Posts Tagged ‘Haight’

What better antidote – not that one was needed – to a day spent in hippie heaven than a morning in San Francisco’s Union Square. Now I’ll confess that it is one of my least favoured parts of the city, even more so since the demise of the large branch of Border’s Books, only to be replaced by the Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW) store (which my wife, by the way, adores).

But, in the right light, and provided you don’t actually have to go into any of the designer stores, I can endure, if not quite enjoy, a couple of hours there.


I stepped across the threshold of Macy’s for only the second time, and even then only to take the escalator to the eighth floor to experience the outstanding views of the entire square from the outside seating area attached to The Cheesecake Factory.


The predominance of grey and supporting cast of green contrast dramatically with the garish hues on display on Haight Street less than 24 hours before, but the austere layout, especially of the the Kremlin-esque Westin St Francis Hotel (below), whilst not conforming to “my” idea of San Francisco, is not disagreeable when the sun co-operates.


We could almost have been in any European city as we sat outside the Emporio Rulli café on the Stockton Street side, though the huge Macy’s frontage soon disabused me of that fantasy.


Fortified by her latté fix, Janet was ready to take on DSW whilst I sought photo opportunities that had escaped me before (just how many pictures of cable cars cruising down Nob Hill can one man take?). Hearts, beefeaters and Betty Boop provided satisfying alternative subjects – but no, I couldn’t resist the full to bursting cable cars as they stopped in front of me almost pleading to be photographed.


Janet’s re-emergence from DSW was uneventful – apparently this was merely a reconnaisance trip – and we settled for lunch and more people watching in the Bancarella café on the Powell and Geary corner of the square.


Union Square still doesn’t figure in my top 20 San Francisco locations but I learnt to appreciate, if not love, it a little more after this visit.

I might even summon up the courage to shop in Macy’s before this vacation is over.


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Nearly half a century after a procession along the same street proclaimed its demise, I can confirm that reports of the death of the hippie have been greatly exaggerated, at least if events at yesterday’s 36th annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair were anything to go by.

Baby boomers in tie-dye mingled contentedly with Mission families, young Goths and not a few bewildered tourists to create a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere along half a dozen blocks crammed with stalls selling the usual hippie fare – clothing, bags and jewelry, peace badges, organic juice and vegetarian burritos. Music from every era since the Haight’s “heady” days of the sixties spilled out from retail and residential properties alike.


The street was closed to traffic from Masonic to Stanyan to make way for stages from which a succession of bands played throughout the afternoon.

Our day had begun with a J Church MUNI ride to the intersection with Duboce, from where we cut through the doggie paradise that is Duboce Park before taking the short hike up from the Lower Haight.


Fortified with ferocious coffees from the People’s Café adjacent to the Masonic stage, we ambled up and down the street for the next few hours, stopping at either end to enjoy the non-stop live music.

Cannabis and BBQ fumes combined to assail the senses, though we managed to resist the giant Polish sausages, grilled chicken and corn that screamed “eat me” every few yards. We finally succumbed, however, to the deep fried Eastern European Jewish inspired potato and spinach knishs – classic, delicious street food.

For refreshment, we escaped to the chilled haven that is Café Cole for apple and carrot and orange juices. And later in the afternoon we dove into Happy Donuts for a coffee and apple turnover – well, it was one of the few places where we could get a seat!   


I began this piece by declaring that the hippie was still alive and there was plenty of evidence on show that the fashion and values of its “Haightday”, endured.




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACredit for the wholly unthreatening atmosphere must go in part to the not inconsiderable but, nonetheless, unobtrusive police and festival security presence. The SFPD even manned its own stall at which were sold baseball caps and other merchandise. The only occasion we observed them being called into action was when they calmly confiscated a bottle of beer masquerading as a brown paper bag.

The absence of alcohol contributed to the lack of aggression. There were, inevitably, some characters under the influence of drugs – after all, this was probably, notwithstanding the security operation, the best day of the year for panhandling – but they posed no threat to others’ enjoyment. And yes, I was asked at one point whether I needed any “good dope or LSD”! 


The bands were uniformly excellent and enthusiastically received. Baby and the Luvies (above), winners of the Battle of the Bands competition that had predated the fair, rocked the Stanyan stage, but it was, understandably, the headline act, San Francisco based Pamela Parker (below) and her band who really got the crowd going.


The only disappointing aspect of the day was the weather. Sunny intervals had been forecast for the afternoon, but the entire event took place under grey skies and in a fine mizzle. But it did nothing to lessen people’s spirits.

It seems any day we are in San Francisco, we are touched by the Giants, even when we had not intended to be. Resolving to warm up with a hot chocolate on our return to the apartment we stopped at the Squat and Gobble on Fillmore just as Sergio Romo was closing out a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix to win the series.

Icing on the funnel cake!

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We had planned to take the advice of the Small Faces today and spend a “lazy Sunday afternoon” in the neighbourhood.  The only thing we really had to do was some food shopping for the next few days.  Otherwise, we would take it easy, have a traditional English roast dinner in the apartment and then settle down for the latest instalment of Celebrity Apprentice on NBC later in the evening.  And, of course, there was the blog to write.

A slow morning began with my following my soccer team, Gillingham, on live text commentary on the internet as they attempted to enhance their promotion aspirations at Cheltenham.  The 3pm kick off time back home meant that, with the additional hour from last night’s change to British Summer Time, that we were now 8 hours behind.  Last night’s excesses prevented me from making the start at 7am, but I was ready an hour later to follow the second half (in bed with the laptop!).  Gillingham had gone a goal down in the third minute, and that remained the likely outcome until four minutes before the end when they equalised.  Even more remarkably, they scored again in the very last minute to secure a 2-1 win, a great start to the day.

