If there's any area of San Francisco that evokes images of the long-gone '60s hippie culture, the Haight is it. Fragments of that flower-power, incense-burning, acid-dropping, tie-dye-wearing, peace-and-love-vibing era can be purchased at smoke shops and Eastern-influenced outlets bearing names like Dreams of Katmandu, Pipedreams, Psychedelic Sun and Happy Trails. But save for a few hippie relics, the Haight today is a whole new scene. Exclusive boutiques, high-end vintage-clothing shops, second-hand stores, Internet cafés and hip restaurants have all settled in, making the Haight one of San Francisco's commercial centers.
Neo-punks, club kids, fashionites, tourists and neighborhood folks are equally at home here, whether they have come to get a new piercing, grab a burrito, find the latest drum 'n' bass 12-inch or just people-watch from a café. But there are two distinctly different areas of the Haight: The Upper Haight, which stretches from Stanyan to Masonic, is the more moneyed shopping zone, though it deteriorates a bit where it stretches toward Golden Gate Park. Meanwhile, the Lower Haight, roughly Divisidero to Webster, is a more diverse neighborhood with a grittier feel. While it has been an alternate nightlife hub for years, with bars like Noc Noc and Mad Dog and popular clubs the Top and Nickie's, the Lower Haight has recently become a main draw among DJs and ravers with the proliferation of dance-music record shops.
In the 1950s, students from then-nearby San Francisco State College took over most of the neighborhood, forging a youth culture that led to flower power, hippies and the Summer of Love. The first hippies to move to the Haight were actually Beats from North Beach, who also came to take advantage of lower rents for the large, run-down Victorian homes. The bohemian culture that later developed was characterized by its embrace of Eastern religion and philosophy, its anti-establishment political stance and its experimentation with numerous drugs, especially psychedelics.
Haight life became a cultural phenomenon, pushing Pop Art and light shows to new levels of mass appeal. Locals the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane made names for themselves, while Bill Graham took the psychedelic-music scene nationwide. Inevitably, the middle-class kids started turning up for free food, free drugs and free love. Not long after the 1966 Be-In and the Summer of Love the following year, an inrush of unsavory characters (e.g., Charles Manson) and organized crime instigated the Haight's gradual decline.
By the end of the '60s and on into the '70s, most stores on the street were boarded up. But toward the latter part of the '70s, second-hand shops and antique stores began to emerge, deteriorated old Victorians were restored and the Haight slowly gained prominence as a tourist and local destination.