San Francisco is home to many strange little quirks and nooks and crannies. One of the most interesting I’ve discovered in my time here is the tiny little area of Golden Gate Park known as “Hippy Hill”.
Hippy hill is much more than its name implies. It is not just a hill. Hippies are only the beginning.
There is a certain amount of legend and mysticism surrounding the hill. There is not much of a documented history of the hill, at least in USF’s Gleeson Library. A book search with librarian Joe turned up plenty of info about the summer of love and counterculture in San Francisco, but the story of hippy hill seems to be passed along more by word of mouth than by print.
Nestled in the trees between the Conservatory of Flowers and legendary Haight street, hippy hill has been both a home and haven to what I can only describe as San Francisco’s “alternative” lifestyles. Nearly any lifestyle is acceptable on the hill; you can be homeless, a drug addict, a hippy, a musician, gay, straight, transgender, you can be a rocker, you can be a roller, you can be a rapper, you can be a stoner. It’s ultra liberal San Francisco at its’ finest. Literally, anything goes.
Early in the morning, the hill is unsuspecting, and by the looks of things, you would never imagine what has transpired on the same ground over the course of the past 40 years.
According to Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, in the late 1960’s, the hill and nearby haight-ashbury was “…a ghetto of bohemians who wanted to do anything—and we did, but I don’t think it has happened since. Yes, there was LSD. But Haight Ashbury was not about drugs. It was about exploration, finding new ways of expression, being aware of one’s existence”.
While today the counterculture movement in the city might not be as strong as it was in the sixties, there is still a definite and noticeable difference in the culture of the park, even when compared to the rest of the city. While San Francisco is progressive in nature, and while many Americans might find SF residents to be down right scary compared to their more conservative way of living, the limits and boundaries of what is socially acceptable is pushed even further at hippy hill.
Drug use on the hill is common and frequent.
Improvisational drum circles form on the weekends where various vagrants, bums, and many times the average bongo geek can come together and fill the park with energy and a constant beat for hours on end.
Many homeless live in Golden Gate Park. Some are mentally insanse-I have personally witnessed a loud and almost violent display made by a homeless man that seemed to be in the midst of some epic battle with an imaginary villain. While at times they may offer some entertainment, many homeless people live permanently in the areas surrounding hippy hill, and that is no joke.
Despite some controversial activities, hippy hill is not a hostile place. In fact, I like to think of it as a peaceful place where diversity and tolerance goes unspoken, a place where boundaries and borders do not exist. Although illegal activity does occur, the police rarely intervene or arrest anyone at the hill, and on many occasions I have seen parents with their small children, playing and having a great time amidst the wacko’s and acid-trippers. There is something about the hill that is so inviting, some special aura that was created during the summer of love, with the words of Janis Joplin and the jams of the Grateful Dead. Millions must have flocked to this one grassy hill over the years. Revolutionaries. Poets. Beats. Musicians. Hippies. Mothers. Fathers. Children. Daughters. Druggies. Scholars.
Maybe you should take a trip and find out for yourself.
Here’s a little bit of my journey….