Tripping Out on the Magic Bus for San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” Anniversary

By Author: Vicki Arkoff, Date: Jun 15, 2017
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Are you going to San Francisco? Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair for the 50th anniversary of the counterculture-movement’s famous “Summer of Love.”

The City by the Bay is decidedly more techie than hippie these days, but nonetheless is celebrating the legendary summer of 1967 all year long with museum exhibits, music and film festivals, flower-child-inspired dance parties, and lectures. Hotels are offering discount packages that include “psychedelic cocktails,” VW “Love Bus” tours, bubble wands, and tie-dyed everything.

The city’s visitors’ bureau calls it an “exhilarating celebration of the most iconic cultural event in San Francisco history.” During the famous summer of 1967, nearly 100,000 young people traveled to the city – especially its counterculture epicenter, Haight-Ashbury – to join the scene of musicians, artists, poets, and radicals who would forever influence popular culture.

San Francisco is pulling out the stops to create retro experiences. To that end, the local Antenna Theater troupe has created a unique bus tour to help visitors immerse themselves in the peace-and-love scene with the Magic Bus. For a ticket, guests can take a trip on a colorfully painted hippie-mobile reminiscent of the Merry Pranksters’ infamous Furthur Bus. It’s outfitted with a full sound system, video projectors, psychedelic light shows, and a trippy “goddess” guide adding commentary to a production that features voices from the ‘60s, including Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia, and Alan Watts. Lowered screens turn the bus into a moving movie theater that shows documentary footage of events such as the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park. The Magic Bus boards at Union Square and visits Chinatown, North Beach, Haight-Ashbury, and the Conservancy of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

But of course, it’s not exactly akin to the craziness of the Merry Pranksters’ real Furthur Bus, the 1960s flower-power movement’s famously-painted bus, filled with beat poets, gonzo novelists, rock musicians, and hippie hangers-on. Driven mainly by Neal Cassady, and “guided” by Ken Kesey, there’s been nothing else like it except in homages by The Beatles (“Magical Mystery Tour”) and The Who (“Magic Bus”).

It came about when Kesey bought a retired yellow school bus for $1,250. Inside, it had a kitchen, bathroom, and homemade bunks for a dozen people. The Pranksters radically changed things up by adding a generator, a sound system (with an interior and external intercom), and a railed seating platform up on top. They also cut a hole in the roof for access to an observation turret made from a washing machine drum. Various pranksters painted the bus in a psychedelic colors and designs.

The original bus made its last cross-country trek to the Woodstock Festival in 1969. After that, the magic was gone, and the tired bus was used around the Kesey’s farm in Oregon for another 20 years or so. In 1990, Kesey created a second Further/Furthur bus (a 1947 International Harvester with “Further” painted on the front and “Furthur” on the back) to promote his book “The Further Inquiry,” a memoir about the 1964 trip. Most journalists at the time didn’t notice it was not the original, justifiably more famous bus, and Kesey – ever a Merry Prankster – didn’t bother to tell them. After all, it was Kesey who once said, “Either you’re on the bus or you’re off the bus.”

When the trippy “Summer of Love” 50th anniversary Magic Bus pulls up to its final daily stop at Union Square until the end of the year, passengers would be well advised to sleep it off right across the street in an iconic crash pad: the historic Westin St. Francis. In the heart of the city, steps from great shopping, dining, art, and cable cars, the Westin St. Francis is currently offering two “Summer of Love” packages. For 15% off there’s the “Summer of Love Festival” special, and the “Summer of Love at the de Young” package has 10% off room rates, and comes with two VIP tickets to the de Young Museum, home to the exhibit “Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll,” a collection of iconic rock posters, photos, interactive music, and light shows.

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Vicki Arkoff

Based in Los Angeles, Vicki Arkoff is the Editor-At-Large for Rides & Drives, reporting on travel, entertainment, and lifestyle. She also reports for Just Luxe, Atlas Obscura, The Daily Meal, Day Spa Magazine, Prevue, Where Guestbook, and Where Magazine, and is Editor for Holiday Goddess, the online destination for chic women travelers from the editors of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Conde Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, and BBC. She's co-author of the bestselling Holiday Goddess books (HarperCollins and iTunes) including 'The Holiday Goddess Guide to Paris, London, New York, Rome' which spent nearly 10 months in the travel Top 10. As editor, Vicki's other books include 'Sinatra' (DK), 'Inside Mad' (Time-Life) and 'Virgin Los Angeles' (Virgin Books). She is one of the Usual Gang of Idiots for MAD Magazine, and authorized biographer for several icons including Beastie Boys, Duran Duran, Paul McCartney, Megadeth, Yoko Ono, Radiohead, Frank Sinatra and Tina Turner.

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