(CNN) – The summer of love may be one for the history books, but you can’t get far in San Francisco without being reminded of what it used to be.

With its steep hills, colorful Victorian houses, and remnants of the hopeful hippie life, San Francisco is like an unforgettable character from your favorite book.

Versatile and evolving, smart and friendly, it will challenge your travel expectations and leave you breathless in several ways.

San Francisco has a magnetic pull – it’s what keeps visitors coming back and what keeps creatives alive despite an ever-changing industrial landscape.

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Strolling through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, commonly referred to only as the Haight, you may feel like not much has changed.

A clock on the corner of the famous intersection is permanently set at 4:20 a.m. This is a well-worn reference to smoking marijuana, a California legal substance available at pharmacies across town.

But the Haight is not a drug haven, though experimentation is still a defining characteristic of any art and local businesses survive – and thrive.

By the way: Distractions, a business that has been around since 1976. It is one of the oldest traders in the former “psychedelic” district and caters to a new generation of locals and visitors. Flapper dresses and other Victorian-era clothing worn by the original hippies, according to Jimmy Siegel, owner of Distractions, are most commonly sold to people with capital today, an inevitable part of San Francisco’s growth. Colorful Victorian homes associate many with San Francisco architecture.

Colorful Victorian homes associate many with San Francisco architecture.

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Siegel, who came to San Francisco as a street kid from Pennsylvania in 1972, embodies the Victorian era and hippie culture today in 2019. His passion is evident in his eclectic business as well as in his five-story, carefully restored Victorian home.

“We tried to create an alternative society in which money is not very important,” explains Siegel. And while Siegel admits that his idea of ​​him and his hippies getting out and starting their own society now seems naïve, he has no desire to embrace the chic side of San Francisco.

He has an email address but prefers the phone.

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Jimmy Siegel’s Westerfeld-Haus encompasses a psychedelic room in which one would like to feel like in a time machine.

Courtesy of Beau Molloy

Siegel’s House has been a long-time participant and proponent of Burning Man, an annual event typically associated with drug experiments, live music, and community building. It contains a bright psychedelic room. Wall-to-wall posters, a covered ceiling, and lava lamps depicting the creative artists and musicians of the 1960s are a fascinating experience that borders on sensory overload.

What seems to be far out elsewhere finds a home in San Francisco.

A city of rebellion and defiance

But in San Francisco, and especially in neighboring Silicon Valley, about 60 km from downtown, money matters. It’s a driving force behind the venture capital boom.

Indeed, small business owners like Siegel and other emerging artists are finding dissonance in the burgeoning tech scene and a desire to be creative and form communities. And yet they remain defiant or simply because San Francisco, regardless of its changing industrial landscape and recent sophistication, nonetheless encourages and welcomes individuality.

The legendary Golden Gate Bridge offers great views from across the city on a clear day.

The legendary Golden Gate Bridge offers great views from across the city on a clear day.

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Fred Turner, professor of communication at Stanford University, says San Francisco began as an alternative place as early as the 19th century. People emigrated to the West for freedom back then, but according to Turner, moving west for freedom and being seen is also a modern phenomenon.

In an office with a seemingly infinite number of books, Turner draws one title in particular: “The Last Whole Earth Catalog”. A book was originally thought of as a catalog for people starting out in churches. Turner points out that Steve Jobs, who lived in a community for a year, talked about the book as “Proto-Internet”.

And when Mark Zuckerberg says he wants to build a Facebook system to connect people, “he’s using the language of the community,” Turner explains.

The story of San Francisco

Despite the strong presence of technology and the greed associated with it as many perceive it, it’s luck if there is one thing that San Francisco still stands for.

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Victorian homes still dominate the streets of San Francisco, but now there are plenty of new buildings too – tall and shiny, exemplifying the growing tech scene.

Courtesy of Beau Molloy

For Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists, money may be synonymous with happiness, although Turner argues that this is simply the story of San Francisco: “Silicon Valley absorbs the creative energy, the self-centeredness, the mind-set that is the counterculture in San Francisco. “

Each new flood brings change to the city and strengthens its spirit.

While the entrepreneur’s lifestyle seems to be at the other end of the spectrum of the artist’s way of life at first, the question arises: are they really that different?

Like a moth to a flame

In 1974, the artist Steve Silver and a group of his friends donned fancy costumes and put on a kind of theater on a street corner in San Francisco. Enthusiastic viewers dropped bills in a glass, and Silver and his amateur entourage walked away with $ 200 that first night.

While $ 200 was worth a lot more 45 years ago than it is today, according to Jo Schuman Silver, the late artist’s wife, it wasn’t the driving force behind the performers.

Now Schuman Silver is the show’s producer and carries on her late husband’s legacy with back-to-back performances of “Beach Blanket Babylon” night after night. The quirky, hilarious, and confident musical revue is located in a theater in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, not far from Little Italy. She is known for her creative costumes.

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Tammy Nelson has been on Beach Blanket Babylon for 25 years. Your San Francisco skyline hat is impressive in both size and girth.

Courtesy of Beau Molloy

Huge and heavy headgear, including one of the San Francisco skyline, is one of the defining, if reckless, features of the show. That and the fact that the performance can change in the blink of an eye – or rather in the blink of an eye of a current message cycle.

“If there’s something on the news and I think the audience will care and it’s relevant,” Schuman Silver says she’ll put it on the show right away – that night.

“Beach Blanket Babylon” responds to pop culture phenomena and trends and the latest Trump administration headlines, but is not “too technical or too smart,” and says Schuman Silver when he urges what makes it so dynamic and enduring: “It is just San Francisco. It pulls you in. “

In a city where anything is possible, crazy over-the-top hats are the hallmark of Beach Blanket Babylon, one of the longest-running musical revues in the world.

The city with secrets

If New York is the city that never sleeps, then San Francisco is the city where anything is possible. No larger city is as extreme as not only shows the landscape, which can be unforgiving depending on the direction you go, bike or drive, but also the diverse neighborhoods and the locals and tourists who fill them.

Walk a couple of blocks in each direction and things will look significantly different from neighborhood to neighborhood, even though you’re still in the same liberal city.

It was once the epicenter of the gay movement. It was once the place where people got knocked out – turn on, turn on, and get off, as Siegel describes stumbling over acid. San Francisco is not devoid of these elements. They just aren’t that common.

North America's oldest Chinatown still thrives in San Francisco.

North America’s oldest Chinatown still thrives in San Francisco.

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Fortunately, drug-free visitors can be delighted with a visit to North America’s oldest Chinatown, where dim sum shops and Chinese bakeries line the orderly streets.

A stop at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, often run by the third generation of Vivian Chan, offers a look behind the scenes of the Chinese biscuit of the same name. Every biscuit, fresh from the hot iron presses and handcrafted into its moon shape, contains a fortune.

“When in doubt, see the future.”

“The near future holds a gift of satisfaction.”

San Francisco writer and chronicler Armistead Maupin, who describes San Francisco’s values ​​as the best in the world, would likely agree with this fate.

San Francisco, he says, is about “finding yourself and being yourself and accepting others who do the same”.

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Love and peace and progress

It may be easier to do this in a city like San Francisco, where love and peace were once the weapons of the revolution.

However, Maupin sees potential challenges for the current administration but is not concerned about his city, which he describes as a place of safety.

“The freedom that was once only tasted by gay people will not be given up without a fight,” explains Maupin and highlights the attraction of the always magical city of San Francisco.