“You’ll either love it or hate it… that is, if you don’t mind the street kids begging you…”
This was the majority of the feedback I received when asking advice if staying in Haight Ashbury would be a good idea. Never before visiting that particular neighborhood, I was at a stand-off as I didn’t know if safety was a concern (based on advice/reviews). After quick consideration, I decided I’d give it a shot, and booked my week stay in the historical hippie neighborhood that once housed the “Summer of Love” shenanigans.
I. Loved. It. My experience is also the perfect example about why relying on internet feedback isn’t alway the best advice.
Lined with funky, colorful Victorian houses, street art, head shops and the smell of
incense weed, the neighborhood is actually a totally great spot to spend a week in. Far enough away from the hustle and bustle of downtown to relax, but just close enough to see via public transportation or walking, Haight Ashbury is my new go-to spot when visiting.
So, what about those kids everyone warned me about? I don’t know… you tell me, because I met some truly amazing and inspirational people on those streets. From old hippies who take care of the dying elderly, to a kid named Jacob who stowed away on freight trains from Seattle, each person had a story…and they were friendly. If anything, I am inspired by the Haight Ashbury street folk, who roam the roads with their dreadlocks, backpacks and dogs; they are travelers at heart, and are making the best out what they have, and the sense of community among them all is greatly felt. One night, as a take-out box full of my leftover suckling pig was given to a street kid, he stated he’d save it until his friend returned, seeing as they wait for each other. It’s small deeds such as this that really humanize what others have tried to tear down, which is sadly clear in the looks tourists passing through send their ways. Strike up a conversation with the group of guys on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, or the crazy-looking dude at the dive bar, and you’ll walk away with insane amounts of wanderlust; one man named William told me stories about how he painted a VW van to mimic Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and drove it through Mexico during the 60’s. William told me how he filled the van with grains- beans and rice, and gave them to the small villages he encountered along the way. These are the stories you’ll hear and the people you meet, and I can guarantee their stories are far more interesting than most others you’ll hear in the city.
If laid back, friendly, welcoming neighborhoods are your cup o’ tea, then take my advice and check out Haight Ashbury yourself. Personally, I prefer the neighborhoods in the outskirts of the city, and while Haight Ashbury isn’t too far from the Downtown area, its isolated just enough to give you community, quietness and relaxation.
Eats and Drinks
This place is where it’s at in the neighborhood! As soon as I was checked-in at my rental, I dropped my bags and plopped myself down on the patio seating at the pub, ordered a beer flight (best flight I’ve ever seen!) and had some of the best damn fish-n-chips I’ve ever had. The restaurant was so great, that I returned two more times before I left, with my last visit being for brunch. Now, this place is always popping, so waits and/or table sharing might be in order. Whatever the case is, it’s completely worth it as beneath the restaurant, small batches of beers are being brewed, the food is fresh and the decor is comforting.
I highly recommend the brunch; I enjoyed the Hangtown Fry: fried oysters, scrambled eggs, bacon, spinach, caramelized onions and topped with a toasted piece of baguette ($14). Fried oysters and scrambled eggs might sound odd or scary, but the combo is heavenly! The brown sugar peppercorn bacon is fantastic, and so is their fresh-squeezed orange juice ($4), perfectly sweet, tart and vibrantly orange.
The 2 cup press pot of Blue Bottle Coffee was a perfect ending to a sleepy morning ($6). Also ordered was the English breakfast; cannelli beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, sausage, potatoes, two eggs and English muffin ($14).
A seriously adorable kitchen with some serious amazing eats and drinks. Home to my favorite coffee I had on Haight Street, their slogan is “southern food and hospitality,” and the color palette warms my heart. Do yourself a favor and click on their website…. you’ll see exactly what I’m saying’! Located inside the Second Act Marketplace, the kitchen shares space with other vendors, such as a juice bar and more, plus the backside of the space hosts events; I caught a jewelry/accessory pop-up shop and scored some products made by women in Uganda.
After a night of dive bar crawling, walking the foggy streets of San Francisco home can work-up an appetite. Luckily, a delicious pizza place is in the middle of the hood, serving tasty slices until late in the night. I highly suggest the ‘You say potato” slice, topped with potatoes and roasted garlic cloves….. Jeez I’ll miss those every night!
Check out the Street Art throughout upper and lower Haight
I found an awesome deal for a week at this great Airbnb home. The listing was for a rented room with a shared bathroom, on Page Street, which is the next street over from Haight. The place was PERFECT, as the street was quiet, all residential and safe to walk at night (always at the top of my concerns when booking accommodation). While a family lives on the top floor of the home, I only briefly met the son once and the mom twice, and let me tell you, she’s such a welcoming, friendly woman! I wish I had more time interacting with her, purely based on her openness to make sure my stay was perfect, which is something very important when staying in someone else’s home. Other guests were staying during the same time I was as well, yet I only saw one in passing, making the week stayed feel as if I had the house to myself. Another selling point for me was that I was contributing to the income of a FAMILY versus a large corporate hotel. Not only was the total price much lower than a hotel chain, it just feels better to basically encourage the growth of small businesses/mom and pop operations.
Visit Golden Gate Park
Haight Street runs straight into Golden Gate Park, a perfect place to spend an entire day. I cannot begin to describe how large the park actually is; after walking for hours towards the bison (I thought I was walking towards the bison), I realized I had in fact walked a large circle, around a lake, through what looked like a forest, and gave up on reaching the large creatures. I did, however, visit the Japanese Tea Garden, a $7 entrance fee that opens the doors to a world of ponds, koi, bridges and gorgeous cherry blossoms. While the park boasts many fields and activities (such as renting bikes and boats), there are also outdoor concert halls, food trucks and more. I dug into a delicious lobster roll (voted one of the best in San Francisco) at Sam’s Chowder Mobile. If they aren’t serving up these heaven-on-a-roll sandwiches in the park, definitely checkout their whereabouts on their website! Also notable is the presence of wildlife, such as blue jays, squirrels and TONS of gophers. Watch where you step, because I almost squished a plethora of the little rodents myself, but DO have fun watching them burrow into the grounds and stuff their faces with grass.
Hop Over to Nearby Neighborhoods
Walk to lower Haight, check out some of the cool street art and shops, then head over to Hayes Valley. This is a great little neighborhood, about a mile away from Haight Ashbury, so it’s comfortably walkable. Here, you’ll find clean, trendy restaurants, amazing macaroons at Chantal Guillon and my favorite, Suppenküche- the MOST awesome German restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. The place is insanely busy (they actually refused more customers while we were waiting for our name to be called from the wait list), the food is delicious (suckling pig that would make German beer halls in Munich green with envy) and home to the 5 liter stein ($70). I CANNOT recommend this spot enough, and the crazy crowds of screaming, bier-loving locals cramming to grab a seat confirms this.
All in all,
Haight Love Ashbury is a stellar place to chill. The people are awesome, the shops are groovy and the Victorian architecture is welcoming and comforting. I definitely dig it.