversary Concert Sept. 2. www.2b1records.com/summeroflove40th.