A Brief Neighborhood Guide to San Francisco: The Upper Haight

(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. As a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses mentioned may close with no warning.)

Besides its location as the gateway to the treasures of Golden Gate Park, the Upper Haight is just a fun place to hang out and explore, a daily carnival that packs a lot into its seven commercial blocks. (Is there a better/livelier neighborhood event than the annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair?) It’s famous cross street (Haight-Ashbury) has been

attracting curious tourists since 1967, which only adds to the energy of the neighborhood. Vestiges of those ‘60s hippy days can be found in the colorful shops, signs and street art, along with a communal spirit led by the active and organized Haight Ashbury Merchants Association that dates back decades. The grunge factor can be high with street kids hanging out, but spend some time here and it starts to feel like a village. I know, I used to live here, and there’s enough happening that a lot of residents don’t feel they have to venture beyond its borders much. That starts at the western end of Haight with one of the biggest draws for SF music collectors in the city – the cavernous Amoeba Records, which also features live performances from national acts. You can catch local acts at several music venues like the adjacent Milk Bar. Continue down the street to discover an array of shops and clothing stores.  Thrift and vintage stores rule here, and continually renew their street-hip inventory to keep shoppers coming back in hopes of striking fashion gold. Even the Goodwill (the best in the city imo) has occasional great finds. The Upper Haight also shines with a bar scene that rivals any in the city, some that predate the cocktail craze and a few well before the ‘60s hippie scene. Club Deluxe has been slinging old fashioneds and martinis with zoot suit-era live jazz and blues since 1989, Magnolia has been brewing beer since the late ‘90s, while Alembic is perennially one of the top and most inventive cocktail bars in the city. Step back further and The Gold Cane opened in 1926, Traxbar in 1940, and the singular, Persian-themed Zam Zam in 1941. My apartment was just around the corner (Belvedere and Haight). If longevity is a sign of quality and consistency, then the 20-plus-year-old restaurants in the neighborhood fit the criteria: the Cuban/Caribbean Cha Cha Cha with their pitchers of sangria (and likewise next door at the Puerto Rican Parada 22), Citrus Club with some of the best noodle soups around, Siam Lotus for great Thai, and the ever-popular breakfast spot Pork Store Café.

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