WHERE THE ’60S MAGIC REIGNS
I’d never taken a tour on which the guide addressed the group as “my tribe,” but it felt perfectly natural aboard the Magic Bus, which calls itself a “trip” into San Francisco’s 1960s-era hippie counterculture.
My friend Adam (a politically conservative MBA with an unlikely interest in hippie counterculture) drove in from the burbs, and together we took the two-hour tour before exploring San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the movement’s rainbow-colored, tie-dyed epicenter.
About the only conventional thing about the Magic Bus Tour is the boarding area amid the mainstream bus tours on Union Square. The bus, run by the local Antenna Theater Co., is painted flowerpower style, and our guide, Serene Rain, was dressed in heart-shaped sunglasses and flowing hippie garb. Serene, who lovingly called us “my tribe,” passed out yellow marigolds (for our hair, naturally) and encouraged us to sing along to recordings of Joplin, Santana and the Lovin’ Spoonful.
As she gave us the lowdown on Chinatown, the Financial District, Market Street, the Haight and Golden Gate Park in the ’60s, she urged us to open the bus windows, wave, smile and flash peace signs at passersby.
Serene pointed out a ’60s-era pharmacy and lunch counter, which hippies had nicknamed “the drogstore.” It’s now Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery, where Adam and I shared a dynamite post-tour brunch: a smoked pastrami sandwich with French onion soup for dipping, the Hangtown Fry (fried oysters alongside eggs scrambled with bacon, spinach and caramelized onion, topped with arugula) and house-brewed beers.
We thought we’d made a seriously wrong turn when we entered the Red Victorian and walked in on a figure-drawing class with nude models. But all was in order: The Red Vic, in the Haight since 1904, does duty as a B&B, hostel, commune and gathering place.
Upstairs, it was easy to imagine bygone hippies in its wainscoted hallways and eclectically decorated private and shared rooms, most without private bath. Overnight guests might sleep next door to permanent residents who organize house dinners, gallery openings and those art classes.
As San Francisco celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the city is both looking back and considering its present, when gentrification is a constant topic. Amid the Haight’s paradoxical mix of head shops and hipster fashions, vintage clothing stores and Whole Foods, it was encouraging to find one-of-a-kinds such as Bound Together, an anarchist collective bookstore, and the tie-dye clothing of Jammin’ on Haight. But perhaps no shop better embodies modern San Francisco’s dual personality than Ben & Jerry’s, effortlessly blending counterculture and corporate culture at the very corner of Haight and Ashbury.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 383
Resources: Magic Bus Tour, mag icbussf.com; Red Victorian, www.lat.ms/redvictorian; Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery, www .magnoliapub.com; Bound Together, www.lat.ms/boundto gether; Jammin’ on Haight, jam minonhaight.com
MAGIC BUS tour guide Serene Rain, left, and driver Tipsy Love f lash peace signs.