San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is steeped in history. Made famous by the hippie movement in the 1960s, Haight Ashbury was once the home to revolutionaries, famous singers (including the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin) and even cult leaders (eek). Influenced by The Beat Generation, a literary group defying the social norms of the ’50s, an influx of hippies flooded into the neighborhood in the ’60s. The colorful homes and cheap rent would attract young people from all over America, excited about counterculture ideals.
Today, the Haight-Ashbury District has become a very popular tourist destination, famed for its unique history, liveliness, and charm. You can still see a lot of those same colorful houses and buildings that attracted hippies decades ago! And of course, that hippie counterculture atmosphere still exists today.
Wondering what to do in this iconic San Francisco neighborhood? Read on to reveal the best things to do in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco.
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Best Things To Do In The Haight-Ashbury District
Take a walk down Haight Street
Haight Street has become a very popular tourist destination, famed for its unique boutiques and distinctive restaurants. It’s got all things vintage and retro–thrift stores, record stores, and bookstores, such as the world-famous Amoeba Records and bookworms’ favorite, Booksmith. Haight Ashbury is bursting with color as well, due to its many murals, galleries, and art spaces. If you’re looking for kitschy, The famous Haight Ashbury legs are above the shop called the Piedmont Boutique (1452 Haight St).
Shopping is one of the most popular things to do in the Haight-Ashbury District. All along Haight Street, you will find vintage clothing stores, costume shops, and music stores. There are also boutique shops and several specialty stores. All of them are on Haight Street, so they are easy to find. Some not-to-miss shops: Wasteland, an airy, clean shop (unlike many other vintage shops) with a great selection of unique old pieces as well as modern new styles.
Check out the architecture
The Haight-Ashbury is worth walking through even if you are not a fan of the neighborhood’s flower power vibes. Historically, the Haight is one of the few neighborhoods that was not devastatingly hit by the 1906 earthquake. As a result, it has the highest concentration of intact Victorian homes in the city, which makes it a great place to admire the architecture.
Back in the SF’s prime, Haight was home to many famous artists, meaning there are a lot of homes with grand significance here. Some notable houses to keep an eye out for: The Grateful Dead House, the Janis Joplin Home, the Painted Ladies, and the Charles Manson Home. If that’s not enough, a few additional ones include the Hunter S. Thompsons House, the Jefferson Airplane House, the Patty Hearst Hideout, the Hell’s Angels House, and the Sid Vicious Party House. Given the sheer amount of fame and fortune in this area, just imagine the life of the neighborhood back then! As mentioned before, you will find lots of colorful and ornate murals here as well, rivaling those found at the Mission District.
Hike to the top of Buena Vista Park
Situated at the edge of the Haight-Ashbury District, Buena Vista Park affords travelers and locals alike the opportunity to relax and soak in some nature. Albeit steep, this nature-abundant park has amazing views of San Francisco and the Bay at the top. Start up the stairs at the corner of Haight Street and Buena Vista Avenue. Take the trail all the way up until you reach the top. It typically takes about 25 to 40 minutes to reach the top and once you get there, your hard work will have paid off!
Have a picnic in the Panhandle
The grassy meadows in the Panhandle combined with the shady canopies from the eucalyptus trees make for an ideal picnic spot in the city. I am a sucker for urban parks, which makes it another one of my favorite spots in the Haight Ashbury. The Panhandle has paved walking paths and is accessible by Stanyan Street from the western end, and Masonic Avenue if you enter through the middle.
Take a tour through the Haight-Ashbury District
The tours of the Haight-Ashbury District often take you back to the Flower Power days of the 1960s. Not only do they provide you with details of its famous residents over the years, but they’ll also be doing all of this aboard a colorful, intimate 1970s Volkswagen bus. But it doesn’t stop there— they’ll take you to many other neighborhoods in SF as well. Here are the top tours in and through this SF neighborhood: San Francisco Love Tour and Painted Ladies San Francisco City Tour. These VW buses only seat 6-7 people—making them a super-fun and intimate San Francisco experience.
Haight Street Fair
If you’re lucky to be in San Francisco on the second Sunday of June and are interested in reliving the “Summer of Love” in the Haight, you absolutely must partake in the annual Haight-Ashbury Street Fair. Every June, a non-profit organization committed to preserving the district’s unique culture and history organizes the extravagant street fair. During the fair, the streets come alive with vendors of all sorts, multiple music stages, and people dancing everywhere. You can find food, drinks, and art around every corner. This community-driven cultural event is held on the second Sunday of June every year.
The Booksmith is an independent bookstore that actively contributes to Haight-Ashbury’s counterculture identity. Not only does it have a calm atmosphere and that San Francisco charm (perfect for a break from city exploration), it hosts non-profit events such as author readings and book exchanges. They have a great selection of books, including a good selection of eclectic options as well— perfect for browsing!
One of Haight-Ashbury’s most popular nighttime hangouts, Club Deluxe has built its reputation as an intimate yet lively jazz club that hosts consistently great musicians. There is live music seven days a week which is the biggest plus in my book. The club is conveniently located on Haight Street for anyone who is hoping to turn their San Francisco day trip into a night out. If you’re thinking about checking out Club Deluxe be prepared to dance for hours to groovy jazz and blues— I’ve never had a bad night here!
