San Francisco Guide

Fifty years ago, the Summer of Love gave birth to the hippy movement, a combination of peace, love, glamour and utopianism. To celebrate this, and Thomas Cook Airlines’ new flights to San Francisco, we’ve compiled a list of the best boho things in the city. Just be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…

San Francisco Travel Guide

San Francisco Travel Guide

San Francisco: The Story

In 1967, thousands of young people descended upon San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury area dressed in bell bottoms and psychedelic clothing for the Summer of Love, a spirited festival that created a phenomenon of cultural and political rebellion – and forever changed this city by the bay. The event put San Francisco on the map and, although it has changed in recent years with the influx of tech workers, today its free-thinking roots remain. This summer is the perfect time to visit. Scattered around the Bay Area, you’ll find all kinds of experimental galleries, vintage shops, unusual bars and creative restaurants, and this June there’s a festival in Haight-Ashbury to celebrate the summer’s 50th anniversary ( So grab a handful of flowers, and revisit some of the best hippy haunts from the 1960s/70s, plus some new places embodying the sentiments of that heady era…

The record Stores

  • Amoeba: Amoeba Haight-Ashbury claims to be the world’s largest indie music store, boasting thousands of records, gigs by upcoming bands and a Grateful Dead tribute.
  • Rasputin Records: With seven stores in the Bay Area, Rasputin’s motto is “Keep’n the Bay Area bump’n since 1971”. The one on Haight Street has five floors of records and lots of memorabilia to peruse.
  • Recycled Records: Selling second-hand vinyl, Recycled Records opened in North Beach in 1977, but the Haight- Ashbury store is where collectors come to get their hands on the real gems.

The enterprising vegan restaurant

Only a year old, the 100 per cent plant-based Nourish Cafe is a welcome addition to the Richmond District. With a vegan menu of fruit and vegetable dishes, and smoothies made with almond milk, it’s one of the best healthy-eating places in town. “You can go anywhere in the city and get vegan options, but there are only three or four truly vegan restaurants in the city,” says brilliantly named owner Sarah Bacon, who’s helped to remove the stigma attached to vegetarian and vegan food, not to mention the hackneyed practice of using cardboard-like fake meat as a substitute. “For us it’s about using clean ingredients that also have a really good taste,” she says. “We want to make you healthier and feel amazing.” Set in a former antique store with high ceilings and plenty of character, the cafe serves locally sourced organic produce and fair-trade ingredients, with the condiments made in-house. “We’re trying to present the food for what it is,” Sarah explains. “Everything is delicious, and it’s approachable for people who eat all kinds of cuisines – we don’t just get vegans in here!”

San Francisco

San Francisco – The Story

The workshop: Shibori tie-dye

In the 1960s the hippies began to adopt Indian, Japanese and African tie-dying techniques as a way of expressing their free-spirited natures, and the style became synonymous with psychedelic music and the peace movement in general. Cheap, imaginative and easy to learn, the technique is still very much alive today at the Shibori tie-dye workshops run by clothing designer and San Fran native Elizabeth Mikutowicz, who has the technique down to a fine art. Those wishing to give it a try can join her fun three- hour class, costing £60.

San Francisco: The best beach

At the edge of the city is Ocean Beach (20 minutes from Haight Street), which has long been a surfing centre, and gets packed during the summer. It’s the perfect place to rent a board and try the ultimate hippy sport, or simply don your finest flares and kick back with a bongo session.

San Francisco: The View

To see San Francisco at its very best, head up to Twin Peaks (280m), the two hills located at the geographical heart of the city. It’s the only place where you can get 360° views of San Fran itself, and they stretch all the way to Richmond and San Mateo on a good day. The best time to visit is at dusk for a spectacular sunset. Sunrise is also beautiful, but the city tends to be shrouded in a haze of fog in the mornings. That said, the weather here changes quickly, so make sure to take lots of layers and wear sturdy boots.

