Previous to my most recent trip to San Francisco, I had rarely spent more than one night there at a time, usually on my way to Napa. That all changed with my recent trip with Trafalgar Tours, which prides itself on really digging in and showing off the local flavor of a place. So our first stop (after lunch at Cha Cha Cha of course) in the Bay Area? The famous Haight Ashbury district, where flower power descended in force during a few special years starting in the late 1960s. Our fearless leader: Izu, of Flower Power Tours. The only “complaint” I’ve read in all of my research about the great Izu is that she talks too much. Well, then, if you are on a schedule, speak up — this woman could talk all day about these streets and their history… That’s how much she loves her job!
Something to think about, huh?
Like I said, Trafalgar Tours prides itself on finding tour directors and local guides who love teaching others about their city/neighborhood/winery/street/whatever that they could talk all day about it. I relate: I’m sure at times people tire of my cheerleading about Las Vegas all the time… But what I loved about Izu is that sometime after kicking up her heels as a commune-living, Jerry Garcia-befriending, music-adoring flower child of the 1960s, she had a successful finance career of some sort. This spunky Haight Ashbury local talks a lot of her closetful of (child-sized!) Armani suits collecting dust. While she doesn’t belabor the point, the message I took home was clear: Go have a career, raise a family, experience whatever you are itching to do — and if you have a passion from your youth that you just can’t shake, you might be able to pick it back up again at a later date. It hit home for me, because as I embrace my current workaholism, I will keep on traveling… Who knows what my future in the world of travel if I keep it up!
So Izu, I thank you…. And without further ado: some Haight Ashbury highlights from the world according to Izu!
If Izu’s tie-dyed leggings and sequined Chucks and ankle bands are any indication, I think she’d feel right at home taking the side door anywhere in this neighborhood!
Our first stop: 1525 Waller Street, once home of a commune where Izu herself lived as a kid. The building was a bustling food bank for decades before succumbing to the recession. It does, however, still have a food pantry, which Izu visits to collect bags of groceries for distribution. The mural has several fascinating scenes, and Izu brings every single one to life. My favorite: this bemused little angel.
Since Izu was such close friends with the music legends, I had the most fun listening to her stories and encyclopedic knowledge of the big names who passed through Haight Ashbury. (And don’t call me naive — she had many first-hand stories that only an inner circle local would know. Besides, what Izu believes, I believe.)
Izu was friends with Jerry Garcia until he died — in the 60s, he lived here. Across the street? The Hell’s Angels headquarters. That must have been one lively street! To find out how the two groups finally made peace, you’ll have to sign up for the Flower Power Tour yourself.
Her little canvas tote bag isn’t just for looks: Izu comes with props, often accenting her tales with personal photos.
Even the firemen of Haight Ashbury are Deadheads.
If you have time after the tour, wander through the neighborhood’s fun stores. Who knows what you might find!
Even the local graffiti doesn’t forget its flower power roots!
I toured San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma as a guest of Trafalgar Tours, but all opinions are my own.
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