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Pit Stop at Specs
"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
- Hiking and Walking
- Arts and Culture
Walking Around North Beach
We walked up Columbus St. and just browsed the restaurants and shops. So many places looked like they would be good, but we were on a mission to eat at Mario's Cigar Store & stop at City Lights Bookstore. This area is very Italian oriented.
North Beach is my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco. By the same token it is also everybody else's too. There is heavy traffic there around the clock, and definately no chance of finding anywhere to park. North Beach has a little bit of everything. Lots of classic Italian food, cool family owned coffee shops, and of course strip clubs! Go to Bimbos to check out the latest indie bands, Caffe Trieste for a real latte, or sit for an hour in Washington Square Park and see the junkies co-exist with the sobers. Oh, and don't forget to go to City Light Bookstore, they have evrything for the beat poetry fanatic (this used to be Kerouac's hangout back in the day!).
North Beach is full of Italian restaurants. So if you're into Italian food that's the place to go. The bad thing is that there's always a couple of people outside the restaurants trying to get you to go in and they can be a bit annoying. It's a very dinamic area. There's also a lot of sex shops and strip clubs. I went there for the 1st time on St Patty's Day and everyone was partying like crazy.
Summer in the city: What else is there to do?
North Beach Festival! To kickoff the summer, one of the first outdoor festivals in the city is the NORTH BEACH FESTIVAL .
This event usually takes place in June and is a street fair full of live entertainment, food booths, as well as dozens of arts and crafts booths.
They say this SF event is the oldest urban street fair in the country.
The events are reflections of the North Beach Beat and Italian heritage.
The day we participated in this event we were blessed with warm sunshine and thousands of street fair dwellers!
My husband and I loved wandering around the North Beach area. There is so much to see there -- Washington Square, Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. Also, for fans of Jack Kerouac and "The Beat Generation", there's VesuvioCafe, City Lights Bookstore and their other old haunts. I found the City Lights Bookstore somehow disappointing, perhaps expecting more. I went up to the Poetry Room -- creaky unkept wooden floors and haphazard piles of books--and got no sense of the creativity that once must have thrived there. However, there is a good selection of the "Beats" books. I would recommend City Lights only for diehard literary types.
Lots of cafes and restaurants for hanging out and people watching.
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
Beat History-Vesuvio Cafe
Vesuvio Cafe is right across from City Lights Bookstore. We did not go in, but if you're interested in beat poetry you should stop here. By looking at the outside, you can see there are 2 levels and you can have some coffee while looking down at the street.
Upper Grant Avenue
This narrow street hidden away in North Beach is often ignored. Once the home to the 50's Beat Generation it still has remants of Bohemian culture. The street has many locally owned clothing and gift shops. If you are looking for eclectic or chic fashion, you will find it here.
North Beach/Little Italy
I like this part of town. It has a lot of character. Most of the restaurants are good. Cute shops. Washington Square Park is across Union Street next to Saints Peter and Paul Church. It's a good location for people and dog watching.
Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe had their picture taken here after their City Hall wedding.
I brought my mother and step-father to Cafe Trieste for coffee and ended up talking to a local poet who pointed us in the direction of the Beat Museum just up the street. My step-father grew up during that era so he enjoyed the experience. Later we walked to the City Lights Bookstore, another hangout for Kerouac and Ginsberg.
Looking for a little Cultural Stimulation??
My favorite San Francisco treat is a little section of Broadway and Columbus Aves. This is part of the North Beach area of the city. While here, if you're looking to steer away from the usual tourist attractions, step into the CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE. "City Lights Bookstore" is to San Francisco what "Shakespeare and Co." is to Paris!
It's where the famous Beat writers and poets sought after an "alternative" culture.
To soak up some of this culture yourself, grab a book out of the hundreds enlightening ones to choose from, grab a table and a cappuccino across the ways at TOSCA CAFE....then when the sun sets, plant yourself at one of the live jazz clubs along the street........and then just dig the scene, man.
The Birthplace of Joe DiMaggio
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.
Beach Blanket Babylon
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.
The Italian section of San Francisco, North Beach is another vibrant community that often comes alive with street festivals and special celebrations. Filled with restaurants, churches and bookstores, North Beach is the perfect place to have an Italian meal and sit and watch the crowds go by.
This area of town was very popular with Beatniks in the 1950s and writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg were regulars in the neighborhood. City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Ave. is a particularly famous "beat generation" destination and definitely worth seeing while you're in the area.
You can often hear live music in the park at Washington Square. On a nice day, this is the perfect place to sit and enjoy the scenery. Also, don't miss the dramatic, gothic Saints Peter and Paul Church, which towers over the north end of Washington Square.
For more information about the area, check out the North Beach Museum. Admission is free and you can stroll through exhibits that tell the story of this neighborhood's culture and history. It's located on Stockton St.
- Family Travel
- Food and Dining
- Arts and Culture
North Beach- San Francisco's Little Italy
In addition to being San Francisco's Little Italy, it was the home to the San Francisco's "Beat Generation" in the 1950's. The neighborhood has many of the city's best cafe's, bars, nightclubs, restaurants and coffee shops.
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