Haight Ashbury

Summary: The Haight, once the epicenter of the Summer of Love and the counterculture, now is known as a neighborhood trying to balance its edgy reputation with a new influx of commercial development.

The neighborhood now known as the Haight was born in the summer of 1967 when Victorians around the corner of Haight Street and Ashbury Avenue became the nexus for the intermingling of the various strands of the counterculture movement. With the nearby Golden Gate Park as an ideal location for both hanging out and staging events, the hippies and flower-children all moved into the Haight, and rock stars like the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin were soon living in apartments in the location.

Today the Haight is filled with young post-modern punks and affluent yuppies, and the storefronts have largely been colonized by high-end boutiques and hip restaurants. In many ways, it resembles its neighbor to the south, the Castro in its mix of rebellious spirit and trendy fashion. The neighborhood borders the Panhandle to the north, Baker Street to the east, the border with Twin Peaks to the south and Stanyan (Golden Gate Park) to the west.

As is the constant refrain throughout the city, this is yet another neighborhood filled with Victorians. In the Haight, however, there tends to be a far greater frequency of the quaintly colorful, sometimes even psychedelic, Painted Ladies than in other neighborhoods in SF, even the nearby Castro. Overall, these older Victorians are well kept and many have been substantially refurbished as the Haight has undergone the gentrifying forces that have taken root throughout much of SF. The popularity of the area has driven property values to ranges similar to those you would expect in Pacific Heights, so three quarters of the residents prefer the more affordable option of renting. Would be renters can find studios and rooms in Haight for below $1,000, though full homes tend to start at above $2,000.

Public transportation is strong in the area, so some residents don’t own cars. Since, however, most residents are only renters taking in the Haight experience before moving on to the next phase of their lives, most do have vehicles. The usual difficulties finding parking thus apply in the Haight as in other areas of SF.

The Haight is no longer just about hippies and drug-addicts tuning in and dropping out at Golden Gate Park. It now has a thriving restaurant district along Haight Street, that features an especially strong set of Asian restaurants such as the Indian Oven [M1] and Naan and Chutney [M2]. Most restaurants bear some of the Haight’s ethos, so you will usually find several vegetarian options on most menus. Similarly, many of the restaurants have pun-filled names like the Squat-n-Goggle [M3], or the Cha Cha Cha [M4] (a Caribbean joint). The Haight’s individuality is also expressed in some of these restaurants, as with the Massawa [M5], an Eritrean food place, or Zam Zam [M6], an Iranian bar named after a holy site in the middle east (nothing goes better with a Martini than blasphemy).

The same co-opted counter-cultural feel comes through in the stores along Haight Street. Anibus Warpus [M7], for example, offers a series of “authentic” punk t-shirts (think Siousxie and the Banshees or X), while a series of stores are what were once known as head-shops, such as Pipe Dreams [M8] or Distractions [M9]. The oddball aesthetic even allows geekier venues like Giant Robot [M10](the place for Japanese mangas) to thrive. Vinyl records and record players, leather clothing, tattoo shops, vintage clothing shops and spas all find their home in this eclectic mix, equally perfect for authentic hipsters and posers alike.

As you would expect from a neighborhood with such daytime electricity, there is also a strong nightlife here as well. Perhaps only the Castro (or perhaps the Tenderloin) has a better selection of dive bars. From the already mentioned Zum Zum to the historic Kezars’[M11], to the Noc Noc [M12], to the unforgettable Mad Dog in the Fog [M13]. Trax [M14] is the Haight’s sole gay bar. Live music also abounds here with Irish music at An Bodran [M15], swing at Club Deluxe [M16], and funk at Milk [M17].

In addition to the Haight’s many organized attractions are the parks that surround the Haight virtually on all sides. To the west and north you find Golden Gate park and the Panhandle, favorites for daytime sunbathers and for the many museums and attractions of the park. To southwest, separating Haight/Cole Valley from Twin Peaks is the Twin Peaks reservoir and the Sutro Tower. While to the east is Buena Vista Park that borders Duboce Triangle and from whose wooded heights you can catch great panoramic views of the city or just feel as if you are a hundred miles away along its wooded paths.

Because the Haight is so well-trafficked by pedestrians, gawkers and homeless, rates for property crime tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum. Marijuana is largely overlooked in the area as anyone with a nose will discover as they pass through the neighborhood, but authorities are not so tolerant of other harder drugs and public drunkenness. Assaults and general anti-social behavior keep the local police busy year round here, but that is simply a fact of life when it comes to a neighborhood that prides itself on free-thinking and rebellion. Occasionally such antics devolve into something more serious and a murder occurs—though not at all at the level of the violence associated with then nearby Tenderloin.

Ashbury Heights and Cole Valley

Ashbury Heights is the southeastern portion of the Haight, bordering Buena Vista Park. This is the family friendly portion of the area where there are larger number of actual owner residents. The neighborhood feels like a secluded residential enclave which gives it a bit of a small town feel. For example, during Halloween, the neighbors go all out decorating and dressing and bringing their kids out in the early evening. The local elementary school, Grattan, is also well regarded.

The homes tend to be more nicely kept here and refurbished, with fewer of the types of Victorians you expect from the lower Haight and with lots of newer architecture. The elevated geography also gives many of the homes fantastic views of either the city or of the wooded parks.

Similar to Ashbury Heights, Cole Valley is also much quieter—and skews older—than the Haight. This primarily residential neighborhood is virtually the southwestern twin to Ashbury Heights, being contiguously connected to the Haight but distinct enough that many guide books give it its own section. The homes are nice Victorians, much like those found in Noe Valley to the south, and the neighborhood has a few attractions though nothing as magnetic as Haight Street. Cole Valley also has one of best spots for shutterbugs to take panoramic photos of the city, Tank hill, with its World War II era eucalyptus grove (used as camouflage for a water tank in case the Japanese should attack). Non-residents largely know Cole for the gaggle of restaurants around Carl Street, the most famous of which is Zazie [M18], a Mediterranean restaurant. Cole is thus one of those hidden little neighborhoods that residents love and outsiders largely overlook.