Insider's Guide to North Beach

  • 01 of 09

    The Low Down

    Deemed San Francisco’s Little Italy, North Beach is a hotbed of pizza, pasta, and loads of coffee. It’s also steeped in history, from the poetry-loving Beatniks of the 1950s and '60s to the infamous Barbary Coast. 

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  • 02 of 09

    Location

    North Beach is located on the city's northeastern side, close to popular tourist neighborhoods like Fisherman's Wharf and Chinatown. While Columbus Avenue is its main thoroughfare, North Beach is also brimming with side-streets to explore. There are also ample hills to climb, a seeming prerequisite for a good portion of SF. 

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  • 03 of 09

    History

    San Francisco's shoreline only ran up to the corner of Taylor and Francisco Streets in the city's early days, when the area that's now North Beach was just as its name suggests. It wasn't until the 19th century that the remnants of boats, docks, and Gold Rush leftovers turned North Beach into an actual neighborhood, albeit one built on landfill in which historic artifacts are constantly being recovered. Italian immigrants populated the area in droves following SF's devastating 1906 earthquake, creating an overall neighborhood character that still remains today. During the 1950s, the Beat poets such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti--founder of the legendary City Lights Bookstore--Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac adopted North Beach as their own, while the years since have brought an industry of strip clubs and live music venues like Tupelo and Grant & Green Saloon

     

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  • 04 of 09

    EAT: Breakfast

    Hugo Pardo Kuklinski /Flickr

    If you’re willing to brave a line, head to Mama’s on Washington Square for one of the best breakfasts in town. Mama's specialty is omelets, like The Californian, complete with crispy bacon, avocado, and spicy jack cheese, and The Northern Italian, bursting with pancetta, sweet basil, and roasted tomatoes; though the French toast varietals are just as legendary. Coffee connoisseurs (and history buffs) should make their way to Caffe Trieste for the perfect Americano in a truly authentic North Bach setting. Réveille Coffee Co. is another popular spot. Swing by for an egg-in-a-hole sandwich and cappuccino made-to-order, then grab a seat at the counter facing Columbus Avenue for some supreme people watching. 

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  • 05 of 09

    EAT: Lunch

    For the quintessential North Beach experience don't miss Molinari Delicatessen, an old-school Italian deli that's been making their own salami and sausages for over a century. Order a sandwich like the Luciano Special, served on focaccia bread with Parma prosciutto, sweet coppa, fresh mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes, to-go and wander over to nearby Washington Square Park for a bit of al fresco dining. Naked Lunch is a casual spot for soups, salads, and sandwiches (things like lamb cheesesteak and butter basted rod cod), as well as brews, pool, and heating outdoor seating. It's a fun place to while away an afternoon. 

     

     

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  • 06 of 09

    EAT: Dinner

    Courtesy of Capo's

    As we mentioned previously, North Beach is known for its Italian fare--most notable of which is pizza, though it comes in a variety of 'round-the-world styles. Capo's whips up Chicago-style deep dish pizzas that are both award-winning and massive (as well as cash-only), while the nearby Tony’s Pizza Napoletana (both spots belong to 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani) seemingly bakes up every other kind of pizza (think coal-fired, square Detroit-style, and Jersey Trenton tomato pies) under the sun. There's almost always a wait, so we suggest slipping across the street to Original Joe's for a couple rounds of budget-friendly fireside cocktails, and maybe an order of veal piccata if you feel like staying put. For late night pizza, nothing beats Golden Boy Pizza, where thick focaccia slices and heavy metal tunes reign supreme. Pizza not your thing? Chubby Noodle is home to tasty bowls of ramen, chow mein, pad Thai, and ample other Asian-inspired specialities. 

     

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  • 07 of 09

    DRINK

    Pamla J. Eisenberg

    For the classic beatnik experience, get thee to Vesuvio, a legendary North Beach saloon with ample beers on tap, plenty of SF paraphernalia on the walls, and right next door to City Lights Bookstore. If it's a sumptuous cocktail you're after, swing by The Devil's Acre, where the best imbibing offerings recall the spirit of San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast era. Looking for a classic libation without any extra fuss? Then 15 Romolo, hidden away on an alley off Broadway, is your place. This is where sangria and Pimm's Cup reign supreme. Another plus: their onsite kitchen serves up burgers and fries well beyond your typical SF hours. 

     

     

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  • 08 of 09

    SHOP

    Helder Ribeiro/Flickr

    North Beach is lined with interesting boutiques, especially along Grant Avenue and spread among the bars and restaurants of Columbus Ave. Popular spots include Therapy, home to everything from vintage furnishing to one-of-a-kind earring sets, and Schein & Schein, the spot for antique maps and prints. Browsing the three-floors of plays, poetry, novels, political works, etc, that make up North Beach's iconic independent bookstore-publisher City Lights is an absolute must while in the neighborhood. Whether it's a travel guide to Spain or Erik Larsen's latest historic non-fiction masterpiece, you'll find it here...along with much, much more. 

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  • 09 of 09

    PLAY

    Eric Sonstroem/Flickr

    Locals like to lounge in Washington Square Park, at the foot of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, where the shine often seems to shine indefinitely. However, when Karl the Fog whips his tendrils into action a good neighborhood hike is the perfect way to stay warm. One of the best staircase walks in the city is the climb up the Filbert Street Steps to Coit Tower, a Streamline Moderne beacon built in 1934 to honor to Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy patron of the firefighters. Check out the post-Depression-era murals upon entry before climbing to the top for spectacular city views, including everything from the Oakland-SF Bay Bridge to the remarkable Golden Gate.