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Haight-Ashbury is the perfect neighborhood for visitors to experience the counterculture side of San Francisco. Known to locals simply as the Haight, this neighborhood started out as a suburban escape for the proto-yuppie elite, but came to national prominence as the epicenter of the hippies’ Summer of Love. Today, the Haight embraces its tangled roots and offers loads of fun in a small, highly walkable area.
Look for the signs of San Francisco’s hippy past
Start the morning by grabbing a coffee or tea, or a smoothie made with gelato from Cantata Coffee Company, and then hit the pavement to see this once-flourishing hippy kingdom before the main tourist crowd hits. The first stop simply has to be the famous cross-street sign for Haight-Ashbury, which is now secured by a tiny lock to ensure passersby don’t take it as a memento. Today, the sign is basically viewed as the neighborhood’s mascot. After taking your sign-related selfies, head south on Ashbury for half a block to reach Janis Joplin’s house, then go south for another block to reach the Grateful Dead’s famous abode.
Beat the weekend brunch crowds by going to Zazie
San Franciscans love their brunches, and many of the most popular brunch options are only available at the weekend, and can have queues of over an hour. Those with only 24 hours to spend in the neighborhood can beat the crowds and save time at Zazie, which serves brunch every weekday from 8am until 2pm. If you like something sweet, go for the French Toast Tahiti. If you dine anytime between April and August, get the Salade Guillaume with arugula and fresh strawberries. Be sure to check out their menu du jour for fresh daily options.
Bargain hunt with locals
The Haight offers a mixture of oddball stores and boutiques that cater to everyone from bargain hunters to window shoppers. Bay staple Rasputin Music & Movies will help you find your next favorite band or an affordable copy of a hard-to-find foreign film. Fashion lovers will find shelf after shelf of couture to hunt through at Decades of Fashion on Haight. If you’ve ever wondered if you can pull off a fedora, or longed for a ’50s-style prom dress, Decades has you covered in style.
Hike Buena Vista Park
San Francisco treasures its ample green spaces, and the Haight’s contribution to San Francisco’s verdant landscape is Buena Vista Park, bordering the neighborhood’s eastern edge and rising high enough to offer views of the Bay and the Golden Gate. For a light lunch after your filling brunch, grab a deli sandwich and some fresh fruit from Gus’s Haight Street Market and set off to explore every nook of Buena Vista Park. Stroll along a tree-lined path that ends in a picnic area with picturesque panoramas of the city.
Experience the history of poster art at the Haight Street Art Center
The Haight Street Art Center exists to educate and proselytize for poster art. Screen printing has been around for decades, but it reached a renewed cultural impact with the rock ‘n’ roll scene that developed around the Haight following the Summer of Love. The HSAC celebrates San Francisco’s connection to screen printing and poster making by offering smartly curated exhibitions, as well as classes for anyone who wants to get their creativity on.
Catch a reading at The Bindery
San Francisco loves its bookstores, and the Haight is no exception. The local spot for a good read is The Booksmith, open until 10pm most nights and 8pm on Sundays. Booksmith has a satellite location nearby called The Bindery that hosts high-quality screenings, readings and talks on the regular.
Run away to the circus for a few hours
The Haight’s Circus Center offers evening classes that will let you find out if you have what it takes to be a clown, a flying trapeze artist or part of an acrobatic duo. This is an ideal evening for anyone who wants to be active and create a unique memory that won’t soon be forgotten.
Eat duck hearts and visit a local microbrewery
The best place for dinner in the Haight is The Alembic. Their eclectic menu features unexpected but delectable flavor combinations, such as jerk-spiced duck hearts and a Japanese omelet atop foie gras. There are also burgers, fries and other pub food options that will pair nicely with their selection of farmer’s market-inspired drinks and choice beers. If you’re a craft-beer fan, head over to Magnolia Brewing to finish your day in the Haight. An award-winning brewpub nearby with an outstanding selection of blonde and Kölsch styles, they also have a food menu in case you want to skip The Alembic for something a little more approachable than duck hearts.