If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, because celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love are in full swing.
In 1967, 100,000 free-spirited young people made a pilgrimage which changed the course of history for San Francisco. Activists and dreamers descended upon Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury district, influenced by the Beat Generation to protest against the issues of the time with a hippie movement of music, psychedelic drugs and free love.
Fifty years later, the sixties live on in Haight-Ashbury. Aromas of incense hang heavy in the air, technicolour tie-dye stores still sell their psychedelia and the record shops still read the religion of rock ‘n’ roll. The neighbourhood is rejuvenated and ready to relive its golden years.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, we’ve compiled a list of 50 things to do in the city by the Bay. Tuck a flower in your hair and join us.
- See the Summer of Love through Jim Marshall’s eyes
The ‘Jim Marshall 1967’ exhibit shares 80 of the thousands of photographs the internationally renowned and Grammy Award-winning music photographer took throughout the year of 1967. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Hell’s Angels all feature in the exhibition at San Francisco City Hall.
- Visit the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park
The Human Be-In saw the Polo Fields filled with over 20,000 free-spirits and ultimately led to San Francisco’s Summer of Love. Play some Jimi Hendrix through your headphones, grab an ice-cream from the van and experience the location for yourself.
- Spend the night at Alcatraz
The Alcatraz shared by Al Capone and co is best discovered on an evening tour. The menacing federal penitentiary is even more haunting after dark, when the cells are eerie and the city lights serve as a reminder of how close, yet how far, civilisation was for those imprisoned on the island.
- See life through a lens at the Camera Obscura
The blue and white exterior of the Camera Obscura hints at its past as part of the 1950’s Playland At The Beach. The theme park is long gone but the giant pinhole camera remains, projecting 360-degree views of scenic Seal Rock onto a circular focusing table within.
- Visit the bigger and better San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
After a three-year closure, the San Francisco MOMA is back bigger and better than ever. Now larger than its New York counterpart, the museum is three times its previous size, with thousands of new pieces spread across its ten floors.
- Tuck into a cruffin at Mr Holmes Bakehouse
Ladies and gentlemen, meet baking’s newest hybrid. The cruffin is part croissant, part muffin, filled with sweet cream in flavours that change daily. The cruffins sell like hot cakes, so get there early if you’re keen to sample one. The neon ‘I got baked in San Francisco’ sign has become something of an Instagram icon, so grab a snap while you are there.
- Catch a gig at The Fillmore
If you’re in San Francisco for a night or two, head to The Fillmore. The iconic music venue launched the careers of many of those who would go on to strum and sing their way through the Summer of Love, including The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. Nowadays, the atmosphere is just as cool as it was back when The Who and Otis Redding took to the stage, with a different band playing most nights.
- Catch a ballgame at AT&T Park
Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, an afternoon at AT&T Park, the home of the Giants, is a great day out. The MLB ballpark will be hosting special Summer of Love themed events throughout 2017; visit their website for more information.
- Sample the best ice-cream sandwich you’ll ever have
CREAM stands for ‘Cookies Rule Everything Around Me’ and that may just become your new motto, once you’ve tasted the ice cream sandwiches made with freshly-baked cookies at this Bay Area parlour.
- Coast the concrete slides at Seward Park
These two steep slides aren’t for the faint-hearted but we promise they’ll put a smile on your face before you reach the bottom.
- Wake up and smell the roses at the Observatory of Flowers
This Victorian greenhouse is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere and is filled to bursting with countless flora species. Eat a picnic on the manicured lawn before heading inside.
- Browse designer vintage on Haight Street
Vintage shopping in San Francisco is some of the best in America and designer labels come with tiny price tags at Haight Street’s vintage stores. Buffalo Exchange, Wasteland and Relic are some of the best for bargains.
- See the sea lions at Pier 39
Their manners may leave much to be desired but watching the sea lions of Pier 39 belch their way through the morning is highly entertaining at any age. They’ve been here like clockwork since 1990, hanging around between January and July.
