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Everything You Need to Know About North Beach in San Francisco

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San Francisco is home to a diverse group of people, and North Beach neighborhood is no exception. It was originally populated by Italian Americans, which gave way to the formation of “Little Italy”, which North Beach has become known as. Think authentic pizzas, cappuccino and gelato! Today, its home to a mix of young professionals and families from diverse backgrounds, so you can be sure there is something for everyone but it still retains its Italian heritage intermingled with other cultures.

Tourists will never feel lonely or bored in this neighborhood, because of its colorful culture, unique charm and a wide array of shops, establishments, restaurants, and so much more. So if ever you’re in San Francisco, make sure you won’t miss the Little Italy in North Beach neighborhood. Other neighborhoods in San Francisco are also worth checking out, if you find yourself having limited time to explore San Francisco, try our SF in One Day Tour. You can also visit Little Italy, Chinatown, the Financial District and other historic places in San Francisco with our Original San Francisco Tour.

How to Get to North Beach

If you’re planning to go to North Beach via public transportation, here are some things you need to know.

If you’re taking the BART (our local subway), take any line to Montgomery Street station of Powell Street stations. These stations will be the closest to North Beach. If you'd like help taking our subway, check out our post on How to Use BART.

The Central Subway is still currently under construction, but it is set to go to Chinatown and North Beach Station near Washington Square. It is estimated to be open by summer of 2021.

Things To Do in the Neighborhood

You’ll never run out of things to do in Little Italy, whether you’re into music, art, books, architecture, or shopping. You’ll soon learn that North Beach is a place that can feel like home.

Sightseeing

A tour in Little Italy is not complete without seeing the iconic landmarks, marvelous architecture, works of art and breathtaking views of the place. You’ll surely find a lot of places that are worth snapping some photos of so don’t forget your camera! We recommend our self-guided walking tour so you don’t miss any attractions along the way.

Columbus Avenue

Columbus Ave. is the main street of Little Italy in San Francisco. So take a leisurely walk along this street to look at the shops, try some of the restaurants and coffee shops and immerse yourself in the culture of the people.

If your legs can still do it, try walking up the very steep Filbert Street to see the iconic Coit Tower that’s become an integral part of North Beach’s skyline. You can climb up inside and see an awe-inspiring view of San Francisco.

Filbert Street Steps

Any tourist or local with strong enough legs will definitely enjoy the Filbert Street steps. However, the 284 steps on this path can get tiring, so you will get your exercise here (but it's totally worth it)! As you walk on the steps, feel the unique jungle vibe it exudes despite being in the middle of an urban neighborhood. If you do decide to climb the steps, you'll love it when you reach the top and you get greeted by the majestic panoramic view of the coast.

Coit Tower

On top of Telegraph Hill stands the iconic Coit Tower. You can go inside the lower level of the tower and view the many murals for no charge. These murals from the Great Depression era of the 1930s shows what life was like for San Franciscans in that time.

Once you finish with the murals, you can buy a $9 ticket to ascend to the top of the tower’s observation deck.

Beat Museum

The Beat Generation was a group of authors whose great work inspired and influenced American culture after World War II. The group helped shape American and San Franciscan culture specifically through their artistic movement. The Beat Museum was built to honor their contributions and keep the memory of the authors alive. Stroll down memory lane and experience some of the memorabilia left behind by the Beat Generation, which has become an integral part of American history. Also be sure to try City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Café for more Beat Generation artwork and displays, and to see what their life was like!

Washington Square Park

Whether you enjoy a good old-fashioned picnic with paninis and pizza or just relaxing in a park, watching the people go by, Washington Square park should definitely be on your list of places to visit. Bask in the typical San Franciscan vibe in the air and enjoy the culture of the locals in this grand park. The best thing about it is it’s never too crowded.

North Beach Murals

For art lovers, take a look at the murals across Columbus Avenue that depict some important events and people of the history of San Francisco. Around this area you can also see one of the works of the mysterious street artist Banksy that says, “If at first, you don't succeed – call an airstrike."

Saints Peter and Paul Church

Built in 1884 at the corner of Filbert and Grant Avenue, then reconstructed in 1924, this church is something to be marveled especially by architecture buffs. It is the home church of the Italian Americans in the neighborhood since it was built. Currently they are seeing diversification of the people in the church. It has been featured in many contemporary Hollywood movies like Dirty Harry (1971), The Ten Commandments (1923) and Sister Act 2 (1993).

Take a Bus Tour

Some of these places in the neighborhood can be too far apart to walk, and considering the steepness of the hills, it might be a good option to visit them using Hop-On-Hop-Off bus services, if you've been walking around through the city for so long that you're ready to get a ride.

Shopping

Another fun activity to do in North Beach is shopping. Below are some interesting places that you can visit when you plan on buying personal stuff, books, gifts, or souvenir items.

City Lights Bookstore

Bookworms can rejoice, because City Lights Bookstore is in North Beach too. One of the most famous bookstores in the United States, you can easily spot gems and rare finds in here. If you’re lucky, you may even get a chance encounter with your favorite author since famous authors regularly make appearances for book signing events.