After a leisurely breakfast in the apartment we wandered down to Grove and Divisadero to look at the Farmer’s Market.  As we were planning to stay out for some time, doing our shopping at the Lucky supermarket on our way back to the house, we decided not to purchase anything at this stage.

I thought I had struck lucky when, as we sauntered along Divisadero to the intersection with Haight, a gorgeous young woman (ok, a sixty something harridan) rushed up to me to say how lovely my red hair was (yes, I do have  some red colour in the naturally dark brown)!  Taken aback by the complement I should have realised that this was the opening gambit to ask for money (our first beggar of the day).  I advised her – mistakenly – that we hadn’t any cash at present and were actually on our way to an ATM, at which she reeled off the locations of all those in the immediate vicinity!  Fortunately, she found someone more obliging and we managed to lose her by Page.  

Turning up Haight we walked through Buena Vista Park with its fine views of the city  and back onto the main street in the area.  I have been disappointed with Haight-Ashbury on our last few visits, particularly those shops, for example Positively Haight Street and Haight-Ashbury T-Shirts, which focused primarily on retro sixties hippie culture.  They seemed to have moved away from that era somewhat, providing more of a balance between freak and mainstream clothing and accessories.  Indeed, today I felt that they had undergone a makeover even since this time last year  – perhaps they were just cleaner and tidier now, which, in a sense, is out of keeping with the original design.

That aside, what struck me today was how many shops, including new ones, were open, and seemingly thriving. Since the onset of the recession it has been difficult to walk down any street in any town or city in either the UK or US without seeing a significant number of boarded up shops.  This was frankly surprisngly not the case today on Haight Street, where I counted only two closed retail outletsYes, many had sales and there were the customary groups of residual “heads” hanging out on the sidewalks. It may have been the early spring sunshine and the fact that it was Sunday, but there seemed to be a renewed energy and optimism that I hadn’t witnessed in recent years and which was, especially, for this ageing hippie, very heartening.

The fact that Janet and I spent longer – around three hours – on the street today than we have for many years seemed to reinforce this feeling.  I had seen some baseball fans during the 2010 postseason wearing Giants t-shirts with the Grateful Dead “steal your face” logo on, so was pleased to pick up one today.  I managed also, seven years after first having the band recommended to me by a photographer on the slopes of Heavenly ski resort, to purchase a couple of live albums by String Cheese Incident at Ameoba Records. 

Lunch was taken at the Blue Front Cafe, a middle eastern eatery serving up wholesome and tasty wraps, bagels etc. and strong coffee, and the warm afternoon sunshine later persuaded us to succumb to the ultimate modern day Haight-Ashbury tourist activity of indulging in a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at the famous street intersection.  I also made a fellow Englishman’s day by taking a photograph with his own camera of him posing outside 710 Ashbury, the fabled early home of the Grateful Dead.

Our extended and enjoyable sojourn in the Haight delayed our planned shopping expedition to the Lucky supermarket just 100 yards from our apartment.  After several sun-kissed hours wallowing in sixties West Coast nostalgia, we turned our San Francisco home into an English enclave by having our customary Sunday dinner of roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots, peas, chicken stuffing, apple sauce and chicken gravy, washed down, of course, with a Californian sauvignon blanc.

The lazy Sunday theme was restored with a night spent watching America’s Next Great Restaurant (I don’t think so!) and Celebrity Apprentice (Dionne Warwick is still a “heartbreaker”!) on TV.

All in all, a lovely San Francisco Sunday with an English twist.

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In my recent post California Dreamin’……and of Nevada too, I promised, or rather threatened, to burden you with my plans for the San Francisco leg of our upcoming trip.

We have rented an apartment in NOPA (North of the Panhandle) for a fortnight this time, hiring a car for the first week and buying a City Pass, which includes a seven day MUNI passport, for the second.  This will be our eighth trip, the first few of which were only for a few days, so the temptation to revisit the same haunts was strong back then.

But now we are more experienced visitors, and whilst I suppose we cannot shake off the tourist tag, we aim to “live like locals” as much as we can.  We will, of course, still frequent favourite spots such as Golden Gate ParkHaight-Ashbury, AT & T Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Beach Blanket Babylon and the Cliff House, but the emphasis is increasingly on new places and experiences as well as return trips to attractions we have not been to for some years.

With the car we intend to take the opportunity to venture beyond the city to Berkeley, Tiburon / Angel Island and Santa Cruz / Half Moon Bay, none of which we have done more than drive through in the past. 

Time permitting, we would also like to explore part of the northern coast, for example Point Reyes and Bodega Bay (Mendocino may be a little too far).   Given that we will be experiencing our first NHL game between the Sharks and the LA Kings, we will give downtown San Jose a look in too. Monterey / Carmel, the Napa Valley and Alcatraz (by day and night) have seen enough of us in the past, so we will spare them this time.

Back in the city the focus will be more on revisiting sites we have missed on recent trips such as Twin Peaks, Coit Tower and the Palace of Fine Arts / Exploratorium.  In addition, there are places that we have, shamefully, bypassed before that we must visit this time, including the Grace Cathedral, City Hall and the redwood grove at the Transamerica Pyramid amongst others.

New cultural experiences will include seeing our first show at the Castro Theater (Singalong Wizard of Oz?), visiting SF MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and the de Young Museum, none of which we have done before.

I am sure I will be adding to the list over the next four weeks but these are the “must-dos” at present.  Whether we succeed in meeting the challenge will be revealed in the daily blog I hope to maintain during the trip.

In the meantime, if anyone has read this and thought “yes, that’s fine but you have just got to go to………….” please let me know.

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