North Beach

Alley Cat Guides San Francisco, Coit tower and Transamerica Pyramid
Photo credit: Ansu Sahoo

Also known as San Francisco’s Little Italy, North Beach has learned to share the neighborhood with other ethnic groups like neighboring (and encroaching) Chinatown, as well as beatnik subculture and wild nightlife. In terms of Italian culture, there are dozens of Italian ristoranti and delis, many staffed with Italians. If you’re interested in taking a tour of the North Beach area, the guys at Wild Walking SF Tours are awesome! And tours are only $15, but I highly recommend tipping.

The North Beach Highlights

  • Don’t miss Washington Square Park (grab a coffee and sit for a bit!) Take a photo outside Saints Peter and Paul Church where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio took wedding photos (they weren’t allowed to marry in the church since they were both divorced.)
  • City Lights Bookstore: A haven for Beat literature and a living testament to the Beat Movement. Head upstairs to find the reading room, a peaceful break to the bustling life of Columbus Avenue below.
  • Filbert Street Steps: A series of stairways up to Coit Tower through lush gardens, hidden homes, and amazing bay views. Many of these homes are only accessible by the steps. Before starting your trek up the steps, caffeinate at the Ferry Building. Brownie points if you find the flock of green parrots made famous in the documentary, “Parrots of Telegraph Hill.”
  • Coit Tower: At the top of Filbert Street Steps, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with one of San Francisco’s biggest skyline stars since 1933. $8 gets you an elevator ride up to beautiful city views. You can check out the interior murals for free, depicting life in San Francisco during the Great Depression.
  • Lombard Street: A close walk from North Beach, walk or drive down this infamous curvy street! Fun fact: this is actually SF’s 2nd most curviest street, the first being Vermont St. in Potrero Hill. I know, I know, you’ve been lied to your whole life!
  • Vesuvio Cafe (255 Columbus Ave): More of a bar than a cafe with a very old SF vibe, right in the heart of North Beach. A past favorite of Jack Kerouac and other Beat poets, and a favorite still today.

North Beach Food

  • Golden Boy Pizza (542 Green St): Tiny 10 seat pizza bar serving late-night focaccia pizza slices.
  • Tony’s Pizza Napoletana (1570 Stockton St): Just off of Washington Square, Tony’s is a SF institution. The owner/chef Tony has even won multiple awards for his pies at competitions in Naples, Italy. They do charcoal, gas, and oven cooked pizzas, as well as entrees and killer meatballs. Just a heads up…the secret is out on this place, but the wait is well worth it. I always put my name down early and then head over to secret barely-visible-from-the-street 15 Romolo. They have unbelievable cocktails and an excellent Pimms cup to boot. WAY less touristy than all of the other restaurants.
  • Capo’s (641 Vallejo St): Named after the infamous, Alcatraz-imprisoned Chicago gangster Al Capone, Capo’s is an ode to old Chicago with deep dish pizza with red-leather booths and twists on classic cocktails. Actually owned by the same guy as Tony’s! It is more Chicago style deep-dish pizza rather than Napoletana style. They also have lovely pastas, salads, and great cocktails. Capo’s can be easier to get into than Tony’s.
  • Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton St): Delicious focaccia, not so friendly service.
  • Don Pisto’s (510 Union St): In North Beach but craving non-Italian food? Look no further than this popular neighborhood favorite. Think traditional Mexican with a modern twist. Great lively atmosphere.Their infamous al pastor tacos with charred pineapple and avocado salsa has quite the following. Nice place for a big motley crew.

North Beach Nightlife

  • The Saloon (1232 Grant Ave): San Francisco’s oldest dive bar known for live music, dancing and the regulars.
  • Specs’ Twelve Adler (12 Williams Place): Get yourself a beer and a big slice of cheese straight from the wheel! An old school gem that you would never know existed unless someone told you about it.
  • 15 Romolo (15 Romolo Pl): An old-school speakesy in the middle of all the Kerouac history, hidden in an alley between two strip clubs. Great cocktail bar and food. Inside the Basque Hotel.
  • Comstock (15 Romolo Pl): Known for their pot pie (it’s on the 7×7 “Top 100 Things to Eat Before You Die” list). Speakeasy vibe and live music.
  • The Boardroom (1609 Powell St): A good sports bar with good bar bites.
  • Kells Irish Pub (530 Jackson St): Gets crowded on the weekend nights, head downstairs for fun dancing.
  • Maggie McGarry’s (1353 Grant Ave): Lots of live cover bands and fun for dancing.