Flowers in your hair: San Francisco’s rich music history

CultureMusicNorth AmericaSan Francisco
Photo by Tony Fischer

Photo by Tony Fischer

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

This line comes from Scott McKenzie’s 1967 hit single “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)”. It was the anthem of the summer known as the “Summer of Love” in 1967, and the headquarters of that time period were in San Francisco.

But the 1960s isn’t the only time of musical influence for this California city. San Francisco is rich with music history. Jazz, punk and rock music all have deep roots in the city. You may know famous San Francisco artists like the Grateful Dead and equally famous residents like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. But, other popular bands got their start in the city by the bay as well. Journey, Green Day, and even MC Hammer began here.

Songs are written about it, famous artists were born here, well-known bands got their music careers off and going here, and some of SF’s musical spots left a lasting effect on the music industry.

The venues

Begin your trip back in time of San Francisco’s music history at The Fillmore. This entertainment district, also seen as the heart and soul of the city, first began more than 100 years ago. Although it’s seen many changes since its creation, it’s always been known as an influential music and entertainment district. Many theaters, dance halls, nightclubs and music venues have resided or still reside here and have drawn in various singers and other musical acts throughout its time.

The famous promoter Bill Graham got his start in concert promotion in 1965 for a benefit at a dance hall at The Fillmore. In 1933, Jack’s Tavern was opened, and shortly after Club Alabam and the Town Club joined with Jack’s where a new era of African American music took off and the Fillmore jazz scene was started.

But, The Fillmore truly became the heart of psychedelic rock and counterculture in the 1960s. Bands like the Grateful Dead, The Steve Miller Band, Santana, The Who, The Doors, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, just to name a few. The venue also became synonymous with the psychedelic music posters of the 1960s, as pictured below.

Photo by Dianne Yee

Photo by Dianne Yee

But The Fillmore did not shy away from non-rock acts, with artists like Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding all performing there. Today, The Fillmore is still a musical hot spot in the city.

Summer of love

Arguably the most well-known location during the Summer of Love was the Haight-Ashbury district. Its namesake is attributed to the social phenomenon of the gathering of nearly 100,000 hippies that took place during the summer of 1967. During this year, it was the center for hippies, drugs, creative expression and freedom. The “Summer of Love” also thrust out a new kind of music to the world known as acid rock and helped start the careers of the band the Grateful Dead and singer-songwriter Janice Joplin.

Taking your own musical tour might also include the likes of the MatrixFillmore, the first folk nightclub where Jefferson Airplane debuted in 1965; the house where Jefferson Airplane once lived, rehearsed and partied; and the house where members of the Grateful Dead lived during the Summer of Love.


Jazz lovers should stroll through North Beach. In the 1950s, this area was the bohemian area of San Francisco since it’s where the members of the Beat Generation hung out. They spent their time sipping on espressos and listening to the soulful sounds of jazz music.

Photo by debaird™

Photo by debaird™

The counterculture revolution in the city in the 1960s could not have occurred without the Beat Generation paving the road in the previous decade. Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Lew Welch, and Kirby Doyle formed the core of Beat Generation idealists.

Punk and rock

The free love of the 1960s gave way to something a bit more sinister in the following decades. In the 1970s, San Francisco saw the emergence of Punk music. Leading the way of this genres presence was famous band the Dead Kennedys.

Moving on into the 1980s and 1990s, bands like Metallica settled in San Francisco. The Counting Crows and Third Eye Blind also began here. Even the go-to source for Rock and Roll journalism, Rolling Stone magazine, began in San Francisco before moving to New York City.

With endless history, the City by the Bay calls to everyone who appreciates music. A simple visit to this beautiful city will make you feel like a rock star waiting to play a show. So, put some flowers in your hair and find hotels in San Francisco where you can stay like a rock star.

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