Grant Avenue

If you’re into unique finds and vintage stuff, don’t miss Grant Avenue. You’ll find vintage clothes, rare maps, other collectibles that represent California culture from Schein and Schein. 101 Music has some rare recordings, LPs and a huge stack of records you can rummage through. For the gentlemen, try the family-run Al's Attire for hats and suits. Therapy offers some really cute finds as well. And many other interesting stores in to choose from!

Dining

When it comes to restaurants, street food, cafés, and bars, Little Italy has it all. Anything you might be craving, we have have it here. The local business owners are made up of a diverse group from all around the world, and hence you can find just about any cuisine in the area.

There’s Molinari’s, one of the last authentic Italian delis in the area; the famous Caffe Trieste, where Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script for The Godfather movie; Cavalli Café that offers authentic Italian cannolis served by a true Italian; and so much more. Read more about dining in North Beach in the next section.

Best Restaurants in North Beach

North Beach is heaven for every foodie. It has a wide range of gastronomic delights with cuisines from all over the world; you simply cannot try them all. To help you make your choice, we have gathered some of the top rated restaurants in the area, categorized according to the your budget.

Budget-Friendly Restaurants

For tourists on a budget, worry not! There’s also a wide variety of restaurants in the area that serves great food at an affordable price.

Golden Boy Pizza (4.5, 3472 reviews) For pizza lovers, try this place on Green Street. Their foccaccia pizzas are baked to perfection. Enjoy a delicious slice of clam and garlic pizza for less than $5, but be prepared to wait in line! This place is popular with locals and tourists.

Freddie’s sandwiches (4.5, 478 reviews) has been in business for 130 years and it still continues to bring joy to locals and tourists. This deli in Francisco Street serves sandwiches, subs and hoagies using high-quality ingredients. You can enjoy their famous Italian combo sandwich for just $7.95.

Alimento (4.5, 684 reviews) is an Italian deli that serves sandwiches and salads, but they are best known for their gelato. Head over to Columbus Avenue and sample some of their gooey and creamy gelato. There are so many flavors to choose from, try our favorites like their stracciatella, tiramisu, coconut almond joy, or the Bourbon Butter Pecan. A meal with gelato would cost about $20.

Lush Gelato (4.5, 76 reviews) has the best gelato in all of North Beach. Of all the locations that sell gelato, this is the only one that makes their own gelato from the basic ingredients. While other gelaterias buy from a manufacturer, Lush is the only one who uses ingredients from local farms and dairies to make the perfect gelato with local flavors. If you’re hankering for some rich and tasty Italian gelato in North Beach, head over to Stockton Street. Their affordable gelato is something locals have been raving about. A medium costs only $5.50. Try their cookie dough, crème brulee or pistachio, but there are so many other classic flavors that the kids will surely love.

Mid-Range Restaurants

Fog Harbor Fish House (4.0 Stars, 5,925 reviews) is a seafood restaurant that is one of the top rated restaurants in all of San Francisco. With a full service bar that offers not only freshly and sustainably sourced seafood but breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay, you have to check this place out. Between the hefty serving of seafood, amazing views and great service, this is a must-try restaurant when you are in the neighborhood. It is located in Pier 39 Fisherman’s Wharf.

The House (4.5 Stars, 4798 reviews) has been open in San Francisco for years and it has been getting consistently great reviews since then. Although a bit pricey, this Asian Fusion restaurant on Grant Avenue serves fresh and delicious meals that anyone will love. We recommend the scallops or the lobster tempura.

High-End Restaurants

On top of the high-end restaurant’s list is Coi (Yelp: 4.0 Stars, 783 reviews, 2 Michelin Stars). You’ll be blown away by the creativity and originality of the tasting menu that changes every season, incorporating only the freshest seafood and game. The tasting menu costs $250, along with some wine pairings.

The award winning Eight Tables by George Chan (4.5 Stars, 118 reviews) is another highly rated upscale Chinese restaurant located in Kenneth Rexroth Pl. This delightful eatery is perfect for an intimate dinner, and the food is absolutely amazing. The tasting menu is worth $225 and a seven-course meal is $175 but the experience of dining with each well-prepared and fresh meal is priceless.

Café Jacqueline (4.0 Stars, 652 reviews) by chef Jacqueline Marguilis is a French restaurant that focuses on impeccable soufflés. This restaurant is located in Grant Avenue and is perfect for those who are looking for fine dessert in a charming and intimate room. You may try their savory soufflés, as well, paired with the best selection of wine.

For delicious Italian-style seafood here in Little Italy, try Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood (4.5 Stars, 3688 reviews), the highly rated bar and restaurant in the area boasts of a friendly neighborhood ambiance and a great selection of seafood pasta and authentic Italian-American cioppino.

