Hippies and tie-dye might be the first things that come to mind when you think of the Haight, due to its role in the Summer of Love. However, that’s not all you’ll find when exploring this historic San Francisco neighborhood.
Haight Street spans 19 blocks in the middle of San Francisco and is divided into two neighborhoods — Haight-Ashbury, also known as the Upper Haight, and the Lower Haight. There are plenty of things to do in the Haight, and this walking tour will lead you through the sights, activites, and flavors of both Upper and Lower Haight. You’ll start at the western end of Haight-Ashbury and walk the entire length of Haight Street, ending at the eastern end of the Lower Haight.
Use this self-guided walking tour as just that, though — a guide. We’ll take you through the highlights, but don’t be afraid to steer off the established path. You never know what you might find in the Haight, whether it’s a massively colorful mural or a unicycling violinist.
San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury: Experience the funky, free spirit of the Summer of Love
In 1967, the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street sprang to life with art and music. The Summer of Love was a celebration of hippie subculture that drew thousands of people to San Francisco.
Haight-Ashbury’s rich history can still be felt today, more than 50 years after the Summer of Love. The colorful street art, abundance of tie-dye, and unique street performers of today’s Haight are all nods to its free-spirited past.
Start your day where Haight Street meets Golden Gate Park. Flywheel Coffee Roasters is a large, airy, and industrial family-owned coffee roastery and cafe. Either grab a pastry and coffee to go, or take a seat in their small back patio to soak up some sun.
If it’s past 11 a.m., head around the corner to Amoeba Music, an independent music chain started in 1990 that has defied the decline of CDs and DVDs. You can easily spend hours getting lost in its aisles of media. And as if it couldn’t get any better, Amoeba Music also hosts musicians, so check their online schedule to time your visit in conjunction with a special event.
There’s still plenty to see, though, so don’t spend all day at Amoeba Music (as tempting as it may be). You’re just scratching the surface of the Haight. Walk farther down Haight Street and be sure to keep your eyes and ears open. There’s plenty of street art and murals to your left, to your right, around the corner, and even up above. Aside from tourists, Haight-Ashbury is also often visited by performers, musicians, artists, and local characters.
Continue down Haight Street until you reach The Red Victorian. As its name suggests, The Red Victorian is a fire-engine-red building that you can’t miss. Originally built in 1904 as a hotel, it’s now a community-run, non-profit collective that serves as a local space for art, music, literature, and more.
While many large book chains have shuttered, independent bookstores are still alive in San Francisco. Bibliophiles, be sure to stop by The Booksmith. You instantly know it’s a local, carefully curated bookstore by its organized yet messy bookshelves and chalkboard signs. The shelves are dotted with handwritten paper notes, sometimes featuring custom illustrations, that highlight favorite books picked by the staff. Before you go, also check The Booksmith’s online schedule to see if they have any upcoming literary events that catch your fancy.
By now, you’re probably feeling hungry, and you’re in luck because there’s no shortage of food options around. VeganBurg is touted as the world’s first 100% plant-based burger joint. On the opposite end, Pork Store Cafe is a San Francisco breakfast and brunch institution that’s been around since 1979.
For brews, pub food, and outdoor seating, walk to the corner of Haight Street and Masonic Ave. There, you’ll find Magnolia Brewing, which has been quietly brewing beer in its basement for the last 20 years. If you just want a quick bite though, Slice House is a fast and casual pizza joint owned by Tony Gemignani, a World Champion Pizza Maker. Yes, that’s a real title.
You can also DIY your lunch by picking up drinks and food from the local Haight Street Market. Then, walk a few blocks to Buena Vista Park, the oldest park in San Francisco, to lay out your feast and enjoy a stunning view of the city. Even if you choose not to picnic, you should still visit the park. Buena Vista isn’t the only park atop a hill in San Francisco, but it’s unique in its winding paths, steep stairs, and dense greenery. When looking at the park from the outside, it’s impossible to see what lies beyond the trees. But trust me, what you’ll find is worth the walk to the top.
