Beach Blanket Babylon Musical Revue
Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon was recommended to us by two friends independently. one currently living in San Francisco and the other had just returned from a visit. We purchased tickets via phone. It's a small theater. The shows musical numbers are updated for the times politically so bring your sense of humor. The costumes are outrageous, I'm not quite sure how they wear some of them.We went to a Sunday matinee and had no trouble getting seats.
This is an excellent neighborhood to abandon your car and walk to some of the best restaurants and sites in San Francisco. Down Columbus street are rows and rows of Italian Restaurants all using beautiful hostesses to beckon you to choose theirs. There are also many lively pubs and live music establishments. The biggest kick I get out of this neighborhood is the worldly feel, I here languages from all corners of the globe, and I find that quite exciting and exotic. There is also several wonderful neighborhood parks here and the architecture everywhere is stunning, so bring your camera.
The mural at the corner of Broadway and Columbus Streets celebrates the colorful ethnic history of Italian North Beach, Chinatown, and originally Irish Telegraph Hill. Painted by Bill Weber across two sides of a building that has windows, the mural depicts immigrant themes--Italian fishermen pulling nets, a Chinese Imperial Dragon, and Irish dominated Telegraph Hill. Personal icons of San Francisco history, including eccentric 19th century street bum, Emperor Norton, Chronicle Columnist Herb Caen, Assassinated Mayor Art Agnos, Senator Diane Feinstein, and Former Mayor Willie Brown, and jazz musicians from the Beat Generation. The mural has undergone one renovation and funds are being raised for another. In the last restoration, Mayor Willie Brown's image was painted over that of Senator Barbara Boxer. Willie wasn't a great mayor but he knows how to pull strings and so had a lot of political clout with the state of California for many years. Betsy Malloy, About.com travel writer notes also that when at this street corner, the notion how North Beach came to be called is evident if one looks down Columbus toward the TransAmerica pyramid. Where Columbus flattens out is where the former shorline used to be. In fact, Telegraph Hill, where Coit Tower is located was once part of a peninsula, originally known as "Goat Hill", that formed the western side of Yerba Buena Cove. The eastern corner of the cove came to about 1st and Mission, and so all of the Embarcadero today is landfill from the 19th century, including the hulls of hundreds of ships. See also my tip about Portsmouth Plaza in Chinatown.
We didn't spend a lot of time exploring North Beach, the neighborhood that was once all Italian is now a mixture of Italian, Chinese and other nationalities, instead we just seemed to pass through it on our way somewhere else. Many would say that the best Italian restaurants lie outside of this area but we found a perfectly good old world style Italian menu at Pinocchio's along North Beach's main drag, Columbus Street (named of course for Christopher Columbus, a rather well known Italian) after seeing "Beach Blanket Babylon", the long running show nearby.
The one photo I did take as we were wandering by was of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church where Joe DiMaggio married his 1st wife Dorothy Arnold. Since he was Catholic, when he married for the 2nd time to Marilyn Monroe, he couldn't get married in the church but after the civil ceremony, they swung by here to have photos taken
North Beach is usually described as San Francisco's Little Italy or Latin Quarter. To be sure, Italian restaurants abound on Columbus Avenue, as do small cafes and bars. Of all the neighborhoods in San Francisco, I believe this was my favorite and although it has no doubt changed a lot since the days of Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, I still find it easy to understand why the Beat Generation poets elected North Beach as their favorite place to hang out on the West Coast. In fact, several "landmarks" still bear testimony to the presence of the Beat poets, such as the City Lights Bookstore, the Vesuvio (see my nightlife tips), the Jack Kerouac alleyway, and the Beat Museum. But perhaps the best way to feel like a Beat poet is simply to sit at one of the little cafes and order something to drink!
On a different note, "The Strip", an area famous for its numerous striptease clubs and other types of adult-related entertainment, can be found at the corner of Columbus and Broadway. In 1964, America's first topless act was performed at the Condor, which still operates as a stripclub today. Although the area used to be rather seedy, the clubs that are still in operation today kind of have a neat retro look (at least from the outside!).
Caffe Trieste should be a stopping point for anyone interested in San Francisco's literary and historic past. It has been here since 1956, and was the first espresso coffee house on the West Coast. It is said that Francis Ford Coppola wrote his screenplay for "The Godfather" here. Locals look like they've occupied their seats here for ages, but everyone is welcome. At noon on Saturdays the Giotta family presents a weekly musical of varied themes. Any day of the week, however, it is fun to take in the old atmosphere and enjoy a slice of old North Beach life.
For you baseball nuts out there North Beach is a must see place if you are a Joe DiMaggio fan. This is where he grew up and would play sandlot baseball. There is a park named after him and even though the neighborhood has changed over the years it doesn't take much imagination to envision what it would of been like to grow up as a poor Italian immigrant in the early 1900's, the times have changed but the architecture and setup of the neighborhood is still the same.
This is a popular destination for both locals and tourists, there is a park where you can almost always find a volleyball game going on and plenty of people sunbathing on the grass or sitting on the benches that surround the square. The square is in the heart of North Beach and surrounded by a heavy Italian influence and many different Italian eateries. A heavy aroma of tomatoes and bread is always lingering in the air with promises of delectable delights. Washington Square is also the home of the famous St. Peter and Paul Church where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were married. Coit Tower, Fisherman's Wharf, and Lombard St are all close by making this square the center of activity!
