The 420 heartbeat of Hippie Hill will never die

420 hippie hill

Hippie Hill may be the first place where people celebrated 4/20 en masse. It is a specific knoll in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and an ideal location for smoking a bowl. At least, that’s what thousands of cannabis lovers think every time April 20th rolls around.

Stephen Rechif, General Manager of Bloom Room, started managing an SF dispensary in 2009. He began celebrating 4/20 at the Hill even earlier.

“Since 2004…twenty years, holy sh*t,” Rechif recounted. “Bringing my band out there with a sound system playing to tens of thousands of people while everyone’s sharing and bringing all kinds of gifts and treats to give out. That’s the best memory I have, for sure.”

That event was in 2009 when people had ample seating on the grass. There was no marketing. People congregated at their favorite sesh spot and realized most weed lovers in the Bay Area also liked to light up there. It was spontaneous and convivial, speaking to the power of the plant.

420 hippie hill
10/27/10 aerial Golden Gate park in San Francisco Photo: Steve Proehl / Getty Images

“Meet you at the Janis Joplin tree…”

High Times Magazine Editor Ellen Holland has celebrated in San Francisco for years, sometimes at Hippie Hill and sometimes on more intimate pilgrimages.

“Even if you’re far from the park, you can still feel that community getting together,” Holland shared. “The best part of cannabis is the community, and 420 is the biggest outward expression of that. The party at Hippie Hill is like a really beautiful way to show the world how weed brings us all together.”

The community energy never left, but attendance outgrew the organic nature of those early parties. Things grew after legalization in 2016, and big brands stepped in, setting up a full stage with all the required permits.

People came in droves to enjoy the first “legal” (public consumption is prohibited in the state) group sesh at the Hill over the next few years. Erykah Badu even counted down to 4:20 pm in 2022.

Many longtime consumers were weary of corporate sponsors, but Rechif maintains that some semblance of the original vibes remained. Banners, fences, and official stages didn’t stop the same gift economy and respect among stoners that made those pre-legalization 420 memories so sweet.

Formal cancellation highlights new ways to celebrate

This year, just shy of a month before 4/20, the Hippie Hill event crew and the City of San Francisco canceled the event. An adult sports tournament takes place at that location on the stoner holiday. A lack of event sponsors and city funds is to blame.

Officials urge everyone to check out SF Weed Week. The weeklong celebration harkens on the energy of beloved SF Beer Week, encouraging those in the Bay to check out new lounges, dispensaries, and art galleries, all in the name of pot.

“It’s going to be at different lounges and clubs for all seven days leading up to 420, not on the day,” Holland explained. “I think I’m just going to run 420 into a whole week’s affair this year. I might end up at the park that day, or I might just chill.”

To many, celebrating 420 means honoring the plant for all it can do; that includes bringing people together. The holiday is about gathering to share your favorite strains or products. This year, the Hill won’t have stages of famed musicians or sanctioned cannabis sales, but maybe because of that, it will capture the organic, free-flowing energy of decades past.

Though Hippie Hill has long served as the heartbeat of the celebration, cannabis is the glue that holds it together around the world. Weed newcomers and OGs can embody the energy of the culture wherever they are with some easy-to-follow advice from Rechif:

“Make something or roll something or bake something to share, and go somewhere with friends or like-minded people… and share it.”

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.