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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.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
- Hiking and Walking
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.
WASHINGTON SQUARE IN NORTH BEACH
Washington Square in the North Beach District, home of Saints Peter and Paul Church (located at Columbus Avenue and Filbert Street).
When you visit North Beach, be sure to take a stroll around this park, a real jewel, in the heart of the City. It covers one city block.
The church was completed in 1924. It has the most beautiful old-world church interior in all of San Francisco. Don't miss a chance to peak inside if you are in the neighborhood. Tourists are welcome. The original church was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake and fire.
There is no longer a beach in North Beach. In the 1850's a narrow sliver of the bay extended far inland between Telegraph and Russian Hills and the neighborhood was a sunny stretch of shore.
What was once known as "Little Italy," North Beach has become a melting pot of primarily Italian and Chinese.
St Peter and Paul church
Also called the Italian Cathedral, this is the heart of Little Italy.
Rather amazing, you still have one mass in Italian (and another one in chinese, since this is pretty close to Chinatown).
You would also appreciate the big park in front of it and all the cafes and restaurants in the surroundings...
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.
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.
SS. Peter and Paul Church
Know as the "Italian Cathedral", the Romanesque style Saints Peter and Paul Church was designed after the 1906 earthquake. Building did not start until 1912 and was completed in 1924. The 40 ft marble/onyx Italian alter was made in Italy shipped to San Francisco and reassembled. The church has been featured in many feature films. Contrary to popular belief, Joe DiMaggio did not marry Marilyn Monroe here. He was married at City Hall and went back to the church for wedding photos.
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