Walk off your lunch with some window shopping or actual shopping. Haight-Ashbury features a mix of thrift stores, costume stores, and boutiques. If you love digging through racks to find buried treasure, try Goodwill, Crossroads Trading, Buffalo Exchange, Held Over, Relic Vintage, or Wasteland. To step back into the past, check out Decades of Fashion, which carries vintage apparel from the mid-1800s to the late 1980s.
One last store worth calling out is Piedmont Boutique, simply for the prominent art piece that literally dangles out of its second-story window. The larger-than-life legs clad in fishnet stockings and red, sparkling heels was commissioned by the boutique to stand out and attract shoppers. Created by local artist Barry Forman, these legs are now a commonly recognized fixture of Haight Street.
If you find yourself fading at any point in the day, there are plenty of places in the Upper Haight for an afternoon pick-me-up. Swing by Coffee to the People, Ritual Coffee Roasters, or Central Haight Cafe for a satisfying caffeine fix.
Thanks to the Summer of Love, many famous musicians used to live on or around Haight Street. Grateful Dead fans should walk over to 710 Ashbury, where the band lived from 1966 to 1968. During that time, Janis Joplin lived at 122 Lyon Street, while Jimi Hendrix was at 1524A Haight Street.
Before you leave Haight-Ashbury, be sure to grab a drink. Hobson’s Choice specializes in rum from around the world and also serves up delicious punch bowls. For cocktail lovers, The Alembic is a cozy bar with comfy booths. And for something a bit more hole-in-the-wall, Zam Zam is a small Persian bar known for its martinis.
San Francisco’s Lower Haight: The underrated sister of the Upper Haight
As you walk down Haight Street, you’ll notice a distinct difference between the Upper Haight and the Lower Haight, also known as Haight-Fillmore. The vibrant and funky shops of Haight-Ashbury fade into Victorian houses, which then turns into the quieter, grittier streets of the Lower Haight. Once a high-crime, low-income neighborhood that was home to many African-Americans in the 1960s, the Lower Haight is now a mostly residential area with a few shops, restaurants, and bars.
There’s less to see and do in the Lower Haight, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit. The Lower Haight is home to the original location of Rosamunde Sausage Grill, which serves up what most consider to be the best sausages in San Francisco. Get your brat and pair it with a beer next door at Toronado. You can bring your own food in, so don’t be shy! But come prepared — Toronado only takes cash. In return, you get to pick from an extensive menu of over 45 beers on tap.
The Lower Haight is much less visited by tourists, which makes it a nice break from the busyness of the Upper Haight. If you’re seeking even more of an escape though, you can find some serenity at The Center SF. This collective offers yoga classes, hosts a variety of events, and houses a tea room. Nestle into their couches with a cup or pot of organic tea, or take your tea out to their back patio.
Afterward, walk by The Wiggle, which starts at the end of the Panhandle, by the intersection of Fell Street and Baker Street. It’s almost impossible to avoid hills as you explore San Francisco, as you’ve probably already experienced. For bikers, The Wiggle offers a relatively flat one-mile route that zigzags through the Lower Haight. You don’t have to be on bike to follow The Wiggle, though. Just look for The Wiggle signs that let you know when and where to turn to experience it on foot.
If you’re feeling thirsty, you’ve got a few choices for drinks. There are two main sports bars, Danny Coyle’s and Mad Dog in the Fog. If you’re a fan of Greyhounds, Danny Coyle’s serves it with fresh grapefruit juice, which truly makes all the difference. For something on the quirkier side, Noc Noc can’t be missed. There’s a reason it’s called “Lower Haight’s Most Unusual Bar.” Entering Noc Noc is like stepping into a dimly lit world of neon lights and psychedelic paintings. The drink selection is limited to beer, wine, and sake, but don’t Noc it until you try it (pun intended).
You might be thoroughly exhausted by now, but there’s one last thing you have to do. As if you haven’t spent enough time on your feet today, get ready to lace up some roller skates. If it’s Friday or Saturday, end your day at the Church of 8 Wheels. What started as Sunday roller skating in Golden Gate Park has turned into a “rolligious experience” in an old, abandoned church. Created by D. Miles Jr., also known as “The Godfather of Skate,” the Church of 8 Wheels is a party radiating good vibes and disco lights that you don’t want to miss.