- Buy vinyl at Amoeba Music
This one-time bowling alley is now an enormous vinyl record store and something of a Haight Street icon. Time your visit just right and you’ll stumble across one of the live bands known to set up shop in the corner for an impromptu performance.
- Visit Buena Vista Park
The oldest public park in San Francisco is unlike others in the city, in that it sits high atop a hill. Its location promises great views across the city, provided the fog hasn’t rolled into town.
- Delve into San Francisco’s dark side
Assassinations, death, murder, ghosts and cults all get a mention on Wild SF Walking Tours’ ‘The Haunted SF Tour’ which takes you downtown and into the once-gritty Tenderloin district. wildsftours.com
- Race to the top of the Coit Tower
It may be little to look at but the Coit Tower gives good views from atop Telegraph Hill. See the San Francisco of the 1930s recreated on the tower’s frescoes, before taking the lift to the top. Keep your eyes peeled for the local flock of wild parrots, too.
- Celebrate the Year of the Rooster in Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia and the oldest in the US. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory welcomes visitors into its cookie-scented walls to see how the insightful snacks have been made by hand since 1962.
- Feel the sand between your toes at Ocean Beach
This beach on San Francisco’s west coast is where the locals head for scenery and solitude. The 3-mile stretch of sand is often almost silent, aside from the crashing surf and seagull squawks.
- Be yourself at the Beat Museum
The writers and artists of the Beat Generation were one of the major influences behind the Human Be-In that sparked the Summer of Love. The Beat Museum exhibits memorabilia celebrating the creatives who influenced a generation.
- Pay a visit to the Painted Ladies
The seven ‘Painted Ladies’ of Steiner Street, across the road from Alamo Park, are the city’s most photographed buildings by far. For full effect, photograph the elaborate Victorian houses against the skyscraper backdrop of the city at dusk.
- Do brunch at the glitzy Palace Hotel
Established in 1875, The Palace Hotel was the first luxury hotel in the city and the largest in the world. Nowadays, it is famous for its award-winning Sunday Brunch.
- Brave a tandem hang glide
If you prefer excursions with a side of adrenaline, strap in for a tandem hang glide with East Bay Hang Gliding. You’ll see the city from 2,200ft up, a GoPro providing video footage, just in case you daren’t open your eyes. eastbayhanggliding.com
- Play the professor at the Exploratorium
The hands-on exhibits here are designed to educate and entertain, with scientific experiments to keep the whole family interested.
- Eat clam chowder from a sourdough bowl at Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is the tourist hub of San Francisco, but even the locals can’t resist a wander down these busy parts for a sourdough bowl filled to the brim with creamy clam chowder.
- Ride the Magic Bus
This groovy bus isn’t your usual tour bus, its ‘hippie hostesses’ telling the tale of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll during the Swinging Sixties, complete with light shows and 3D glasses. magicbussf.com
- See the city from the water
Despite what those in Alcatraz thought, San Francisco is really rather safe. Take to the waters in a hired canoe, kayak or paddle board from City Kayak located on Pier 40. citykayak.com
- Negotiate the hairpin bends of Lombard Street
Hiking the eight snaking bends of this tourist favourite is part walk, part workout. One to ease your conscience post-Fisherman’s Wharf binge, perhaps.
- Walk among the redwoods of Muir Woods
Located 11 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods and its walking trails put you at the foot of 250ft tall, 1200-year-old redwood trees.
- Drink cocktails in a rain shower at the Tonga Rooms
In 1945, Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s top set director transformed the Fairmont Hotel’s pool into the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar. With cocktails, Asian food, live music and an hourly indoor rain shower over the pool, the venue is a must-visit.
- Whale watch around the Farallon Islands
Head out into the Pacific Ocean in search of blue, humpback and grey whales around the protected Farallon Islands. Dolphins, sharks and sea birds make regular appearances too.
- Stroll the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair
The Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood swells during the second weekend of June each year, with local artists, musicians and street food vendors attracting a crowd with their live music and exhibitions.
- Cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge
Cycle hire is available everywhere on Fisherman’s Wharf and heading across the Golden Gate Bridge on two wheels is a rite of passage for any San Francisco visitor.
- See the houseboats of Sausalito
Continue across the Golden Gate Bridge into the seaside town of Sausalito. Enjoy lunch on the harbour and check out the houseboats moored along the bay, including one designed to replicate the Taj Mahal.
- Indulge your sweet tooth at Ghirardelli Square
The fact that the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company is the oldest chocolate manufacturer in America feels kind of irrelevant. All you’ll really care about is how good the hot fudge sundae tastes.
- Get lost in Yosemite National Park
If you have two or three days to fill, head out of the city on an excursion to Yosemite National Park, famous for its huge granite cliffs, gigantic sequoias and plummeting waterfalls. Of the twenty tallest waterfalls in the world, three of them are found here.
- Rest your legs and take the cable car
Cable cars have worked San Francisco’s hills since 1873. Today they save the tired legs of tourists and locals alike and yes, they really do hang from the handrails like in the movies. The Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde routes are the most iconic, both of which depart from the Powell/Market turntable.
- Eat fresh at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market
If you love New York’s Chelsea Market, you’ll love this. The once derelict Ferry Building has been transformed into one of the best farmer’s markets in America, with artisanal produce, locally-produced crafts and hot food vendors bringing in a crowd every Saturday.
- Pay your respects to The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead moved out of Haight-Ashbury when the Summer of Love dissipated, but rock fans continue to flock to their one-time home, 710 Ashbury Street.
- Take a walk on the Wild Side
Wild SF Walking Tours’ ‘Free Love Free Tour’ is based upon the music of 1967, with stops including the Grateful Dead house, Janis Joplin’s pastel pink abode and Panhandle Park, where tie-dye bedecked hippies congregated that summer.
- Shop designer steals at Nordstrom Rack
If designer fashion is your thing, Nordstrom Rack is your place. This offshoot of the popular American Nordstrom department store sells last season’s stock at insanely low prices. $18 Levi’s, anyone?
- Unleash your inner geek at Silicon Valley
‘Tech tourism’ is a term coined for those who make the pilgrimage to Silicon Valley, home to innovators including Google, Facebook, Apple and the like. Take a tour of the campuses making history.
- Rock out at PIER 39
Pier 39 is one of the city’s biggest attractions, thanks to its combination of waterfront dining, shopping, amusements and live music. As part of the planned Summer of Love celebrations, Pier 39’s Hard Rock Café will showcase guitars, photographs and framed concert fliers donated by the bands who played.
- Exercise hat appreciation at Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi in North Beach hosts Beach Blanket Babylon, the world’s longest running musical revue. Pop-culture characters such as Donald Trump, Oprah and Kanye West are spoofed in this hilarious stage show.
- Get tipsy at Napa Valley
Head into scenic Napa Valley, just 50 miles outside of San Francisco, where you’ll find some of the world’s best wine growers in stunning surroundings.
- Relive your childhood at the Walt Disney Family Museum
Located in Presidio National Park, this family-friendly museum shares the life story of Walt Disney, the man behind America’s most famous mouse.
- Listen for the drumming on Hippie Hill
There’s still an air of free-spirited ambience to Hippie Hill and the drumming circles of the 60s remain a regular occurrence. Pack a picnic, pick a patch of grass and people watch to the sound of drums.
- Taste the Orient at the Japanese Tea House
- Take a detour with a Summer of Love activist
Peter Coyote was one of the starry-eyed dreamers who headed to Haight-Ashbury in 1967. Now, he voices a GPS audio tour around the neighbourhood, sharing his own insights into life during one of San Francisco’s most exciting years. detour.com
- Go back to where it all began
The official Summer of Love 50th Anniversary Concert will take place on the 4th June 2017, back where it all began at Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park. Twenty-one bands will join 32 guest speakers for the event, including Tibetan Monks and Native American Indians.
If you’d like to combine a San Francisco pre or post stay with a cruise holiday take a look at Bolsover Cruise Club’s Cruise & Stay Holidays & Packages page.