The Golden Gate Bridge viewed from Baker Beach (Dreamstime)
List Words : Team Wanderlust | 31 July 2017

5 reasons to visit San Francisco, 50 years on from the Summer of Love

Contemporary, forward-thinking and extraordinarily beautiful, San Francisco is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in 2017. Here are five other big reasons you need to get there now

1: The oldest and biggest Chinatown outside Asia

Chinatown, San Francisco (Dreamstime)
Chinatown, San Francisco (Dreamstime)

Ever wondered how fortune cookies are made? Need an ancient potion to cure what ails you? Or simply fancy tucking into the best Peking Duck outside of Beijing? Then San Francisco’s atmospheric and authentic Chinatown is the place for you.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America and the largest outside Asia. Located on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, it’s a world of exotic shops, bustling restaurants and food markets, and incense-filled temples. Best explored by foot, you’ll discover a place where ‘Old World’ customs and traditions still flourish.

Don’t forget to swing by San Francisco’s Japantown too. Tucked between Sutter Street and Geary Boulevard, you’ll find delicious ramen bars, traditional Japanese spas and Daiso, an extraordinary store selling all kinds of authentic and cute Asian goods.

2: Summer of Love events

Feel the love in San Francisco (Dreamstime)
Feel the love in San Francisco (Dreamstime)

50 years ago, over 100,000 young people descended on the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood in San Francisco, bringing with them a new philosophy of peace, love and understanding. The world called them hippies. The influence of the music, art, fashion and ideas from that 'Summer of Love' can be still felt in the city today.

This year, you can relive that momentous time through a series of festivals and events being staged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. There’s a 'Summer of Love: Jimi Hendrix' exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), celebrating Jimi’s seminal performance at Monterey, a retrospective curated by Grateful Dead historian Dennis McNally at the California Historical Society and a celebration of all things ‘Flower Power’ at the Asian Art Museum

There are also a host of themed musical and theatrical events. Check out the official Summer of Love website for more details.

3: World-class art museums

Michael Jackson and Bubbles by Jeff Koons at SFMOMA (Dreamstime)
Michael Jackson and Bubbles by Jeff Koons at SFMOMA (Dreamstime)

There's no shortage of extraordinary art museums in San Francisco. Whether you’re looking for the latest in contemporary art, traditional Asian handicrafts or the chance to pay homage to Walt Disney, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the city. 

The newly renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is probably the best place to start. Bigger and brasher than ever, the collection is beyond compare, and the buildings that house it are extraordinary too. 

The M.H. de Young Museum offers a broader collection, again set in an incredible building in Golden Gate Park. For something different, try the Cartoon Art Museum, home to the camera used to create TV’s first animation, Crusader Rabbit.

4: Seriously quirky attractions

Welcome to Alcatraz (Dreamstime)
Welcome to Alcatraz (Dreamstime)

Looking for something a little offbeat? How about experiencing life in a high-security federal prison on Alcatraz, an island 1.25 miles off shore in San Francisco Bay? Once ‘home’ to some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelley, here you’ll get the chance to explore the cells and common areas of this notorious prison and get the ferry home. Try the night tour if you really want to be freaked out.

As you would imagine, San Francisco is home to many other fascinating attractions. The Beat Museum celebrates the life and work of the most famous Beat poets, writers and artists, including Jack Kerouac. The Musée Mécanique is one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines. 

The Burlingame Museum is the only place in the world where you can see every Pez dispenser ever made. They also have a Banned Toy Museum attached, featuring toys that were taken off the market because they were dangerous, offensive or both.

5: The farmers’ markets

Family at a farmers’ market in San Francisco (Dreamstime)
Family at a farmers’ market in San Francisco (Dreamstime)

The farmers markets in San Francisco are colourful vibrant and super-fresh. The best known is held three times a week at the Ferry Building where you can buy enormous fresh strawberries and dip them in chocolate as you browse Northern California’s finest produce.

Locals and chefs, however, head out to the edge of the city to a huge lot, surrounded by walls covered in graffiti. Here you’ll find the Alemany Farmers' Market, the oldest in San Francisco, open every Saturday. Among the aisles of fruit, vegetables, flowers and nuts, you’ll find stalls selling authentic Mexican street food, as well as Asian specialties like balut (fertilized duck eggs). It's a true San Francisco experience.

Main image: The Golden Gate Bridge viewed from Baker Beach (Dreamstime)

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