As the Magic Bus rolls through the neighborhood’s namesake intersection, I glance up at its iconic crisscrossed street signs. They’re elevated above the standard street-sign height now, to deter scofflaws from stealing them.
A couple of blocks away, in front of the beautiful brown Victorian at 710 Ashbury Street, people actually leave things behind: The private home doubles as a public shrine, its steps strewn with flowers and incense, the tree in front carved with hearts and heartfelt tributes to “Jerry.” That would be Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who lived here with several bandmates, mingling in the neighborhood with the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Grace Slick.
During the late '60s, those and other stars rocked the Fillmore, the fabled San Francisco venue that remains at the forefront of the city’s music scene to this day. But many of the Summer of Love’s most emblematic shows were free ones that these same performers staged outdoors in the Haight or in nearby Golden Gate Park.
More than three miles long and about a half mile wide, the park preserves many of its hippie-era trappings. Stroll its footpaths, fields, and glades, and you’re treated to a montage of Summer of Love–like scenes—folksy characters strumming guitars in the shade of cypress trees and abundant Hacky Sack circles—along with the occasional pungent herbal aroma.
Major names in music still perform in the park, but now they’re at annual concert events like Outside Lands—which draws headliners ranging from Paul McCartney to Metallica—and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a beloved free festival that, as its name implies, does not restrict itself to string bands.
San Franciscans still like to hang out in the park, but in recent years Mission Dolores Park, over in the youthful Mission District, has emerged as the new favorite. On sunny weekends, it is known for drawing up to 10,000 people, a good number of them enjoying music on their smartphones. It’s a ’60s-style hangout, updated for the modern age.
In Golden Gate Park, time blurs too. About two hours into our tour, the Magic Bus makes a pit stop there. “Take your shoes off,” Serene Rain says as we get out. “Feel the earth beneath your feet.”
I do feel some floral power, but it’s emanating from the nearby Conservatory of Flowers, a grand, glass-and-wood Victorian greenhouse containing 1,700 different species of plants. I poke my head inside and am treated to a wonderland of sights and scents—orchids, water lilies, hibiscuses, and palms, an intoxicating burst of blooms and perfumes.
The conservatory looks much as it did back when the hippies were hanging out there. Other marquee attractions in the park have undergone major renovations.