Published on January 19th, 2013 | by Charu Suri8
Hippy Free Love: San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury Flower Power Tour
“Are you here for the Flower Power tour?” Izu smiles and greets everyone happily, with her colorful tie-dyed, silk-lined jacket and adorable grin. She also wears bright orange sequined Chucks and ankle bands—it’s impossible not to notice her.
Izu Interlandi is not a native to the hippie district of Haights Ashbury in San Francisco, but she could very well write a book about it. Her love for the area and the joy of meeting and personally connecting with the legends of the area –including the Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsburg and Janis Joplin — bubbles over like champagne.
Izu is one of those memorable characters and someone that movie directors would love to have on their set. She leads the Flower Power Walking Tour, something she created from scratch after her parents took her from Yonkers, NY to San Francisco in 1967. When she was still a teenager, she moved to the Haights & Ashbury district, brushing shoulders with several American icons including Gerry Garcia.
My day started out well: a fresh albeit cold San Francisco morning greeted me
Lunch at the famous Cha Cha Cha in Haight Ashbury district had all the markings of a hippie restaurant with world-class flavor. I loved the eclectic religious art which blended in a wacky way with the rest of the decorations
The food at Cha Cha Cha was fresh, authentic and absolutely delicious. I highly recommend the Mexican fare for vegetarians, including the fried Plantanos Maduros and Cheese Quesadilla
Art was splashed loudly on navy-blue painted brick walls
On a crisp, cold Autumn day, a group of writers walk behind Izu, soaking in everything she said about the area. “This is a building that was condemned,” she says, pointing to a brilliantly painted mural on Belvedere Street. “And guess who lived here? The Diggers. They turned it into a homeless shelter and they just opened their doors to everyone. They don’t make them like that anymore,” she laments.
It’s not hard to see where Izu is coming from: her love for the area stems from her love for the era. The hippie era was all about opening one’s doors to others, giving what little you had, loving the world and making it a better place. A couple of years ago, the government intervened, shutting down the food bank and shelter. It broken Izu’s heart.
On Ashbury Street is where Izu’s eyes light up and she shows us pictures of the Grateful Dead and how she’d talk with Bobby Weir as though they were distant cousins. She also shows us the house where the Grateful Dead lived, 710, in a 1890 Cranston-Keenan building. Right in front of the house, the street graffiti artist, Banksy, has painted four slim figures on the pavement. Hippy Free Love it reads.
The condemned building on Belvedere Street has several larger than life murals all done in splendid colors. The scenes show brotherhood, compassion, love
Bougainvillea spilled out of windows in Victorian homes
Izu shows up on all her walking tours with plenty of show and tell: this is a picture of Bob Dylan and Allan Ginsburg in the heyday
The Grateful Dead lived on 710 Ashbury Street
Banksy’s rendering of the Grateful Dead on the pavement in front of 710
Izu in front of the resplendent mural that was the last stop on our walking tour
The Hell’s Angels were right across the street in a Victorian home. “And you know who lived down the road?” Izu asks with a laugh. “JANIS JOPLIN” she exclaims, who was a friend of hers.
We ask her where she got her tie-dyed jacket and she said that there was a special place in Haights Ashbury that makes these, called Haight Ashbury T Shirts. Of course, these are million dollar homes now, says Izu pointing to the beautiful Victorian houses with shingles carefully painted in colors from pastel blue to plums.
There are so many colors to soak in, so many stories and history on the streets, and the entire walking tour is a scene from Where Have All the Flowers Gone. Then Izu points to a marvelous mural that looks like a blown up version of the inside of a chrysanthemum. It’s a fantastic mural, and something I’d be proud to have in my own house on a wall.
We pose with Izu, each of us feeling so very fabulous but not in a screen siren sort of way: it was like slipping back in time when Woodstock was very much alive, and everyone wore flowers in their hair and the girls had ankle-length dresses and bell bottom jeans.
Hippy Free Love, indeed.
This walking tour is just one scene from Trafalgar’s 8-Day San Francisco and Wine Country Delights Guided Vacation. This is one of the vacation’s first stops, and offers you an unbridled, genuine view of one of San Francisco’s unforgettable historical walking tours. I was a guest of Trafalgar but all opinions expressed are my own.