Overview : North Beach is one of San Francisco's distinct, famous, and oldest neighborhoods, dating back to the village of Yerba Buena in the... more »
North Beach is one of San Francisco's distinct, famous, and oldest neighborhoods, dating back to the village of Yerba Buena in the... more » 1830s. Today Little Italy is home to the city's Italian American community, which means you can find some great food here!
If you look carefully, you can find some signs of the city's rough past from the Barbary Coast days, with bars and many other establishments on Broadway catering to a mostly single male demographic.
This area was also home to poets of the Beat Generation like Jack Kerouac who spent much time at Vesuvio Cafe.
If your time in San Francisco is short, put this neighborhood at the top of your list--it's famous for good reason. less «
Tips: San Francisco can get quite cold at night when the sun goes down and the fog rolls in. Many restaurants in the area have outdoor... more » seating with heat lamps that are perfect for people watching over a delicious Italian dinner. less «
The Vesuvio Cafe was a favorite among local beat poets including Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and Neal Cassady where they would hang out often. Today it remains open as a bar and cafe every day from 6am-2am, and is a great place to take a break from a day of city walking before you get back "On The Road..."
City Lights is the most famous bookstore in North Beach, and perhaps all of San Francisco. This independent bookstore/publisher was opened in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin and specializes in arts, progressive politics, and world literature. At nights, it is a great place to go for a poetry reading or to snuggle with a... More good book for a while.
City Lights is most well-known for the trial of Ferlinghetti who published Allen Ginsberg's controversial poem, "Howl and Other Poems" in 1956. Since 2001 this store has been a San Francisco historical landmark, and rightfully so.Less
This sculpture at the northwest corner of Broadway and Columbus is one of many you will see walking the streets of San Francisco. Created by San Francisco artists Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn, these 23 books are displayed as if they are birds flying away after being scared by a small child running on the sidewalk.
"The Langauge of the Birds" is a... More reference to mythology and medieval times that was thought to be the secret to perfect knowledge--something many people hoped to obtain.
At night, the books are illuminated with LEDs, and you can read various words and phases below the books in English, Italian, and Chinese, representing the inter-mingling of the Chinese-American community of nearby Chinatown, the Italian-American community of North beach and Little Italy, and the greater San Francisco community, with cultures and traditions from around the world as well as uniquely local.
This display of public art is just one of the many unique treats that make San Francisco unlike any other city in the world.Less
Look across the intersection above the south eat corner and you will see some more public art--this time by graffiti artist Banksy. His street art is known to combine dark humor and stencil graffiti.
A number of Banksy pieces have shown up in San Francisco, but were painted over at first because local shop owners and city officials did not... More realize the value of the art and instead mistook it for vandalism. Once local small business owners started realizing the value of this graffiti, some have gone to great lengths to preserve the art so that others to not mistakenly "clean" it.Less
If you are hungry, want to rest your feed, or just want to watch the crowds, there are a number of create cafes and restaurants that line Columbus Ave. Many have outdoor seating on the sidewalk where you can sit and face the street and catch up on some people watching.
Washington Square marks the end of Little Italy (or the beginning if you are coming from Fishermans Wharf and is a nice place to sit and relax while enjoying the scenery. The "square" has 5 sides (no ones counts the corner on the other size of Columbus), and you can find many small cafes and pizza places along the east and south sides of the park.
On weekends the park can become quite crowded with families and couples on the crass and often small craft markets.
To the north you will find St. Peter and Paul Church, one of the many highlights of North Beach.Less
This famous Catholic Church is located ironically at 666 Filbert street. Why they didn't choose 665 or 667 nobody knows. In the 1920s the church and parishioners were targets of an anti-catholic anarchy group who initiated 5 separate bomb attacks within a single year.
The church--along with Washington Square--make a cameo appearance in the... More Clint Eastwood Movie, Dirty Harry, during a scene with sniper attacks.
In 1954 Baseball player Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe took their wedding photos in front of the church. They were not allowed to marry inside as they were both divorced and the Catholic Church still recognized the first marriage.Less
At the north east corner of the park--at its highest point--you will find a small plaque commemorating Juana Briones, who built her house in 1836 near this exact location in what was the village of Yerba Buena. She was one of the first 3 settlers of North Beach, and one of the first landowners in all of California.
It you are interested in testing out some of the famous San Francisco hills, consider the couple-block trek to Coit Tower where you will have great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Bay Bridge, Lombard St. and other parts of the city--that is, if it isn't foggy.
The street is quite steep, the the view well worth it.
The tower was ... Morebuilt at the request of Lillie Hitchbock Coit who donated one third of her estate to the city of San Francisco upon her death. Inside the tower you will find many beautifully designed WPA murals depicting life in early San Francisco (there are many others scattered across the city).
Many believe that the 210ft tower is designed to look like the nossel of a firefighter hose, representing Lillie's love of the firefighter service and her charity as the first honorary female firefighter. The design is just a coincidence, but it makes for a nice story.
To the west you can see the curvy section of famous Lombard St, which held the title of "The Crookedest Street in the World" until Wall St. captured the title more recently. There are many stories of why the street is so curvy: some say that a cow pasture once sat above the hill, and it was too steep for cows to walk up. Others cite the cemetery at the top, and note that if a herse was driving up and the back door became unlocked, they didn't want the coffin sliding several hundred feet down the hill. I think my favorite explanation is that the residents on the street thought that by making it so curvy, no one would want to drive down it and they would be left alone--look how well that turned out for them.