It was the biggest block party of the century, the precursor to a festival culture that lives on today. In the summer of 1967, tens of thousands of people from all over the country descended upon the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to hear live music, experiment with communal living and generally celebrate life. More than 100,000 people came in all. And they called it the Summer of Love.
Ultimately, the summer of 1967 (and the demonstrations that characterized it) helped to define hippie culture—a culture of poets and artists and thinkers who rejected the material values of modern life at the time and instead emphasized sharing and community.
It also served as the launching pad for a number of musical acts that defined the hippie generation, including the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, among others. Much of the spirit of the Summer of Love remains in the Haight-Ashbury District today. To find it, you simply have to know where to look.
Technically, the Summer of Love began in the winter of 1967, after an event in Golden Gate Park called the Human Be-In inspired a number of community leaders to put together a commission to plan for a summer full of similar parties. Together, the organizers referred to themselves as the Council for the Summer of Love.
What followed were free public concerts, readings, peaceful demonstrations and parties. Beatnik writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac read original work. Former Harvard professor Timothy Leary spoke about recreational drug use. Musicians Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell wowed crowds with performances unlike any they’d ever given. John Phillips, of the Mamas & the Papas, even wrote a song about the social phenomenon: “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).”
Over the course of the summer, however, San Francisco experienced too much of a good thing. Overcrowding and rampant drug use led to clashes with police, crime and eventually even the looming threat of riots. By the fall, when most of the summer visitors had left to return to college, the Haight-Ashbury District was in shambles. Community organizers staged a mock funeral, dubbed “the Death of the Hippie.” Sure, some of the peace and love from earlier that year remained, but by the end of 1967, the neighborhood had moved in a different direction entirely.
Bringing Back The Good Ol’ Days
Today there are a number of organized ways to experience Haight-Ashbury and relive the free-loving vibe. One is the three-hour guided Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour.
It starts near Hippie Hill—the field in the park where hippies first gathered peacefully, and where modern-day hippies still gather to sit in drum circles and lose themselves in the music.
From there, tour guides head down Waller Street toward Ashbury Street, pointing out colorful Victorians of importance along the way. Perhaps the most notable of these historic structures is 710 Ashbury—where Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead lived together for most of 1967. Just down the street, in an Edwardian apartment building, there’s another notable spot—the former home of Janis Joplin, who lived there at precisely the same time.
From here, the tour continues down to Haight Street. In its heyday, this stretch was home to four jazz clubs, countless head (and smoke) shops, restaurants, counterculture bookstores and a variety of other gathering places for hippies and beatniks alike. Big Slice Pizza on the east side of the street—now closed—was home to the neighborhood’s first head shop.
Still, a handful of the original spots and sights remain. Among them: Bound Together Bookstore, which bills itself as an “anarchist collective-run bookstore” and the Blue Front Café, the only restaurant left from the 1960s. Visit Piedmont Boutique and look up to see a pair of fishnet-clad legs dangling over the storefront. These legs hark back to the Summer of Love, when the store had another life as the Blushing Peony.
A small number of new businesses have set out to carry the hippie torch. Jammin’ on Haight, for instance, a fashion boutique on the corner of Haight and Masonic streets, specializes in tie-dye and creates all of the designs in-house. The Herb’n Inn, a bed and breakfast, houses the Psychedelic History Museum that comprises the owner’s collection of 1960s-era posters and paraphernalia. These establishments, along with many vintage and costume shops and art galleries, retain a healthy dose of 1960s creativity in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Although the Summer of Love is long gone, on a short visit with the right itinerary, you can experience a glimpse of how it was, if only for a few hours.