Overlooking the San Francisco Bay, between Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, North Beach is a lively, music-loving neighborhood with a distinctive Italian flavor. Gelato shops and trattorias sit alongside rock’n’roll bars and vintage stores, as well as a cluster of tourist attractions such as Coit Tower and the ferry to Alcatraz. Here’s our pick of the best things to do in this vibrant area in San Francisco.
North Beach is synonymous with Little Italy, so it’s no surprise this neighborhood has an abundance of family-run cafes and restaurants cooking up traditional Italian goods. Mara’s Italian Pastry arguably makes the best cannoli in the city. For the uninitiated, cannoli are tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough stuffed with a creamy ricotta filling – Mara’s dunks the tips in chocolate, too. The cafe is open well into the evening should you want to pick up some sweet treats on your way back to base.
Your climb to the base of Coit Tower will most likely involve Filbert Street, which runs from the Presidio to Telegraph Hill, where it ends in steps flanked by flora. They may look like a slog, but this staircase is a destination in itself, thanks to its urban jungle feel. If you’re lucky, you might spot the wild parrots who have made their home in the branches of the Telegraph Hill trees. Also, spin around to soak in the sweeping views of the coastline below.
San Francisco’s Summer of Love lives on at the hippie shops in the city – and they’re not all confined to the bohemian Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. SF Rock Posters and Collectibles in North Beach sells an impressive range of posters, handbills (promotional flyers) and memorabilia from the 1950s to the present day. Entering this emporium is quite the trip, with posters of Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead on display, showcasing the best from the birthplace of psychedelic poster art.
Live music is in the lifeblood of North Beach, and its music heritage lives on at local-favorite Maggie McGarry’s (Janis Joplin, the Doors and Robert Plant have all performed at the venue’s previous incarnations). This Irish pub is always packed, as it hosts live cover bands almost every night, with the shows usually free to attend. If you want to have a go at belting out a tune of your own, Wednesdays are karaoke nights.