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Experiencing San Francisco’s Summer of Love

Of course, I’d been to Haight Street and Golden Gate Park, and I knew Janis Joplin had lived nearby, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Now, as San Francisco begins a 50-year celebration of that famous summer, I was able to experience a city I’ve always loved in a different way.

summer of love experience san francisco

Having lived in San Francisco for a few years, it’s hard to find a ton of things that I haven’t already experienced in that small but bustling city. But the Summer of Love is something I wasn’t terribly familiar with, even during my time spent in the City by the Bay.

Arriving in Style

Upon arriving at LAX, I boarded United flight 1967 to SFO—and in that instant, I realized that this trip wouldn’t be like many others. It was the 50th anniversary of the release of Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” and, along with the themed flight number, the flight attendants played the song over the plane’s speakers to get us in the mood for the awaiting celebration.

wag brigade san francisco

Once we arrived at the airport, we were welcomed in style. Members of the San Francisco Travel Association passed out long-stemmed Matsumoto asters at the gate before we encountered the Wag Brigade—a group of groovy dogs in colorful sunglasses. As we drifted past the therapy dogs, we had the honor of watching a city official declare May 13th ‘Flowers in Your Hair Day’ while we munched on cupcakes and listened to the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sing the song of the day.

san francisco love tour bus

As we stepped out of the airport, the San Francisco Love Tour buses were waiting for us. Decked out with shag carpeting, colorful interior fabrics and plenty of plastic peace signs, we headed into the city in style.

Experiencing History

As we traversed the local museum exhibits, we gained some knowledge on the Summer of Love—and everything leading up to it.

The exhibit at the California Historical Society, curated by Dennis McNally—publicist to the Grateful Dead back in the day—detailed the art movements, social protests and drug experiments that led up to that famous summer. As he took us through each room of the exhibit, we gained insider knowledge into the events leading up to the Summer of Love.

summer of love california historical society

But the exhibition at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park truly showed what that summer was like. Filled with artistic posters, clothing from the era, light shows and relevant music, the dimly-lit showcase offers plenty of insight and information to explain each piece of the hippie puzzle. Summer of 1967 comes alive within the museum, to the delight of the crowd. Thought you’d never experience the 1960s? Think again!

the summer of love experience de young museum

One moment that revealed quite a lot about that summer was the conversation with famous producer Lou Adler at the Jewish Contemporary Museum. Though their exhibitions didn’t focus on the summer of ’67, the conversation covered that summer, the bands that took part in the Monterey Pop Festival and the demise of the movement that took place afterward.

Getting Up Close and Personal

madame tussauds summer of love

While the hippies back in the 60s tried to promote equality and free spirits, San Francisco has held on to the spirit of the cause. Spots like Madame Tussauds wax museum allows visitors to stand next to Jimi Hendrix as he plays the guitar. Still others can join Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin, allowing visitors to get close to those they’re learning about throughout the Summer of Love museum exhibitions.

madame tussauds jimi hendrix

Another way to “get close” to characters from the Summer of Love narrative is at Beach Blanket Babylon. The musical revue has plenty of non-related characters—like Snow White and Elvis—but that doesn’t stop them from incorporating some of the most important players from the 1960s.

beach blanket babylon

The show includes some pretty extravagant costumes and over-the-top characters (including our current “president”) but that doesn’t make it any less comical. If anything, it adds to the experience, giving tourists the chance to pop in to a show filled with laughs and campy performances.

End of the Night

The Summer of Love is a magic concept in San Francisco right now. This summer is bound to be filled with relevant food menus, shows and museum exhibits, but when you head back to your hotel, make sure your room adds to the experience.

hotel zeppelin san francisco

The Hotel Zeppelin, located right near Union Square, captures the spirit of the Summer of Love so completely. Filled with dark colors and funky wallpaper, it’s no surprise that this hotel was the perfect home base for my Summer of Love experience.

hotel zeppelin room san francisco

After slipping into the complementary robe in the closet, I wandered the room. It was small, of course—everything in San Francisco is small. But that didn’t ruin a shred of the personality the room exuded. The smooth white comforter and deep purple pillows sat below the overhead light, which projected a peace sign on the ceiling—complete with the word “peace.” The hotel’s hallways also featured images of the Grateful Dead’s vinyl covers.

hotel zeppelin wine

With dark walls and curtains, a modern white chair to recline in and contemporary apps on the TV, it was a curious blend of vintage and modern—but one thing is for sure. I sure slept well. But the bottle of wine in the room may have added to that comfort level.

hotel zeppelin bathroom wallpaper

If you set out to experience the Summer of Love for yourself, tailor each and every experience to that summer. Whether it’s the hotel or your daily activities, learning about the history and incorporating something new and different in your routine will enhance your vacation and reveal things you’ve surely never known before.

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Ashley Ryan

Author Ashley Ryan

Ashley Ryan is a southern California native with a background in journalism and anthropology. She loves learning about other cultures and combines her passions for traveling, writing and photography in her professional work. To learn more or get in touch, visit facebook.com/ashleyryantravel

More posts by Ashley Ryan

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