Most of the topless clubs that lined Broadway Street in the North Beach section are gone, maybe because of competition from X-rated home videos, maybe just because times change and it became no big deal to watch people dance with approximately no clothes on (except for my favorite LUSTY LADY on 1033 Kearny at Broadway).
North Beach Was Part of the old Barbary Coast, North Beach is steeped in the past -- Grant Avenue itself is the oldest street in San Francisco. In the early days, North Point docks served as a gateway for immigrants from South America, Europe and the Australian penal colonies. It wasn't until the late 1800s that thousands of Italians made the area their stronghold and turned it into the local Latin Quarter
Whether prowling for historic landmarks, sampling house-roasted espressos, shopping, clubbing, or chowing down, you'll find North Beach has plenty to offer for both a leisurely afternoon visit and a night on the town. Take a detour off the main drag of Columbus and you're likely to run across some unexpected treasure of a shop, restaurant or spectacular view. A word to the wise: avoid driving if possible, or plan to use a parking garage, as street parking in the area is notoriously scarce. Instead, try taking one of the three major bus lines (#15, #30 and #45) or two Cable Car lines that pass through the neighborhood.
North Beach, the traditional Italian neighborhood, is vibrant and teaming with coffee shops in the morning, Italian restaurants in the day, and bars and strip clubs at night. The main thoroughfare, Columbus Avenue, begins at the base of the Transamerica Pyramid and cuts a diagonal across the city to Northpoint and Leavenworth.
It's best known as San Francisco's Little Italy, with its high density of check-clothed ristorantes, caffes and Old World delicatessens. Small boutiques carrying handmade clothing and imported goods dot the streets, particularly on upper Grant Avenue. Though Italian restaurants appear to dominate the dining scene, there are plenty of other good spots to try once you've had your fill of lasagna, with menus featuring Japanese, French and contemporary fusion cuisine.
Since the early days of San Francisco, North Beach establishments were known to have a very open attitude towards sex. Even though the neighborhood is one of the hottest tourist destinations in San Francisco, this sexual freedom still reigns as North Beach has many adult entertainment establishments, including strip clubs (for example, Larry Flint's Hustler Club at 1031 Kearny) and adult bookstores, mixed among the Italian restaurants and coffee shops.
"When the revolution comes, the sparkpoint of ignition will be Specs!!"
but someone who needs fodder for a counterculture piece will probably claim it was.
An interesting and peaceful little alcove right off Columbus Ave. with old historical architecture and vibes, Specs is a good place to step into and take a little "spanish pause" while enjoying a North Beach walk for a drink or even a smoke on the bench in the courtyard in what was purportedly an old occasional Herb Caen hangout.
The bar inside is populated imho with a mix of regulars, a sprinkling of tourists and a few of the North Beach obligatory late-to-the-party beat wannabees. Vesuvio and City Lights are right across the street. And if there is an older looking gentleman with a goatee & glasses sitting in back checking out everyone else... guess who that probably is?
I was actually going to put a tip on Specs 12 under "off the beaten path" simply and only because it is so easy to cluelessly stroll right past it.
I won't rehash all the old myths and legends about Specs. If you care, click below on either or both of the two excellent essays:
Specs Twelve Adler Museum Cafe -- Specs to you
Contrary to what I read in a Warren Hinckle column, I didn't find any fart pillows "around the walls"... maybe I didn't try hard enough
The original "hungry i" (@599 Jackson) & some of the clubs on Columbus & Broadway almost 40 years ago were great places for music, comedy, clubbing, etc.
Today it is still fun to walk by and maybe stop for a quick peek, but keep walkin' - don't get sucked in by the street barkers.
We did once ~ 7-10 years ago and imho these places were some of the worst strip / clip joints I have ever seen.
If you are dying to part with your cash and get not much for it, step right on in.
Actually it is kind of fun (in a semi-sadistic way) to have a quick drink inside and watch everyone ELSE get ripped off...
North Beach is not actually a beach, but an old Italian-American neighborhood situated between Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf. Here are some of the city's most colorful streets, finest restaurants, unusual shopping, and most notable landmarks. The center of this area is Washington Square, with Sts Peter and Paul Church. This is one of San Francisco's popular gathering places.
It was here, in the fabled coffee shops of North Beach, that Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti held court with their friends and fans. And the area still has some lively nightlife. Other than Greenwich Village in New York, it's probably America's most famous hangout.
The only church I've ever seen with a street address of 666, The Church of Saints Peter and Paul is a beautiful building in the heart of North Beach at Washington Square. Originally built to administer to the large local Italian population, it now serves a number of tourists, homeless, and others in the area.
The original church was built in 1884 but was destroyed during the hellific fires of 1906, and the current structure was completed in 1924.
I'm not sure how to describe this show. It's not exactly musical theater.
But it is a definate must-see. I guarantee you haven't seen anything like it. There is a good reason it's been sold out for over 30 years. Be prepared to laugh hard. The costumes are so outragously over the top and the singing is wonderful. Many skits are linked to pop culture with social commentary. I always take my out of town guests to a show and they love it. Make sure to get there about an hour early for good seats.