The tour

Cruise through the city in a vintage VW van, taking in icons such as the Golden Gate Bridge, plus heaps of 1960s countercultural sites. At night you can drink beer or wine as you’re driven around in a fairy-lit vehicle. Your guide will play tracks relevant to each neighbourhood, such as San Francisco by Scott McKenzie, Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers, or (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding, which was inspired by a trip to the waterside. Choose from three 1970s transporter vans – a blue one named Harvey (after gay-rights activist Harvey Milk), a red one named Lilly (after a Grateful Dead fan, who used this exact vehicle to follow the band) and a yellow one named Jerry (after the Dead’s Jerry Garcia) – while picking up local tips, from the best restaurants to the craziest SF facts, along the way. Did you know, for example, there are more dogs in the city than kids? You do now.

San Francisco - The View

San Francisco – The View

The live music venues

  • Hemlock Tavern: This unpretentious micro-venue has hosted 12,000 bands over the past 13 years. The intimate gigs hold around 100 people, and usually include under-the-radar rock, psychedelic and indie bands, plus occasional big acts such as Animal Collective.
  • Bottom of the Hill: Rolling Stone magazine once said that this was “the best place to hear live music in San Francisco”. The bookers have a knack for picking alternative bands about to hit the big time, and previous successes include Green Day, The Strokes, The White Stripes and Oasis.
  • Thee Parkside: A self-proclaimed “urban roadhouse, with a little bit of country and a whole lot of rock’n’roll!”. Visitors will find plenty of experimental music on the roster, plus the venue has a decent kitchen making Vietnamese banh mi and Cuban sandwiches, and a backyard for the summer months.

The boho fashion designer: Sunshine Powers

There’s been a psychedelic clothing shop on the corner of Haight Street and Masonic for 30 years, an iconic spot for its newest owner, Sunshine Powers. “It’s where I met my first boyfriend,” says the glitter-clad designer, “where I used to skip school to hang out, where I got my first Grateful Dead ticket, and where I mourned the loss of Jerry Garcia.” Wandering into Jammin On Haight, one of four artisan shops left on Haight Street, is an explosion of colour, with thousands of tie-dyed garments, made in-house, lining the racks. “We made it our mission to revitalise the street and bring forth the colour, creativity and consciousness that it’s known for,” says Sunshine. “Part of that is wearing stuff that’s made locally, part of it is by wearing art that makes people smile. Whether tie-dye, rainbows or sparkles, good- feeling clothes are not just for the person wearing them.” Sunshine has another Haight Street store, Little Wing, where she sells her own creations, and she believes that rainbow fashion is just one more outlet for the wider message that the community represents: “It’s our duty as members of this historic community to create more change and create more social revolution.”

The Hippy Sites

  • Hippie Hill: On a sunny day in SF, Hippie Hill can take you right back to the 1960s. The Summer of Love saw 100,000 people show up at this grassy knoll in Golden Gate Park to watch Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and George Harrison perform for free. Today, it’s still full of colourful characters: from drum circles and hula hoopers to acoustic guitarists and chanting Hare Krishnas.
  • The Grateful Dead house: Jerry Garcia and his bandmates moved into 710 Ashbury Street in 1966, after their managers set up office in the building. It was here, at a press conference, they claimed that if everyone smoking marijuana were arrested, San Francisco would be empty. Number 715 Ashbury is equally as significant – the Hells Angels took up residence here throughout the 1960s.
  • Haight-Ashbury: This boho neighbourhood has calmed down and grown up a little since its early days. There aren’t quite as many outsider artists and psychedelic explorers living around here anymore, but the area still sticks to its roots. Quirky shops, cafes and bars line the streets, and it’s a great spot to soak up the history – and, more importantly, feel – of the hippy movement.

Golden Gate Bridge: The Icon

It’s hardly a symbol of San Francisco’s hippy heyday, but no trip to the city would be complete without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. Built 80 years ago this summer, this scarlet-red bridge is a marvel of 20th-century engineering and one of the most striking structures in the world. Due to the area’s violent winds, swirling currents and thick fog, it was known as the “Bridge That Couldn’t Be Built”, but in 1937 chief engineer Joseph Strauss proved the naysayers wrong. Construction started in 1933, and four years and 70,000 tons of steel later the bridge was complete. Today, it’s the eighth most popular attraction in North America, and one of the most Instagrammed spots in the world!

