San Francisco’s Summer (and Fall) of Love

Jan 14, 1967. The crowd at the San Francisco Be-In.
Photo: Lonnie Robbins (source: FoundSF.Org)

When Ann mentioned to me that she was planning to blog about the 1967 “Summer of Love” all I could think of were colorfully clad hippies swaying and dancing to Scott McKenzie’s lyrical, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair).”  

If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there

For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair.

But, as Ann points out in her blog, during that particular summer we were preoccupied with my leaving California and heading off to Fort Dix to get my hair sheared rather than be adorned with flowers.

Were frolicking, flower-wearing hippies really what the “Summer of Love” was all about? As a (retired) sociologist, I’m cursed with an incurable skepticism about things that seem a bit too idyllic.  So naturally I decided to take a closer look at this “Summer of Love” stuff.  As I suspected, I found that things were not as lovey-dovey as Scott McKenzie would have had us believe. Plus, the “Summer of Love” which got its kickstart in January of 1967 had run out of gas by fall.

Members of the Grateful Dead in front of their communal house in the Haight in 1966. Photo by Gene Anthony.(Credit: California Historical Society “On the Road to the Summer of Love Exhibition”)


The skids were greased for San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” on January 14, 1967 when a large crowd converged on Golden Gate Park for a “Human Be-In.” In a PBS piece Kristin Butler wrote:

… more than 20,000 people gathered in Golden Gate Park for the “Human Be-In,” an event organized by a coalition of local artists and activists. Counterculture celebrities Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary addressed the crowd, with the latter exhorting the participants to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Attendees swayed to performances by the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane.

The national media attention to the event lured thousands of young people from throughout the country to join the San Francisco “happening.” A Newsweek article describe San Francisco as a “psychedelic picnic.” Even a tour bus company began “Hippie Hop” runs to the Haight Ashbury district to give tourists a first hand look at what was “happening” and even provided a glossary of “hippie terms.”

1967 San Francisco Haight Ashbury Gray Line Bus “Hippie Hop” tour brochure (photo credit,


The defining “Summer of Love” event took place on June 21. It began that day at dawn as a summer solstice celebration at Golden Gate Park. Groups such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin, Quicksilver, and the Creedence Clearwater Revival drew huge numbers. The “Summer of Love” was in full view as crowds of “hippies” danced and swayed to the music on prime time TV.

However, the summer euphoria had a short half-life. Butler writes, “even as the “Summer of Love” formally commenced, the scene had already started to spoil.” By July San Francisco was being inundated with incoming visitors, including a large population of teenage runaways. LSD and drugs such as Methedrine, Dexedrine, and Benzedrine (i.e., speed) were openly used.


[Editor’s Note: A major source for my discussion of the fall of love in 1967 is from an on-line article I stumbled across entitled “The Media and the Summer of Love.” It was only after I finished jotting down my notes that I realized that the author, Peter Richardson, is a dog park acquaintance with whom I have had numerous enjoyable chats (there’s nothing like a dog park for making interesting connections). In any case, The Media and the Summer of Love provides fascinating details and insights that help us understand the origins and consequences of this historical moment.]

According to Richardson, by fall of 1967 the media’s upbeat depiction of the free-spirited hippie scene had shifted to a more ominous tone, focusing on the increased drug traffic, threats to public health and safety, and even potential food riots.

By this time, the hippie story was fixed. Its weirdness worried mainstream Americans, especially parents, even as it attracted more young people to San Francisco that summer.

… Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia later described the result as an ecological disaster. The Summer of Love raised the music scene’s profile and launched many careers, but the party was over, and the Haight quickly slipped into squalor.

Thinking about all of this, I find it ironic that Scott McKenzie’s haunting song was in fact part of the reason that the summer love fest withered. Kristin Butler even goes so far as to suggest that the song was “the death knell” of the movement.

Flyer announcing the Oct. 6, 1967 funeral for Hippie, “devoted son of Mass Media.” (source: Summer of Love and the Media).

And to cap it off, on October 6, those in the counterculture community, “tired of the commercialization and publicity of their alternative lifestyle,” staged a funeral for the “death of hippie.” The “mourners” carried a coffin down Haight Street with “Hippie, Son of Media” written on its side.

Coffin carried during the ceremony of the “Death of Hippie,” a mock funeral organized to signal the conclusion of the Summer of Love. It was held in the Haight on October 6, 1967. Photo: San Francisco Chronicle

In hindsight, maybe I should have been a bit more suspicious about the lure of Mckenzie’s song. After all, how could an accurate account of the “Summer of Love” be crooned by a singer who changed his birth name from Philip Wallach Blondheim III to Scott McKenzie? Even so, I must confess that I still love that song and can’t get it out of my head.

Scott McKenzie who recorded “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair).”  Born Philip Wallach Blondheim III (photo source: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

%d bloggers like this: