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Situated along San Francisco Bay between Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, North Beach is a charming and lively neighborhood packed with local history. From the gelato shops of Little Italy to the popular tourist draws like Coit Tower, here are the spots to visit when you’re in town.
An icon of the San Francisco skyline since its completion in 1933, Coit Tower offers 360-degree views of the city and surrounding Bay Area. The murals at the base of the tower date back to the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and depict scenes of the Great Depression, city life and social issues. Take the elevator to the top of the tower for spectacular open-air panoramas, and stroll around Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower’s surrounding neighborhood.
Perhaps one of the most famous bookstores in the United States, City Lights Bookstore was a hub for the counterculture movement of the Beat Generation in San Francisco. Today, the bookstore is a bustling tourist destination as well as an independent publishing press with many author signings and events taking place. A stop at City Lights is a must when in North Beach, as it’s a perfect place to pick up souvenirs and understand the historical significance of the Beat movement.
North Beach is home to Little Italy, and here you will unsurprisingly find the best Italian cuisine San Francisco has to offer. A stroll through Little Italy isn’t complete without a cannoli – Mara’s Italian Pastry and Stella Pastry and Cafe are superb choices. With Italian delis, gelato shops, sidewalk cafés and more, an entire day can be spent eating and drinking your way through this authentic and charming area of the neighborhood.
Filbert Street runs from The Presidio to Telegraph Hill where the street ends in a set of steps flanked by flora and delightfully inconspicuous. Take them either to the top of Telegraph Hill or descend on the eastern slope towards the bay — either way, you’ll be soaking in sweeping views of the coastline. If you’re lucky, you might spot the famed wild parrots who have made their home in the branches of the Telegraph Hill trees. The Filbert Street steps have a very urban jungle feel and, though steep, should be part of your North Beach itinerary.
Founded in 1907, Comstock Saloon is one of North Beach’s oldest eating and drinking establishments. It features nightly live music (plus no cover) and old-school decor, complete with wooden booths, antique ceiling fans and a long mahogany bar. Comstock Saloon serves both classic martinis and inventive cocktails – with one trusting option titled “Bartender’s Whimsy” – and offers a daily happy hour. The food menu goes far beyond traditional bar fare; be sure to hit the weekend brunch for fresh oysters, a hearty breakfast poutine and herbed falafel shakshuka.
Located at the intersection of Broadway and Romolo Place, The Beat Museum preserves the memory of the Beat Generation, an influential group in San Francisco’s history. With both permanent and traveling exhibits, the museum includes manuscripts, books and rare artefacts such as Allen Ginsberg’s typewriter and memorabilia from Jack Kerouac’s funeral. It’s a fascinating look at how the city helped shaped the impactful artistic movement.
On mild days, locals will relax in Washington Square Park in the heart of North Beach, located right in front of Saints Peter and Paul Church (known as the “Italian Cathedral of the West”). By virtue of its size, the park draws a smaller crowd than Mission Dolores Park and Fort Greene, but the atmosphere is still quintessentially San Francisco. The area is perfect for both people-watching on a park bench or sprawling out picnic-style on the grass with an Italian sandwich.
While different to the funky clothing and accessories found on Haight-Ashbury, the antique and vintage shops of North Beach are still worth a visit for those looking for unique finds. Schein and Schein specializes in antique maps, prints and rare books, and the SF Rock Posters and Collectibles boasts an impressive collection of vintage rock posters, handbills and memorabilia. On the north end of the neighborhood is Frank’s Fisherman, a store that carries marine-themed antiques, including compasses, art and custom clothing.
With nightly live music and a Southern vibe, Tupelo is a North Beach favorite with a large weekend crowd who visits for both the ever-changing lineup and soul-food-focused menu. The Saloon, one of the oldest bars in San Francisco, is a divey blues bar that has retained the popularity it garnered in the 1960s and ’70s, with nightly live music and dancing. Another favorite in North Beach is Maggie McGarry’s, an Irish pub that, for good reason, is almost always packed. The bar plays live soccer games and hosts live cover bands every night (except on Wednesday Karaoke when midweek bar-goers are found belting out their favorite classics).
A North Beach entertainment gem, Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon is San Francisco’s premier multi-act musical performance theater and, dating back to 1974, the longest-running musical revue in the world. Known for its satirical tone and ostentatious costumes (think giant headwear and oversized wigs), the show regularly pokes fun at an alternating cast of characters from Donald Trump to Beyoncé. The production runs year-round, and tickets are available online.