Summer of Love: a journey through San Francisco 50 years on

author photo
Tamara Hinson


But the Summer of Love wasn't just about Haight-Ashbury. I cycle over to North Beach, a bay-side neighbourhood known for its parks and Italian community. The area borders Chinatown. I pedal past Italian flags painted onto lamp posts, as Italian opera blares from a deli.

Prior to the Summer of Love, North Beach had a thriving literary scene. Kerouac, Ginsberg and Snyder were some of the writers who moved here in the 1950s.

It was the heart of the beat scene, a literary movement started by authors whose work explored and influenced American culture post-World War II. The Summer of Love and the Beat Generation were intrinsically linked.

Beat poets championed values which fuelled the Summer of Love: communal living, political decentralisation and an awareness of the environment. North Beach quickly became a hub for those who shared these values.

At its epicentre was City Lights, still regarded as one of America's best independent bookstores. Founded in 1953 by Peter D. Martin and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, this National Historic Landmark, which specialised in banned books, wasn't just a shop but a meeting place and centre of protest. "It was at the heart of everything that happened in North Beach and it's still there, as good as ever,” says Dennis McNally.

I finish with a visit to the Presidio, a beautiful park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

With its manicured lawns and hiking trails, it's a world away from the colourful chaos of Haight-Ashbury. But in San Francisco, reminders of 1967 are never far away.

The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia was a soldier for a short period of time and spent nine months at The Presidio, which was an army base for 218 years. In the recently refurbished visitor centre, lines on the floor represent the outlines of what were once tiny military cells.

"We were the ones the hippies were rebelling against," points out the Presidio Trust's Lisa Petrie as we walk past locals perfecting their yoga poses on the grass. "The Presidio was a military machine, dispatching soldiers to Vietnam. But just three miles away, you had all the hippies – a total counter-culture. I've heard former employees talk about how they'd ride the bus to work through all the hippie protests."

But those days are long gone. Perhaps peace, love and unity won the day here after all.

Tamara travelled with Thomas Cook Airlines, who fly to San Francisco from Manchester, from £149.99 each way. Header image: Pixabay/CC0. Main body images from top to bottom (left–right): David Seibold/Flickr; Jennifer Boyer/Flickr; Vince Traveller/Flickr; Mattia Panciroli/Flickr; Jennifer Boyer/Flickr; Kent Kanouse/Flickr; Sswj/Flickr; Justin Kern; Flickr

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