San Francisco Haight and Ashbury
Born of counterculture roots, this creative-minded slice of San Francisco is a haven for urban hippies and vintage enthusiasts. Haight-Ashbury is a thriving San Francisco neighborhood where cultures and eras meld together. Haight-Ashbury’s colorful architecture, boldly nostalgic shops, and eclectic (and most likely organic) cafes and restaurants exude a magnetism that draws many to the neighborhood. Its homes are picturesque and its stoops are perfect for perching. Real locals live here and They get together to chat, to chill, and to challenge one another to a friendly game.
Haight-Ashburyis a district of San Francisco, California, named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets. Haight-Ashbury is also called The Haight and The Upper Haight. The neighborhood is known for its history of, and being the origin of hippie subculture. Whether you’re thirsting for shops, sustenance, or substances, Haight-Ashbury has no shortage of stores, cafes, and certified organic restaurants to quell your cravings. Staying here is definitely for those that want to experience different aspects of SF, rather than the usual touristy type of hotel areas. In Haight-Ashbury, worn-down and broken-in are more common than crisp, new, or shiny. Serving nostalgia in Double LP doses, Haight-Ashbury still boasts shops where you can leaf through records. More likely than not, you’ll find hand-written employee recommendations taped to their plastic sleeves.
The street names commemorate two early San Francisco leaders: Pioneer and exchange banker Henry Haight and Munroe Ashbury, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1864 to 1870. Both Haight and his nephew as well as Ashbury had a hand in the planning of the neighborhood, and, more importantly, nearby Golden Gate Park at its inception. The name “Upper Haight”, used by locals, is in contrast to the Haight-Fillmore or Lower Haight district; the latter being lower in elevation and part of what was previously the principal African-American and Japanese neighborhoods in San Francisco’s early years.
Here comes the History of the Haight-Ashbury. Before the completion of the Haight Street Cable Railroad in 1883, what is now the Haight-Ashbury was a collection of isolated farms and acres of sand dunes. The completion of the Haight Street cable car line in 1883, the land grading and building techniques of the 1890s and early 20th century later reinvented the neighborhood and the place experienced a boom, eventually becoming a desirable upper-middle-class neighborhood with many lovely homes. It was one of the few neighborhoods spared from the fires that followed the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
The Haight was hit hard by the Depression, as was much of the city. Residents with enough money to spare left the declining and crowded neighborhood for greener pastures within the growing city limits, or newer, smaller suburban homes in the Bay Area. During the housing shortage of World War II, large single-family Victorians were divided into apartments to house workers. Others were converted into boarding homes for profit. By the 1950s, the Haight was a neighborhood in decline. Many buildings were left vacant after the war. Deferred maintenance also took its toll, and the exodus of middle class residents to newer suburbs continued to leave many units for rent.
In the 1950s, a freeway was proposed that would have run through the Panhandle, but due to a citizen freeway revolt, it was cancelled in a series of battles that lasted until 1966. The Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) was formed at the time of the 1959 revolt. HANC is still active in the neighborhood as of 2008.
The Haight-Ashbury’s elaborately detailed, 19th century multistory wooden houses became a haven for hippies during the 1960s, due to the availability of cheap rooms and vacant properties for rent or sale in the district; property values had dropped in part because of the proposed freeway. By the mid-60s, Haight-Ashbury became the home base of the Hippie subculture. It was also known as a center for illegal drug use and became home to many of the decades’ psychedelic rock groups, like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead.
The mainstream media’s coverage of hippie life in the Haight-Ashbury drew the attention of youth from all over America. The Haight-Ashbury district was sought out by hippies to constitute a community based upon counterculture ideals, drugs, and music. This neighborhood offered a concentrated gathering spot for hippies to create a social experiment that would soon spread throughout the nation. The opening of the Psychedelic Shop on January 3, 1966 offered hippies a spot to purchase marijuana and LSD, which was essential to hippie life in Haight-Ashbury. With the Psychedelic Shop located in the heart of Haight-Ashbury, the entire hippie community had easy access to drugs which was perceived as a community unifier. The neighborhood’s fame reached its peak as it became the haven for a number of the top psychedelic rock performers and groups of the time.
By the time the 1967 “Summer of Love” happened Haight-Ashbury was “the” place to be if you were a Hippie. The Summer of Love attracted a wide range of people of various ages: teenagers and college students drawn by their peers and the allure of joining a cultural utopia; middle-class vacationers; and even partying military personnel from bases within driving distance. Haight-Ashbury received lots of negative publicity from conservative groups who disapproved of the Hippie lifestyle and many looked down at San Francisco as a place that proliferated this bohemian way of life. Since that time, the neighborhood has never been the same and some members of the Flower Power generation still make their home in The Haight more than forty years later.
After 1968, the area went into decline due to overcrowding, homelessness, hunger, drug problems, crime and lack of police presence. Many people simply left in the fall to resume their college studies. This situation was improved and renewed in the late 1970s. Throughout the 1980s the Haight became an epicenter for the SF Comedy Scene when a small coffee house off Haight Street called The Other Cafe (currently the restaurant Crepes on Cole) became a full-time comedy club helping to launch the careers of Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, and Whoopi Goldberg. Also in the 1980s through to the early 1990s the I-Beam nightclub on Haight Street became a hot spot for modern rock dance music in San Francisco, and a popular venue for live performances by a litany of the world’s best known new wave, punk, industrial, and indie bands.
Although the Haight-Ashbury district is known for its history, the main reason that people go there today is to do some shopping. Amoeba Records down at the far west end of the Haight-Ashbury district marks the beginning of that shopping for most people. Tourists and locals can mingle in the many shoe stores, vintage clothing stores, bookstores and odds-and-ends shops that have cropped up in the area. They can pick up a Haight-Ashbury T-shirt, listen to some Haight-Ashbury music and explore to find which Haight-Ashbury store is their favorite. There is some controversy about the shopping in the area because the Haight-Ashbury street corner itself is now populated by several commercial chain stores. People with the hippie spirit are unhappy about the commercial business that has moved in, although it is undeniable that the commerce allows the area there to thrive.
The Red Victorian hotel is a popular attraction. An independent theater of the same name operated about a block away from the hotel from 1980 to 2011. The Haight-Ashbury Street Fair is held on the second Sunday of June each year attracting thousands of people, during which Haight Street is closed between Stanyan and Masonic to vehicular traffic, with one sound stage at each end.
Today, locals break The Haight into two sections: Upper and Lower. The Upper Haight extends from Stanyan to Masonic and tends to be an upscale shopping area that attracts both tourists and affluent residents. The Lower Haight, in contrast, is home to a number of music clubs and is a popular nightlife destination.
Haight-Ashbury was once the home to revolutionaries, famous singers (including the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin) and cult leaders. Today, this San Francisco neighborhood pays homage to that history with thrift stores and vintage shopping that recollect those good old days. Haight-Ashbury has become a haven for urban hippies, but the olden day Hippie culture is still evident in the cafes scattered around the neighborhood. Its laissez-faire attitude also attracts folks on the fringe, so Haight-Ashbury might not be your cup of Yerba mate should you dislike being approached for spare change.