I used to live one block northwest of the Haight-Ashbury intersection, and can say that for all the kitschy tourist crapola—by far the least exciting part of the area—the neighborhood was always interesting.
Beyond the monuments to the events of 40 years ago, the sometimes hilarious, sometimes snarly streetpunk/walking wounded population that in many respects considers itself the heirs to that period’s legacy, and especially beyond the souvenir shops, junk stores, and gawking tourists, the neighborhood is also home to the city’s best record store, three independent bookstores (one an anarchist collective) a lot of good vintage clothing shopping, a couple of tasty low-end restaurants, some good cafes, a nice branch of the SF Public Library, and the entrance to Golden Gate Park, among other good things.
It’s also almost in the exact geographical center of San Francisco, which in theory makes it convenient to a range of neighborhoods.
Haight Street itself can be too crowded with amblers to be much fun to walk along, particularly on weekends, and yes, parking is thoroughly nightmarish, but along with a tourist trap, the Haight is a very active, vital neighborhood that has a lot to offer. Insider tip: The streets that aren’t Haight are substantially less grungy—I lived on Page and never had a problem with the street being dirty.