How to get your hippie on in San Francisco

Mike MacEacheran

written by
Mike MacEacheran

updated 10.08.2020

Born in California, the Summer of Love movement aimed at nothing less than transforming American society. And for a window of time, San Francisco was the centre of that hedonistic universe. Fifty years on, here’s where to go and what to do to relive the kaleidoscopic dreams and big ideas of the flower power generation.

1. Walk in the footsteps of Hendrix in Haight-Ashbury

The epicentre of the Summer of Love, this 12-block neighbourhood bounded by Golden Gate Park to the northwest still blithely clings to its past. Girls wear love beads and bracelets, while men sport woodsman beards, their faces framed by hairstyles that would have sported by Jefferson Airplane roadies 50 years ago.

The Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour delves into all that rock’n roll history (710 Ashbury is where Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead used to live, for instance), but also introduces the era's art and fashion, and the area’s charming, pastel-shaded Victorian architecture.


© Michael Warwick/Shutterstock

2. Stay at a Summer of Love-themed hotel

Located in the gentrified heart of Nob Hill, Hotel Zeppelin has been designed for those who come to find the decade they left behind. Others, meanwhile, are intrigued by a weird nostalgia for a life they never lived. The hotel’s decor has a throwback, 1960s vibe with lava lamps, vintage prints, and plenty of counterculture attitude, including a gigantic “Ban the Bomb” sign in the lobby.

Besides that, there’s the name, obviously, and if it couldn’t get any more Page and Plant, deluxe rooms come with record players, while the bathrooms are decked-out, top-to-bell-bottom-bottom in psychedelic wallpaper listing an A to Z of San Francisco’s most revered bands. In short, turn on, tune-in and sleep late, man.

3. Turn the hippie vibes up to 11 at the Outside Lands Festival

Golden Gate Park also hosts the annual Outlands Music and Arts Festival (August 11-13 in 2017) – and this year the festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The closest millennial hippies can get to the utopian zeitgeist of the era’s defining concerts and Timothy Leary rallies, the three-day party doesn’t entirely chase the musical legacy of the 1960s (headliners have included Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and Lionel Richie). Instead, it embraces the decade’s anti-capitalist idealism by supporting local charities and eco programmes.

4. Find yourself on Hippie Hill

Ground Zero for the Summer of Love’s gigantic 1967 gathering, Golden Gate Park overflows with leafy gardens, art, flowers, trees, and the sounds of songbirds. No wonder you could find the likes of Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead playing acoustic guitars on Hippie Hill, a notorious meadow and sloping hill near the park’s eastern fringes.

Free spirits dressed in denims and plaited headbands still come to pound on bongo drums today, all while sitting moon-eyed in a haze of questionable smoke.

5. Spot the next big thing at Amoeba Records

Because its magic-hour records transcend decades, the sound of 1967 has affected you even if you’ve never been to America or crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Songs such as Happy Together by The Turtles, San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott Mckenzie, or White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane have probably visited you in your car, or in your home.

To stock-up on more of that good stuff, pop in to Amoeba Records, the largest independent music store in the world for vintage LPs, reissued rarities, and all manner of rock memorabilia.

Afterwards, catch an in-store gig from an up-and-coming band who really wish things were as easy as they were back in 1967.

6. Ogle at Haight-Ashbury’s hippie-inspired art

Few places symbolize San Francisco’s hedonistic vibe better than the The Spirit of Youth in America mural on Belvedere Street. A gigantic psychedelic splash of rainbow wash commissioned by the San Francisco Art Commission in 1977, it epitomises the 1960s’ carefree attitude of relaxed morals and revolution.

Despite its overt message (stay off the drugs, eat your fruit and veg, kids), it’s more memorable for its tie-die depiction of Joni Mitchell-types, floaty hairstyles, and hippy floral dresses.

Haight Ashbury, San Francisco


7. Dance to new jams at an old-time venue

Ask anyone in San Francisco where to get a blast of 1960s’ rock’n’roll glamour today and many will give the same answer: the Fillmore.

At weekends, both kids and old-timers squeeze into drainpipes and leather jackets to see bands at this legendary venue. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Moby Grape all launched their careers here, while Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Captain Beefheart and The Who all helped turn the city on to acid rock. Without it, the airwaves wouldn’t be quite the same.

When planning your trip to San Francisco, don't forget to choose the best place to stay by using our detailed guide to the best places to stay in San Francisco.

Explore more of San Francisco with The Rough Guide to California. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Mike MacEacheran

written by
Mike MacEacheran

updated 10.08.2020

Mike MacEacheran is a travel journalist & guidebook author based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has reported from 108 countries for National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveller, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal, Mail on Sunday, The Independent, Evening Standard, The Sun, The Globe and Mail, Scotland on Sunday, The National and South China Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMacEacheran

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