There was a time when Essaouira was firmly established on the hippie trail. In the 1960s/70s Morocco became a popular destination and many young long-haired ‘alternative travellers’ (aka hippies by the mainstream population) arrived in Essaouira in search of whatever it is 1960s hippies were searching for (self-discovery, free love, cheap hash, that kind of thing I suppose).
Jimi Hendrix once stayed here (Cat Stevens, Frank Zappa and some of the Rolling Stones apparently too). The nearby area contains a Jimi café, and several hotels that claim to have accommodated him during his stay (estimated to have been less than two weeks so he certainly moved around if he really did stay in them all). There are also several people wandering around claiming to have been fathered by him (bear in mind these offspring are now in their mid-forties).
It has also been claimed that Hendrix wrote ‘Castles made of sand’ about his stay in the town, although the track had been released more than a year before he arrived.
Whatever the truth, certainly Essaouira is keen to exploit its hippy past, although those days are pretty much over. Now it is a little sea port town with a somewhat windy beach, a working fishing port and a little market/shopping area.
The shopping street is very laid back, particularly if you have arrived via Marrakesh and are used to the hard sell that goes on in the bazaars there. In Essaouira you are generally given space to look at things before the stall owner pounces ready for the hard sell. All in all this makes it a much more relaxed destination than Marrakesh.
It’s certainly still worth a trip. You can do it as a relatively easy day trip from Marrakech or make it your main destination in Morocco for a more laid-back kind of trip.