The Times May 23, 2009
- Ginny Dougary

Where better to start than Haight-Ashbury, the San Francisco centre of the Summer of Love? At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that this was 1968 rather than 2008

The main drag is dominated by “head” shops selling crazy-looking bongs, and the boutique windows are full of tie-dye T-shirts. The pavement panhandlers, however, are very much the new generation of dropouts, mostly in their teens and twenties.

Our cheap and immensely cheerful digs were around the corner, also close to the great green swath of Golden Gate Park. These quiet streets are lined with grand old houses painted in dark aubergines and greys.

I had hoped to find suitably idiosyncratic accommodation, along the lines of Anna Madrigal’s guesthouse in Armistead Maupin’s epic tribute to San Franciscan life, Tales of the City — and Inn 1890 was the next-best thing: amusing fellow travellers, laid-back management and big breakfasts around a communal table, with a view of an ancient sprawling fig tree.

We made various sorties: to goggle at the giant redwoods in the national monument of Muir Woods; take vertiginous trolley rides; a Sound of Music singalong at the Castro Theatre; and to worship at the foodie shrine of Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse.

Off on our road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles; no Beach Boys soundtrack, alas, but the boys were gobsmacked by the views. Monterey’s 17-mile peninsula was so beautiful, the beaches black with a mass of sea otters and lions, we had to keep jumping out of the car to take a closer look.

New Year’s Day was at the knockout Post Ranch Inn, which is firmly at the well-heeled end of hippydom. My sons wallowed in the open-air hotbaths, while I went for a hike through the woods and valleys of the extensive grounds.

We arrived late in LA having stopped off at the kitsch spectacle of William Randolph Hearst’s castle in San Simeon. It’s worth checking out for the vanity of its vision but it’s a bit of a mission: advance booking strongly advised, a 15-minute bus ride from the car park, and so on.

The sightseeing in LA was unashamed gawping, with a tour of celebrities’ homes — the Beckhams are the No 1 top sighting — and Universal Studios, where a creepy Norman Bates lookalike ran after us with a shower-scene-from-Psycho knife (ho-ho). Venice Beach offers free freakshows, if watching men jump on shards of glass is your thing.

I used to be a Mondrian loyalist but have recently defected to the Sunset Tower hotel next door. No hippies or hip-hop artists there, but a perfect, soothing ending to a West Coast holiday.

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