San Francisco Walking Tour: Haight/Ashbury
Go beyond the city’s counter-culture past to explore this diverse neighborhood’s new haunts.
Although “The Haight” is best known for being the center of ‘60’s hippy culture, there’s more to the strip between Baker and Stanyan streets than just smoke and nostalgia shops. One look beyond the tie-dye reveals a host of neighborhood gems that reflect the diverse character of the people who actually live there. The area is home to San Francisco’s best music store, a number of excellent vintage shops, and bars ranging from dive to longwinded cocktail. It’s an interesting mix of grime and grandiose, with painted ladies, gutter punks, and sauntering tourists battling speedy locals for sidewalk space.
For Joe Swinney and Cheryl Cohen, the owners of the trendsetting Wasteland in Haight-Ashbury, fashion begins with the kids in the street. Wasteland takes these signals and rebroadcasts them with its own vivacious interpretation in modern, vintage, and designer styles. The formula was a hit, gaing the shop recognition is fashion magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Glamour. Items that can be found on the shop's racks include 50's cocktail dresses, classic 70’s rock t-shirts, 1930’s and '40s rayon floral dresses.
The Alembic Bar is renowned for mixologist Daniel Hyatt’s cocktail program, but executive chef Ted Fleury also delivers adventurous snacks like pickled quail eggs and jerk-spiced duck hearts. Main courses include hearty options like beef tongue sliders, lamb shoulder, and arctic char with vegetables. The marquee dessert is chocolate pudding made with Eagle Rare bourbon, topped with Graham cracker crumbs and almond mousse. The space stands out as especially polished in gritty Haight-Ashbury, with mustard-colored walls, wood accents, and a pressed tin ceiling.
Amoeba Music on Haight Street is a must for music lovers: 24,000 square feet packed with 2.5 million new and used CDs, DVDs, video games, and vinyls. This converted bowling alley houses every genre, from rock and jazz to hip-hop and Japanese pop to electronica and reggae, with an emphasis on the experimental. Collections include musicians such as Sun Ra, Zappa, Derek Bailey, and Merzbow. Amoeba also hosts artist's signings and live shows on the "psychedelic Victorian living room"—recent celebrity visitors have included Sonic Youth, Ozzy Osbourne, and Anthrax.
Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery
Beer lovers congregate at Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery in the Upper Haight neighborhood. Brewmaster-owner Dave McLean produces artisan ales in the seven-barrel brewery beneath the pub. His creations include Kalifornia Kölsch, and a variety of European beers are also available. This converted early 20th-century pharmacy has a dark wood interior and picture windows. Executive chef Matt Kerley prefers seasonal local, sustainable ingredients for his menu selections, which include beer bratwurst and the Magnolia pub burger.
Ice Cream Bar
This throwback ice cream shop and soda fountain offers both original Prohibition-era recipes and upgrades with old ingredients. “The World’s Best Pistachio Milkshake” with raw Sicilian pistachio syrup, pistachio ice cream, milk, and egg is an essential order—and best enjoyed without a straw.
The biggest and oldest (opened in 1978) of three linked Haight Street vintage shops, Held Over carries garments, hats, and shoes from the 40’s through the 90’s. The higher end boutique, La Rosa, which is just a few blocks west, covers turn of the century through the 40’s, and Haight Ashbury Vintage, located on the famous corner, deals older clothes with local bent.
Buena Vista Park
The heavily wooded, 36-acre hill makes for a quick quiet place just off the bustle of Haight Street. The interior paths of San Francisco’s first city park curl around the 589-foot incline toward an idyllic outlook typically just enjoyed by locals.
Pork Store Cafe
Locals have been standing in line for Pork Store’s delicious diner-style breakfasts since the 1970’s. The hash browns (the second most popular item that starts with “hash” in the neighborhood) and scrambles (both veggie and meat varieties) are well worth the wait.
When new owners took over this beloved independent bookstore in 2007, they added over 100 new events annually, launched a Berkeley-based lecture series, and designed a brighter and more pleasant place for books. A comic book artist (responsible for the wonderful illustrations the circle the store) and a New York Times bestselling author (often manning the register) are among the store’s many accomplished employees.