With its rich history and old-world charm, North Beach has been a destination for locals and visitors alike since the raucous days when it was known as the Barbary Coast. Following the great earthquake in 1906, Italian immigrants established the neighborhood as San Francisco’s Little Italy, and in the early 1950s the neighborhood became the epicenter of the San Francisco Renaissance when the Beat Generation arrived from the East Coast, and artists, poets and writers flocked to the neighborhood. Through the ensuing decades, North Beach has continued to represent an enclave of bohemia in San Francisco, and while all cities change with time, it seems the more North Beach changes, the more it clings proudly to its colorful past. We like to think a bit of San Francisco’s everlasting soul lives here in our beloved neighborhood.
So this holiday season, we invite you to come spend a day up here, and experience North Beach like a local. While there are too many treasures here to list in one place, here are a few suggestions:
Start your day at…
Grant Ave. & Vallejo Street
When Giotta family patriarch Giovanni Giotta (“Papa Gianni”) first arrived in San Francisco, he worked as a window washer until he’d earned enough money to open a coffee shop, naming it for the espresso houses of Trieste, Italy, where in his youth, he and his father, a fisherman from Rovigno, went to sell their day’s catch. Since it opened in 1956, the Caffe Trieste has become a North Beach institution; an eclectic meeting place for artists and writers of all kinds, and home to some of the neighborhood’s most interesting characters. Papa Gianni’s secret? “Change nothing,” he says.
Spend an hour at…
The Beat Museum
Broadway & Columbus
Since you’re in the neighborhood, why not stop by and see us! Visit our gift shop and bookstore, and browse our rare book collection featuring first editions, signed books, and rarities from the Beat Generation writers. We’re happy to answer questions, discuss the history of the Beats, and North Beach itself. Also, consider joining our Membership program for unlimited admission and 10% off all purchases year-round.
Columbus & Jack Kerouac Alley
Opened by Henri Lenoir in 1948, Vesuvio Cafe is fittingly located across Kerouac Alley from City Lights Books, in a building that was once an Italian-language bookstore. Vesuvio was among the Beats’ favorite watering holes, and the bar remains a North Beach favorite. The walls are adorned with photos and clippings from North Beach’s literary history, with a preponderance of Beat-related memorabilia. The upstairs, with its big windows and low ceiling, is a perfect place to spend an afternoon sipping a drink and working on that novel you’ve been meaning to finish. Lunch at Vesuvio? Bring your own. Unless you’ll be having the soup of the day…which of course is whiskey.
Enjoy the outdoors at…
Washington Square Park
Between Columbus & Stockton and Union & Filbert
Nestled in the heart of the neighborhood, Washington Square is one of the best spots in San Francisco for people watching. On sunny days the Square fills with people and their furry companions, sunbathing, and picnicking. Grab a sandwich, pizza, or anything to go from any of the nearby eateries, and find a bench or a seat on the grass.
Do some shopping on…
Upper Grant Avenue
The stretch of Grant Avenue from Vallejo to Filbert streets was once the very heart of the Beat scene in San Francisco, home to spots like the Coffee Gallery, The Place, and the Coexistence Bagel Shop. Those places are long gone, but there’s still plenty of locally owned, independent shopping on Grant. A few highlights include custom clothier and designer Al’s Attire; Asian art gallery The Enchanted House; 101 Music for records, tapes, and CDs; vintage clothing store Old Vogue; antique maps, rare books, and engravings at Schein & Schein; stationery, cards, notebooks, etc. from Lola; jack’s for SF-themed tshirts and other clothing; Alla Prima Lingerie; Kabul Tribal Rugs; fine denim at A-B Fits; Aria for an amazing collection of European antiquities; and wine, cheese, and provisions at Little Vine.
Stop in at…
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers
Columbus & Broadway
No day in North Beach would be complete without a visit to City Lights Books on Columbus. San Francisco’s best beloved literary institution, City Lights was founded in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin as the first all-paperback bookstore, with the aim of making good literature more accessible. In 1956, Ferlinghetti was arrested and tried for obscenity following the publication of Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg, thrusting the Beat Generation into the national spotlight. For most of us, we owe a substantial debt of gratitude to City Lights for our introduction to the Beats, and for supporting our literary junkiedom.
Drink with the locals at…
Specs’ 12 Adler Museum and Cafe
Columbus & Adler Place
Ever find yourself wondering where all the North Beach artists, poets, and writers go for a little liquid inspiration? That place would be Specs’. Named for its bespectacled proprietor, a former Merchant Marine, the brick walls of this dimly lit, subterranean establishment are covered with odd souvenirs from his career at sea.
Enjoy a fine…
Dinner on Columbus, Broadway, or Chinatown
By now it’s time for dinner! Since North Beach is famous for its restaurants, you have plenty to choose from along Columbus, along Broadway, and a plethora in nearby Chinatown. Obviously the neighborhood boasts a preponderance of Italian restaurants, both old favorites and newcomers to the scene. No matter where you go, you can expect a great meal. Not in the mood for Italian? There’s plenty of other choices, from Indian to Vietnamese, Mexican to Peruvian. Sandwiches, hamburgers, sushi…on the weekends, you can even get a bacon-wrapped hot dog from a sidewalk cart. Or, head South into Chinatown.
Finish your day dancing at…
Grant Ave. & Fresno Alley
The oldest bar in San Francisco, The Saloon was one of the only buildings spared from the inferno that followed the great earthquake of 1906. Allegedly, firefighters prioritized saving establishments that sold liquor. Other neighborhood legends claim they were protecting a favored brothel upstairs from the bar. In any case, The Saloon is still with us, and we are better for it. Live blues every night, inexpensive drinks, and dancing in a lively, carefree atmosphere. What more could you want?