As one of San Francisco’s oldest neighborhoods, North Beach is known for its Italian heritage, bohemian history, sumptuous food offerings, and vibrant cultural scene. Let’s take a closer look at our favorite North Beach hot spots — they’re worth the trip!
Hang at the Park
Washington Square Park has been a fixture in the heart of North Beach for 170 years, hosting many events and festivals each year. Built in 1847, it’s the nexus of the neighborhood for musicians, artists, professionals, dog lovers, tai chi practitioners, businessmen and women, and beautiful people of all walks of life, from toddlers to geriatrics and everyone in between, to simply revel in some open green space. Grab a pizza from 12-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani’s flagship restaurant, spread a blanket on the grass, and have a picnic while soaking up the sun. Enjoy the Italian influenced architecture and ornate, semi-haunted Saints Peter and Paul Church, located at (really) 666 Filbert St., where local legend Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe took pictures after their wedding.
There’s no shortage of choices to sample, and the best way to eat your way around is on foot. Head to Mama’s Cafe, if you’re brave enough to face the line for brunch. Solid alternatives: Original Joe’s or Park Tavern on the same block. Sip an espresso at picture-perfect Caffe Greco along Columbus Avenue (“Cristoforo Colombo,” named for the explorer), the diagonal thoroughfare and one of the city’s coolest boulevards, with an impressive view of the Transamerica Pyramid, the City’s second tallest building. Stock up on biscotti, cannoli, and tiramisu for a balanced breakfast at Stella Pastry across the street. Catch the 39 MUNI bus to Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill for 360-degree views of the Bay and nearby Lombard Street, if walking uphill is too strenuous after your third scoop of gelato (best bet: any flavor at Gelato Classico).
To better understand the neighborhood, check out City Lights Bookstore (and publisher, near the corner of Broadway), ground zero of the Beat Generation, counterculture movement, and subsequent Hippie era. Their shelves contain three squeaky hardwood floors’ worth of knowledge and memorabilia on local topics like the Barbary Coast, politics, California history, Chinatown and more, plus a beautiful sunlit “hatch” dedicated to poetry and rocking chairs. Don’t forget to check out the Beat Museum or relax with a drink at Specs’ or Vesuvio and take a whiff of all the history. Or you can attend a live poetry reading at Cafe Trieste in the Green St. piazza, where many of the elder statesmen still hold court.
Nosh Some More
You can’t visit North Beach without trying an old-school Italian-style sandwich from Molinari Delicatessen, famed to be the oldest deli on the West Coast. Since 1896, it’s been a mainstay for local residents seeking authentic taste and ambiance. Pro tip: arrive early (doors open at 9 AM) to snag a fresh baked foccacia ($1 extra). Eat on the sidewalk or bag it for later, along with your favorite fresh cheese, salami, the best sun-dried tomatoes, and a bottle of vino, of course. For dim sum takeout, just around the corner in Chinatown, pop in to Good Mong Kok for the freshest shrimp, pork, and beef dumplings, taro cakes, char siu bao (baked or steamed; plus, they now accept credit cards) and fried green onion bread. There’s more here than just Golden Boy Pizza!
There are numerous venues in North Beach, including The Saloon on Grant, a dive bar with a stage open continuously since 1861; Maggie McGarry’s Irish pub; Tupelo; Bimbo’s 365 Club; Doc’s Lab; BIX, an upscale jazz bar and restaurant; Comstock Saloon; The Devil’s Acre; Club Fugazi, home of “Beach Blanket Babylon”; and Cobb’s Comedy Club, which has hosted hundreds of top entertainers. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty to do in the area, not to mention adjacent Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, Chinatown and the Embarcadero for all your shopping and city tourism needs.
While it’s seen some changes over the years, North Beach continues to offer up a colorful landscape of impassioned residents, a diverse past, and great eats. So what are you waiting for? We love you, North Beach!