Much has changed since the Summer of Love blossomed 50 years ago, bringing thousands of young people to San Francisco, drawn by an underground culture embracing love, peace and music.
Today San Francisco is known more as an incubator of tech startups than as a cradle of counterculture. The shabby Victorians along Haight Street that were once low-rent havens for the likes of the Grateful Dead now go for well over $1 million.
Even a half century ago, the quest for utopia was fleeting. By October, the “death of the hippie” was marked with a mock funeral in the Haight.
But there are still traces of that psychedelic season, along with a few new attractions rolled out specifically for the anniversary. If you’re going to San Francisco, with or without a flower in your hair, here are a few ways to tune in to the spirit of ’67.
TAKE IT TO THE STREETS
The Haight-Ashbury district, where it all began, is a good place to start your trip back in time. You can simply walk around on your own, enjoying the carefully restored Victorians, once home to rock icons such as the Dead and Janis Joplin, and browsing the Haight Street mix of vintage clothing stores, upscale cafes and vibrant murals. Don’t miss Love on Haight (1400 Haight St.), purveyor of tie-dyed fashion and glitter, and Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St.), which has a large collection of vinyl as well as music in digital format housed in a former bowling alley.
For a more detailed look, guided tours available include the Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour, which covers the highlights of hippie and other local history on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Other dates and private groups possible on request. Buy tickets in advance ($20, kids 9 and younger free; www.haightashburytour.com).
Another option: Download the self-guided Detour Haight walk to your smartphone. It’s narrated by actor Peter Coyote, a Summer of Love activist (detour.com/san-francisco/haight-ashbury).
The Magic Bus Experience is a two-hour tour that uses video and audio to enhance visits to the Haight and other Summer of Love landmarks. Starting at Union Square, the bus features screens that cover the windows periodically to turn the bus into a kind of moving theater with special effects that include a simulated “mystical LSD trip.” No tours Wednesday and Sunday ($70 adults, $65 students; 855-969-6244, magicbussf.com).
For a different take, San Francisco Love Tours conducts guests around town in classic VW buses painted in appropriately far-out colors ($48; 888-419-5454, sanfranciscolovetours.com).
Yet another moving experience is a narrated Segway tour of Golden Gate Park, the movement’s playground. Tour includes a ride down Hippie Hill at the eastern end of the park, a popular gathering ground then and still key people-watching territory ($75; 415-474-3130, goldengateparksegwaytours.com).
The de Young museum in Golden Gate Park has put together a lively look at the period with “The Summer of Love Experience,” featuring interactive music and light shows as well as textiles, photographs and posters. Learn about the “San Francisco Sound,” created by bands such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. See the scores of rock posters created by artists such as Stanley Mouse — all created in the pre-digital age. Browse the innovative fashions — leather work, repurposed denim, crotchet — that clothed the counterculture. Through Aug. 20 ($25; 415-750-3636, deyoung.famsf.org).
The California Historical Society sets the period in context with its “On the Road to the Summer of Love” exhibit, which uses photographs to tell the story of how the summer fit into a timeline that began with the Beat poets in the ’50s and went on to incorporate civil rights activism and the 1964 Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley. Through Sept. 10 ($5, children free; 415-357-1848, californiahistoricalsociety.org).
MAKE THE SCENE
The long-running musical revue Beach Blanket Babylon, known for its fantastic costumes and elaborate hats, builds current events into the show — which means that this year it has a Summer of Love anniversary component ($25-$155; 415-421-4222, beachblanketbabylon.com).
Celebrate the blues at “A Night With Janis Joplin,” focusing on one of the brightest stars of the ’67 firmament. Playing at The American Conservatory Theater through July 9 ($25-$130; 415-749-2228, act-sf.org).
If you’re a tie-dyed-in-the-wool Deadhead and happen to be in town Aug. 6, make for McLaren Park and the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater for the annual “Jerry Day” featuring tribute bands (free, donate $100 or more for seats in reserved section; jerryday.org).
FEEL THE BEAT
Before there were hippies there was the Beat generation, led by writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and their stomping ground was the San Francisco neighborhood of North Beach on the edge of Chinatown. Visit City Lights bookstore founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, publisher of Ginsberg’s epic poem, “Howl,” which ignited an obscenity trial. The store has three floors of books and is set at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Kerouac Alley — a once-seedy side street spruced up a decade ago and now lined with colorful murals with literary quotes set into its paving stones (261 Columbus Ave.; 415-362-8193, citylights.com).
Across the alley from City Lights, you’ll find Vesuvio Cafe (255 Columbus Ave.), an atmospheric bar popular with the Beat and subsequent generations. Take a book with you and enjoy a drink amid walls hung with photographs, art and other memorabilia. If you go upstairs, you can sip while looking out over Kerouac Alley.
The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park will be lit with psychedelic colors nightly (except Mondays) through Oct. 21 ($8; 415-831-2090, conservatoryofflowers.org).
The Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf is a perennial tourist favorite, and they’re rising to the occasion by billing themselves as “The Original San Francisco Flour Children,” and selling a sourdough loaf in the shape of a peace sign (415-913-1849 ext. 0, boudinbakery.com/at-the-wharf).
Parking in San Francisco is limited, especially in the Haight-Ashbury area. To get to the Haight from downtown, catch the No. 7 bus toward Great Highway at Market and 5th streets, getting off at Haight and Clayton. Skip lines at many San Francisco attractions with a CityPass ($89 adults, $66 children 5-11; citypass.com/san-francisco).