Haight-Ashbury is named for the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets, which was considered the epicenter for hippies and the ensuing Summer of Love in 1967. These days it’s more often referred to as ‘the Haight’ or ‘Upper Haight’ when differentiating it from its sister neighborhood down the hill, Lower Haight.
For many, the Haight evokes images of tie-dye wearing hippies flashing peace signs and dancing barefoot to psychedelic music, and while the neighborhood has shed much of that history, it continues to capitalise on that phenomenon. Today Haight Street, the main drag, is a prolific shopping zone with many high-end vintage clothing shops, second-hand stores, boutiques, “head shops” (selling products to enable the consumption of marijuana), tattoo parlors, and a plethora of spots selling tie-dye shirts and Eastern-influenced wares.
Stashed between these are some great restaurants, like the Caribbean-focused Cha Cha Cha and dive bars with long-time regulars. Throngs of tourists are a constant in the Haight, especially as you move towards Golden Gate Park, the eastern edge of the neighborhood.
A Whole Foods is also located across from the park and is the most reliable source of food in the area, other than Haight Community Market, which is a wonderful little specialty grocery store and deli. Buses are pretty easy to come by here, and a light rail line runs through Cole Valley.
The weather is cool with a standard mix of sun and fog.
Relics of its past do remain though -- you’re less likely to see someone in a suit and tie than in bell bottoms and carrying a hoola hoop. Drum circles pop up on the sidewalk, and are nearly never-ending on Hippie Hill, near the entrance to Golden Gate Park.
Transients with dreadlocks and dogs may ask for weed money or try to sell you marijuana. They are often referred to as “street kids” without regard to their age, and are distinguishable from other groups of the large homeless population in San Francisco by their large backpacks. Many prefer to call themselves travelers, rather than homeless, which implies that they have no options.
Walking along Haight Street at night can sometimes feel dangerous with groups of them hanging out on the sidewalk, but they’re by and large very harmless. (However, do not wander into Golden Gate Park at night -- it is big and dark and a violent incident occurs there nearly every year.)
And continuing the hippie vibe, next-generation communes are distributed throughout the Upper and Lower Haight neighborhoods. These communal living houses differ from their counterparts of the 60s and 70s through their focus on sustainability and intellectualism mixed in with their radical politics and conscientious artistic pursuits. The Red Victorian is one such commune, formerly a “peace hotel,” which opens its doors to the public for many donation-based lectures, reading groups, music shows, and other diverse programming in its massive main space.
Move just a block away from Haight Street, though, and the neighborhood takes on a much different atmosphere. Rows of well-preserved and ornate Victorians neatly line the streets and are among the oldest examples of Victorian architecture in San Francisco since they escaped the the fires spawned by the 1906 earthquake.
Families and life-long residents will smile and tell you what a beautiful day it is. The only reminder of the somewhat chaotic Haight Street is the occasional transient sleeping near your curb or rummaging through your garbage bins, though they tend to be completely harmless. The further south you go, towards Cole Valley, the less of this you will encounter.
And for those unimpressed by the abrasive Haight Street, the Carl and Cole Street intersection and surrounding area in Cole Valley offers nearly all of the same amenities in a calm and quaint atmosphere.
The Haight is a great place for anyone, though we wouldn’t recommend living on Haight Street itself as it can be pretty tiring with all the noise from the tourists and transients, but a fun place to come and go from.
A neighborhood institution with a newer branch in the Mission, Haight Street Market offers local and organic produce, a selection of cheeses and snacks, and a deli counter.
A long and narrow park that extends out from Golden Gate Park (creating a pan shape if viewed from above). The area immediately surrounding it is considered a micro neighborhood called NoPa (for North of the Panhandle). A number of popular bars and restaurants lie just east of it along Divisadero.
A long-time dive bar with plenty of seating and a pool table. Some of the patrons have been coming here for decades, adding to its vintage charm.