North Beach San Francisco is the home of Little Italy, the Barbary Coast, the beatnik generation and famous nightclubs. This is an urban treasure to experience on foot so you can enjoy the tastes, sites, sounds and smells of this historic San Francisco neighborhood.
From Beach to Landfill
In the 1800s, a beach on San Francisco Bay between Russian Hill and Telegraph Hill became landfill to support the ever-growing commerce needs of the growing Italian immigrant population. Immigration peaked in 1913 and many Italians moved to other areas in San Francisco, but the area maintained its distinctly Italian flavor.
North Beach is located halfway between Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf. The main street through the neighborhood is Columbus Avenue. At the center is Washington Square, a huge public park which is the center of all public events. This park is also the "front yard" of Saints Peter and Paul Church, an Italian cathedral. This is the church which local residents Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Mantle used as the backdrop for their 1953 wedding photo, even though they were married at City Hall.
Sights of North Beach San Francisco
Each street in North Beach has its own special character:
- Columbus Avenue runs diagonally through the neighborhood and is home to excellent coffeehouses and restaurants.
- Broadway is the 1964 home of topless dancing and still maintains an active adult entertainment industry nestled between excellent restaurants.
- Grant Avenue is the home of the City Lights Bookstore, the heart of the beatnik movement in the 1950s. Grant Avenue has become a four-block stretch of fashionable, contemporary clothing and leather shops and cafes.
- Vallejo Street is the home of the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi, San Francisco's oldest parish church established during the Gold Rush.
- Lombard Street is known as the "world's crookedest" street. Be sure to look for Coit Tower at the top of Telegraph Hill.
Discover with Walking Tours
North Beach has hundreds of stores that specialize in breads, specialty meats, olive oils, chocolates, coffee roasting and pastries. Consider taking a walking tour to truly sample the food, drink and fun of the community. Walking with a tour guide is the most efficient way to enjoy this neighborhood first-hand. Free tours are available, or you can purchase a tour that includes lunch:
- San Francisco City Guides have a wide variety of free walking tours. The North Beach tour is an excellent way to learn the history and sights of this unique neighborhood and to find the places to which you want to return and spend a little more time on your own.
- Local Tastes of the City is a seven to eight block, three-hour stroll for $59.
Eating and Drinking With the Locals
This is a neighborhood that loves to eat and truly blends the joy of conversation, friends, good food and drink. Here are a few favorites with the locals:
- Mama's, 1701 Stockton, on Washington Square. Their homemade jams and locally-made pastries make this an excellent breakfast spot. Or, stay for lunch and sample their excellent Dungeness crab sandwich on sour dough bread.
- Calzone's, 430 Columbus. This fun Italian restaurant serves unusual pizzas, calzones and pastas. They have a full bar and there is always a crowd.
- Fior D'Italia, 2237 Mason Street. This is classical Italian food with excellent table service. The menu is expansive and includes many Northern Italian favorites. Ask your waiter for appetizer-sized portions so that you can sample a wide variety of their pastas and seafood dishes.
- The Stinking Rose, 325 Columbus. This restaurant focuses on garlic-infused cooking with everything from baked garlic to spread on crusty bread before your meal to garlic ice cream to enjoy after your meal.
- Palermo Delicatessen, 1556 Stockton Street (between Union and Green). This deli carries locally-made Italian meats and cheeses. They make excellent sandwiches and rotisserie chicken - perfect for a picnic in Washington Square park which is only a half-block down the street.
- North Beach Pizza, 1499 Grant Avenue. Their pizzas include local Italian meats and cheeses. They deliver throughout the city, including hotels.
- Tosca Café, 242 Columbus Avenue. This is a great place for cappuccino or Irish coffee - or to do a little star watching of the movie stars and other famous people who often frequent this neighborhood hot spot.
- Caffe Roma Coffee Roasting Company, 526 Columbus. This is THE place to stop and get a cup of coffee, a glass of vino, a pastry or a panini with a lot of conversation.
How to Get There
Parking is very limited in North Beach San Francisco, so consider taking MUNI or a cable car. The San Francisco trip planner is a great way to find the most direct mass transit route including the actual route numbers.