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Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury

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Haight-Ashbury is the quintessential San Francisco neighborhood and tourist destination. Enshrined in history as ground zero for the Summer of Love, today "the Haight" (as it's locally known) offers visitors a past/present mix of shopping and recreational activities.

The Haight was an area of not much -- scrub brush and sand dunes -- until the late 1800s, when residential development followed the creation of Golden Gate Park and the new trolley lines heading out towards Ocean Beach. Over 100 "Painted Ladies" remain, and these gingerbread Victorian homes alone are worth a visit to the neighborhood.

The neighborhood had fallen on hard times by the early 60s, with many longtime homeowners trading their Victorians and urban blight for the green lawns of suburban Walnut Creek and Concord. But a younger generation of students, poets and musicians, lured out west by Jack Kerouac's On the Road beatnik adventures, were drawn to the Haight by its cheap rents, which allowed them to "drop out" of the workaday world and focus on creative endeavors. The result was a neighborhood renaissance, and the birth of what we now call simply "the Sixties."

Haight Street itself began life in the early 1900s, and was home to an amusement park with a zoo, rides, and a 60-foot water slide. Today, it's a busy commercial zone of vintage clothing shops and enough shoe stores to overwhelm Imelda Marcos. Numerous record stores range from storefront specialty shops to the massive Amoeba Music, where many national touring acts give free afternoon in-store performances. For a permanent souvenir of your visit, there are several tattoo and piercing parlors.

Summer of Love archeologists can still find the Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury, or sign up for a Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour. Several 60s-themed rooms are showcased at the funky Red Victorian Hotel, also home to The Red Vic - a worker-owned repertory cinema. A few blocks north is the Panhandle, once the scene of many free concerts. The Panhandle is a narrow, quarter-mile-long park offering quiet refuge from Haight St. crowds. This is where locals push strollers, walk dogs, picnic, and sunbathe. Grab a double-scoop of Cherry Garcia at Ben and Jerry's, find a shady patch of the Panhandle, and kick back a while. And remember to bring a sweater for when the fog rolls in!

The Haight has an abundance of dining and entertainment options. Locals line up early for breakfast at the Pork Store Café; the same line moves several blocks up the street for dinner at Cha Cha Cha, a superb Caribbean restaurant. The Club Deluxe is a Swing era-themed bar and lounge, famous for its Bloody Marys and period-correct clientele. If Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack lived in the Haight, this would be their hangout. The annual Haight-Ashbury Street Fair (held the 2nd Sunday in June) has live music and a huge but friendly crowd.

Don't miss the lower Haight, a largely tourist-free neighborhood, with a funkier vibe and a DIY feel to the shops and bars. The Mad Dog in the Fog offers a great draft beer selection, and non-stop soccer on several TV screens. The Café International is a Sixties' survivor, where customers can linger over a chess match or read a book for the price of a cup of coffee. Follow Haight St. down the hill and across Divisadero St.

Getting there: The 71-Haight-Noriega MUNI bus runs the length of Haight Street. The N-Judah Metro train will let you out at Carl and Cole Streets just a few blocks away. Don't drive if you can avoid it - parking is very limited and spots are hard to find.

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