San Francisco's North Beach District is the city's version of New York's "Little Italy". North Beach is the undisputed home to San Francisco's Italian heritage. Adjacent to Union Square and beginning where Columbus and Kearney Streets cross, North Beach is full of curbside Italian restaurants, cafes, bookstores and a popular park known as Washington Square where on warmer days the locals picnic and hang out. In addition to being heavy on the Italian charm and culture, North Beach is also home to some of San Francisco's more interesting night life. If traveling with children, be weary. The area is safe but for every Italian restaurant this area of SF is home to topless bars and adult book stores-where at night some colorful neon signs light Columbus Ave and the surrounding streets.
North Beach is an Italian neighborhood of San Francisco that could best be described as a “Little Italy” of the west coast. The streets are somewhat narrow, on most light posts visitors will notice painted Italian flags and Italian restaurants, Espresso cafes and bakeries line the streets. Located along Columbus Avenue (the main thoroufair), North Beach is just blocks away or less than a five minute walk from Chinatown and Union Square. At the center of North Beach is Washington Square, a bright green park where the Sts. Peter and Paul church towers over people on picnics, sunbathers and pedestrians passing through. North Beach has a long history in San Francisco that dates back to the late 1800s. Visitors to this quaint neighborhood will indeed find it to be unique and charming and a little bit of off the main path that tourists go and more visited by the locals of San Francisco. North Beach is also home to an eclectic group of bars, adult entertainment theaters and the City of Lights Bookstore.
North Beach as a neighborhood is a must see for many visitors to San Francisco, but unlike other attractions in the city, North Beach lacks a specific focus or draw other than the dining, bars and night clubs. For many visitors that is okay, for those looking to settle down out of the way of the chaos San Francisco can be over a glass of wine or full Italian dinner, this is the ideal place to go. Although North Beach is also known as a “Little Italy” of the west, it by far still does not compare to New York’s Little Italy with super narrow drives and clothing lines strung between rows of houses. San Francisco’s North Beach has wider streets and although at one time it was a large Italian immigrant population that took root, today the actual residents of this district come from all Ethnicities.
Mama’s (At Stockton and Filbert Streets)
Mama’s is THE place to go in the North Beach area for a good home made breakfast. You better get there early though as lines start at the 8am opening and extend all the way up Stockton Street. Mama’s has been in business for over 50 years and serves up a menu of homemade jams, breads, pastries and an array of fluffy omelettes. One of its more popular dishes on the weekends is its Dungeness crab benedict.
Vesuvio Cafe (Columbus and Broadway)
Vsesuvio Cafe first opened its doors in 1948, located at Columbus and Broadway (near the border of North Beach and Chinatown) is a San Francisco institution in itself. This is the perfect place to come if looking to see local San Franciscans representing all walks of life people of the city are known to come. The bar has a history of famous patrons from the past from a cross genre of poetry, music and the arts. Today the crowd consists of local poets and intellectuals to the sports crowd to tourists and singles, this bar represents the diverse charm San Francisco is known for.
City of Lights Bookstore
City of Lights Bookstore located next to Vesuvio Café in North Beach is also a San Francisco landmark that goes back over 50 years. The bookstore prides itself on carrying independent published books that cover a range of topics that include arts, history, progressive politics and literature. Most of these books won’t be found in a Barnes and Noble or on Amazon but make for wonderful reads that are full of interesting information and education. Travelers to San Francisco interested in the arts and literature must make a visit to this historic and iconic location during their visit to the city.
Saints Peter and Paul Church
This Catholic Church was originally built in 1924 and stands tall and grand in the center of North Beach. The church like most things in this neighborhood has a long and broad history. In use today this Catholic Church is a great place to catch a Sunday Mass for those Catholics visiting (as well as locals). The church was where Joe DiMaggio and Marylyn Monroe were married and has been featured in several tv shows and movies including “The Other Sister” starring Diane Keaton. The church since the 1920s has played an integral role in blessing the fisherman of fisherman’s wharf and every October a procession leads from the church down to the wharf to honor this tradition.
You'll know that you are in North Beach by looking at the light posts. Each one will have the colors of the Italian flag painted on the middle and full circumference section of the pole. Although officially San Francisco's Italian District, the neighborhood has seen a dramatic decrease in the actual Italian population in the last 30 years. Today North Beach is home to up and coming professionals as well Chinese residents who have spilled over from neighboring Chinatown.
Washington Square is perhaps the focal point to North Beach. Walking down Columbus Avenue (and its a downhill walk) from Kearny Street you won't miss it on the right hand side. At the center of the square is the Catholic Church known as Saints Peter an Paul Church. On sunny days the park is packed with locals and their pets, people on picnics and visitors in general. This is an excellent place to see an authentic side of San Francisco in action as few tourists venture into this area.