It’s 50 years since peace, love and psychedelia burst out from the San Francisco underground into the mainstream, heralding 1967’s Summer of Love.
So pop The Grateful Dead on your headphones, stick on your finest floral shirt and make for these must-see sights in the one-time heartland of the hippies.
The Beat Museum is a treasure trove of artifacts that help explain what led to the Summer of Love © Rick Gerharter / Getty Images
To understand how the hippies took over San Francisco, you need to go back to the 1950s and explore that other Californian cultural phenomenon, the Beats. The Beat Museum in North Beach is home to hundreds of original artifacts, including notebooks and photos from Jack Kerouac’s pioneering journeys across America that led to his seminal On The Road, a huge influence on the teenagers who would pioneer the hippie movement and be at the forefront of the Summer of Love.
It also looks at the influence of poet Allen Ginsberg, who linked the Beats and the hippies through his work and activism. The museum retains a chilled vibe very much in keeping with 1967, with old hippies selling tickets and sharing tales of the good old days.
The stock on the shelves of the iconic City Lights Bookstore still reflect its countercultural origins © Manakin / Getty Images
City Lights was and is a totem of San Francisco’s countercultural movement. Founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, its leftfield selections and readings by local authors made it the intellectual heart of the Summer of Love. Its street corner location on Columbus Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Beat Museum, is impossible to miss.
Pop in and you’ll find shelves stacked with everything from surrealist treatises to green politics, a true reflection of the academic side of the hippie dream. And if all that seems a bit too heavy, you can always browse the fiction section and pick up a branded tote bag instead.
The intersection at Haight and Ashbury became a crossroads for the counterculture © Vbrewood01 / Getty Images
Haight and Ashbury
The intersection at Haight and Ashbury was the epicenter of the hippie movement that began in San Francisco in 1964 and reached its peak in 1967. Known simply as The Haight, the area was home to some of scene’s biggest names, from Jefferson Airplane to Janis Joplin, as well as the first ‘head’ shop, helping the booming numbers of visiting teenagers to ‘turn on, tune in and drop out’.
Today, having emerged from years as a seedy district, The Haight trades on its hippie past with vintage clothes stores, bars and brunch spots. Music fans should head to 710 Ashbury to see where The Grateful Dead lived at the height of their fame before strolling down Haight towards Golden Gate Park to pick up classic records from the period at the cavernous Ameoba Music.
Strange as it may seem, San Francisco's carefully manicured Golden Gate Park was once the go-to spot for ‘dropping out’ © mcswin / Getty Images
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco’s vast Golden Gate Park was the go-to spot for the hordes piling into the city as 1967 got underway. The park’s Polo Fields were the site of The Human Be-In in January 1967, with as many as 30,000 young people gathering to see hippie pioneer Timothy Leary urge them to ‘drop out’, and Big Brother and the Holding Company play their brand of bluesy psychedelic rock. Today it’s seen as a defining counterculture event, which kicked off the Summer of Love.
Things are a touch more sedate now, with runners, walkers and cyclists outnumbering hippies. Take a stroll here on a sunny day with some vintage psych on your iPod, though, and you can still feel the vibes.
The poster room of the Fillmore Auditorium pays homage to the many legendary musicians who once played there © Anthony Pidgeon / Getty Images
The Fillmore Auditorium
The tripped-out tracks of 1967 define the Summer of Love to this day. And no venue was as important to this burgeoning scene as the Fillmore Auditorium. The focal point of the San Francisco music boom, the world’s hottest bands helped turn the Fillmore into the coolest auditorium in the world. You hadn’t made it until you took to the stage there. Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, The Doors and Pink Floyd all rocked out during that heady summer.
After falling into disrepair in the 1980s, the Fillmore, found in the district of the same name, is once again one of the city’s best places to see live music. Check out their official website to see what bands are playing and lose yourself in the tunes.
The Merry Pranksters have long since left… but you can still pretend to board their magic bus on a hippie-inspired campervan tour of the city © Mikey Bramich / Getty Images
Make like the Merry Pranksters on a hippie bus tour
The Summer of Love might never have happened were it not for author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, a band of early hippies who rode a colourfully painted bus from San Francisco across the United States.
While you might not have time for a cross-continental jaunt, San Francisco Love Tours offers rides in a converted 1970s VW Camper Van, replete with beaded curtains, garish seats and a psychedelic paint job, taking in all the classic sights around the city. Magic Bus SF’s two-and-a-half-hour ride takes you on a trip back in time to 1967. Expect flowers, blissed out folk on the stereo and even an on-board light show.
San Francisco’s Public Library is just one of several venues hosting exhibitions to the mark the 50th anniversary © P. Eoche / Getty Images
Exhibitions and events to mark 50 years since the Summer of Love
San Francisco is going all out with a number of temporary exhibitions to celebrate 50 years since the city became the center of 1960s counterculture.
The San Francisco Public Library’s 50 Years of Love and Haight exhibition runs from July 1 until September 17, exploring how the period defined pop culture for years to come. The Asian Art Museum is holding a Flower Power show from 24 June until 1 October, while the Museum of the African Diaspora is running a Summer of Love film series from May 3 until June 7.
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