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

The vegan food trend

  • Avocado beetroot burger: Fast food has come a long way since the 1960s; now you can get a 100 per cent plant-based meal in minutes. VeganBurg’s avocado beetroot burger is a winner, served in a wheat bun with creole tomato. Order some handmade spinach pops instead of fries.
  • Filled pupusas: One of the best veggie joints in town, Greens Restaurant has served locally sourced food for 35 years. Luscious dishes include pupusas (tortillas) filled with squash, chillies, smoked cheddar and tomato, and with Golden Gate views, the setting is as good as the food.
  • Nourish bowl: After 12 months, Nourish Cafe is going strong, serving fresh, raw and comforting foods such as acai bowls, and inventive toast selections such as herb and ricotta or hummus with tomato and basil. Our favourite is the Nourish bowl, a heaped salad of quinoa, yam, avocado, sprouts, hummus, sauerkraut and “tuna”.

The Bookshop

One of the main hangouts for beatniks – the “beaten down” or “downtrodden generation” of the 1950s/60s that influenced hippy culture – City Lights Bookstore was where famous writers and poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, could be seen talking, drinking and writing. Its shelves are still stuffed with right-on works.

The musician: Nash Whalen

“Lots of people still enjoy psychedelic music, it didn’t end in the 1960s,” says Nash (far right), the keyboardist of Wooden Shjips. “We play rock’n’roll, but were definitely inspired by the Velvet Underground.” Live, Wooden Shjips’ rhythm section keeps the groove while the guitars and keyboards do their thing. “In a lot of ways we’re trying to create a feeling at that very moment,” explains Nash. “There’s something challenging about psychedelic music, but it’s also really easy. We play a minimal style of music, we’re not trying to play too many notes.” San Francisco is the capital of kaleidoscopic sounds, but it’s also a great music city in general. “Everyone wants to come and play here,” says Nash. “Any band you like will tour here, and you’ll be able to see them live. While venues like The Fillmore may not be the same as in the 1960s, the name has carried on. San Francisco is in the consciousness of people and musicians around the world.”

The numbers

  • 31.5: Everyone thinks Lombard Street is the steepest in the city, but Filbert Street actually takes the crown, at 31.5°.
  • 1867: This year saw one of the weirdest ever laws: an “ugly law” which prohibited unattractive people from going out in public.
  • Fifty: San Francisco is built on more than 50 hills!
  • 100,000: The number of people living in Chinatown, the second largest Chinatown outside of Asia.
  • 7×7: San Francisco is only seven by seven miles in area.
  • Three: It took just three years to build the Bay Bridge, from San Francisco to Oakland.
  • 3,500: Hungry? There are more than 3,500 restaurants in the city.
  • Thirty eight: The number of painters working full-time to stop the Golden Gate Bridge from rusting.

The Yoga Class

Pay what you can drop-in yoga classes take place at the Yoga to the People studio (2973 16th St) every day. Choose from a power vinyasa flow class, concentrating on the balance between effort, awareness and breath, or a hot yoga class in a room heated to 40°C. Yoga benefits your balance and energy levels, while increasing your strength and circulation.

Alcatraz: The Island

Just 2.5km from Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, the world’s most notorious high-security prison, closed as a penitentiary in 1963. Today it’s one of San Francisco’s biggest attractions (book tickets at least a week in advance, from £27), offering a fascinating insight into what life was like on this cold, fog-shrouded island for inmates such as Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Visits include a tour of the cell house, where you can see where the prisoners were incarcerated. Although the last inmates were transferred off the island in 1963, the main prison block, with its steel bars, claustrophobic cells, mess hall, library and “dark holes”, where criminals languished in inky blackness, is still structurally intact.


The Hotels

  • Affordable: Hotel Triton. More like staying in the apartment of your hipster mate than a hotel, this funky little budget option boasts a relaxed vibe, quirky interior design and a great central location next to Chinatown, and near Union Square. Café de la Presse next door does decent French food. Book at here.
  • Mid-range: Hilton Financial Centre. In the heart of Chinatown, this smart hotel offers reasonably priced rooms with great views over the Bay. Guests are only five minutes from tasty dumplings (try the House of Xian Dumpling) or beatnik bars such Vesuvio or Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe, which inspired a generation.
  • Luxury: Hyatt Regency. Conveniently situated at the bottom of Market Street and the Embarcadero, this strikingly designed, futuristic-looking hotel is like something you might find in Blade Runner. Its extraordinary lobby was named the largest by Guinness World Records in 2012.

Words: Jade Bremner.

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