Cha Cha Cha
With “The Best Sangria in the World”, tapas-style food, and great music, Cha Cha Cha is a must-try. Your tastebuds will thank you once you taste the Caribbean inspired tapas you have ordered. If I could only recommend two things: the seafood paella and cajun shrimp. Overall, a festive, fun, and friendly spot in the neighborhood.
Amoeba Music is one of three stores owned by the independent music chain of the same name (located in Haight-Ashbury, Berkeley, and Hollywood). What makes the Haight-Ashbury location special is its massive size, which makes it a must-see for casual and diehard music fans alike. Each month, they offer several free shows at their Haight Street Store, so if you’re interested in catching new and even established artists, be sure to check their calendar online before you arrive.
The Alembic is a down to earth yet still intimate cocktail bar with American food fare. It’s a great place to grab a drink or two in the Haight—before, after, or even for dinner. From the drinks perspective, they have at least 100 different forms of bourbon and scotch, as well as creative seasonal cocktails. Must try food items: pickled deviled egg, duck hearts in skewers, bone marrow, pork belly.
Goorin Brothers Hat Shop
This shop is a paradise for every hat lover. If you know this store, you know that it’s probably the coolest shop on the block. The hats are ultra-chic and stylish, the products are of high quality, and the shop rocks a classic vintage vibe. While browsing, enjoy some complimentary popcorn made freshly in the old-school circus popcorn maker.
Looking for more of San Francisco?
- Check out this exciting, jam-packed half-day San Francisco City Tour
- CityPASS: Save 44% on San Francisco’s Muni and Cable Car rides plus admission to 4 best SF attractions
Where To Stay In The Haight-Ashbury District, San Francisco
Lodging within Haight-Ashbury itself is limited, but we like the following:
Stanyan Park Hotel – Located in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Stanyan Park Hotel is in the historical district and near a metro station. Stanyan Park Hotel is family-friendly and offers 36 accommodations with free self-serve breakfast and free WiFi in public areas.
Becks Motor Lodge – The stylish Becks Motor Lodge is in San Francisco’s Castro District neighborhood, an area with great shopping. Mission Dolores Park is about a 13-minute walk from here. All 58 rooms provide conveniences like refrigerators and coffee makers, plus free WiFi and flat-screen TVs with cable channels. Best of all, there is FREE parking–a rarity in San Francisco! (Check with the hotel, as parking is limited)
Staying in SF-proper is definitely not cheap. If you don’t mind taking public transportation, consider staying in South San Francisco, Daly City, or even Millbrae (you’ll be close to the SFO airport). Hotels here are so much cheaper than staying within San Franscisco.
Check pricing and availability on other San Francisco hotels here on Expedia.
Best Time To Visit San Francisco, California
In our humble opinion, the best time to visit San Francisco is from September to November. Unlike many other places in the US, the fall season offers some of the city’s warmest and most pleasant temperatures. Unless there’s a massive heatwave in effect, summer temps usually hover in the 60’s and 70’s. The other benefit of traveling during these months is that there will be fewer crowds than in the summertime.
Spring is another good time to visit thanks to its mild temperatures and lack of rain. Summers are great too, but just expect higher than average tourism as most travelers tend to seek out sunny weather activities in the city.
If you’re just looking to avoid rain, any time from April to November is good.
Regardless of when you choose to visit San Francisco, be sure to bring plenty of layers. Similar to other California coastal cities/towns, the weather here can be so unpredictable (one minute brisk and foggy, the next minute warm and sunny). Below is a photo of a chilly, brisk, and foggy afternoon in mid-July!
Essential Travel Tips For San Francisco, California
- If you’re driving into the city from elsewhere, be prepared for the horrendous Bay Area traffic, especially on weekdays during the morning and afternoon rush hours. The same goes for driving out of the city! Hopping onto the bridge to leave San Francisco could take almost an hour during rush hour. Plan your drives accordingly to avoid traffic.
- Do not rent a car if you’re primarily going to stay in SF. Traffic sucks and parking is an expensive nightmare. What’s worse is that if you do rent a car, many hotels charge $35+ for overnight parking. If you’re considering street parking as an alternative, good luck because most hotels are located in metered street parking areas. San Francisco is relatively small, so most tourist attractions are close to each other and public transportation options are plentiful.
- 511.org is a great resource that will provide you with detailed SF and Bay Area transportation information. Available both as an app and on the web, it should be your go-to resource for Bay Area traffic, transit, carpool, vanpool, and bicycling information. Since it’s catered towards commuters, it’s more comprehensive than Google Maps.
- Dress in layers. Even in the summer, mornings and evenings in San Francisco can be cool and chilly due to the coastal climate. Packing layers when you head out to explore will help you stay prepared for any kind of weather. Of my 20+ years of living in the Bay Area, I have never gone to SF without bringing a jacket with me.
- Wear extremely comfortable walking shoes. Even though public transportation is plentiful, San Francisco is a very walkable city and you’re going to be doing some hill climbing while you’re at it.
- Expect fog and wind while in San Francisco, and bring layers so that when it rolls in, you’re prepared! Sure there are clear, sunny days, but that’s more common in the summer and early fall.