Night Life

Live music is something that North Beach has in spades. Some of the famous music venues include Tupelo, The Saloon, or the Irish bar called Maggie McGarry’s. If the bars playing live music every night doesn’t draw you in, the lively crowd surely will.

Popular Bars In North Beach

15 Romolo (4.0 Stars, 1060 reviews), located in Basque Hotel in Romolo Pl, has been a North Beach local watering hole since 1998. It has a nice and relaxing atmosphere that attracts newcomers and keeps the old patrons coming back. Their selection of artisanal cocktails are made better by their bartenders who really know their mixes. The drinks are average priced too, so you can enjoy the night without spending too much.

The Saloon (4.0 Stars, 462 reviews). History, music, local San Franciscan culture and cheap drinks converge here. This bar has been standing in Grant Avenue for almost 150 years! Opened in 1861, it still continues to attract locals and tourists because of the casual and cool atmosphere of the bar, excellent musical performers, and cheap beer.

Monroe (4.0 Stars, 422 reviews). Although relatively new, this watering hole in Broadway Street should not be overlooked. The bar offers a wide range of cocktails and wine. They have a good-sized dance floor so you can dance to a great selection of music under the Gatsby themed décor.

We also recommend traversing through Lombard Street. It may be known for being the most crooked road in the world, steep hills and very sharp turns but this street is known for the locals for its bars, pubs and nightlife. This long road extends from North Beach to Cow Hollow and it has amazing places of interest that you surely should not miss. We recommend doing a walking tour of Lombard Street so you don’t miss any interesting places along the way. Our walking tour includes Little Italy, Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Best Hotels in North Beach

North Beach has no shortage of hotels for you to stay in during your weekend getaway or your week-long vacation. There’s a place for everyone, depending on your budget. Here’s a list of our top picks.

Marriott Vacation Club Pulse (3.5 stars, 47 reviews on Tripadvisor) In terms of the upscale hotels in the neighborhood, Marriott has spacious boutique-style rooms in a great location, between North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s just a four-minute walk away from the harbor where you can find great views and establishments.

Hotel Zephyr (4.0 stars, 3,288 reviews) is a great choice for a mid-range hotel. They have nautical-themed rooms that the kids will surely appreciate. The harbor view in the rooms are simply breathtaking and it’s only a 5 minute walk away from pier 39 near Fisherman’s Wharf.

Washington Square Inn (4.0 stars, 444 reviews) If you’re looking for a hotel right in the heart of North Beach, try this one, located just a few steps away from Washington Square Park, where you can take a leisurely walk to Coit Tower or Lombard street.

Green Tortoise Hostel (4.5 stars, 860 reviews) offers affordable rooms for a traveller on a budget. It’s located near the border of North Beach and Jackson Square, just a few minutes away from Beat Museum and plenty of establishments nearby.

Things to Do for Kids and Family

Little Italy is a family friendly place that has a lot to offer to keep your kids entertained. From the numerous gelato shops and pizzerias that are very famous with the children to the libraries and attractions, your kids will never be bored, or hungry.

Located in Pier 39 at Beach Street, the Aquarium of The Bay will be a treat for the kids who enjoy watching and learning about marine biodiversity. Kids and adults will love walking the long underwater tunnel to see over 50 species of sharks and thousands of other marine animals. It’s also a good way to teach the kids about water conservation and reducing plastic pollution.

Museum of 3D Illusions on Jefferson Street will take you and your kids on an imaginative journey. Take pictures with fun optical illusions that will transform you into a brave surfer, an adventurous survivor of a volcano eruption in San Francisco, or a dare devil hanging on a side of the city’s tallest buildings and many others.

Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze in Pier 39 will take you and your family on a psychedelic trip. The fun starts when you see someone you know but you’re left wondering if they are real or simply a mirror image.

Take your kids to Joe DiMaggio Playground where the baseball legend spent a lot of his young years practicing ball. The recent remodel gave the old playground a facelift featuring large slides and swings. The adults can also enjoy the basketball and tennis courts and a swimming pool.

XOX Truffles in Columbus Avenue sells delicious, mouth-watering truffles that the children and adults will adore. The store is considered a gem in the neighborhood for their cocoa-dusted bite-sized truffles that everyone loves.

North Beach Library, also on Columbus Avenue, has a space designed to keep the kids busy. The children’s nook has games, books, toys and a large window that will give them a view of the neighborhood. The adults can enjoy some light reading as well while the kids are enjoying their time.

Kids love sweets, and Victoria Pastry Company has plenty of them on display to make your kids happy. They’ll be swamped making a choice out of all the delicious-looking cakes, custards and cookies on the glass display.

Tacolicious is a restaurant that is designed for kids. The kid’s menu offers some creative names and your kids will be surprised by how fun and creative they serve their meals.

There are so many fun things you can do and see in North Beach, San Francisco. If you want to fully maximize your visit and explore the rich culture of SanFo’s “Little Italy”, book our self-guided walking tour and experience what the neighborhood has to offer.

About The Author

Britt

Britt is a San Francisco Bay Area native, and has spent 25 years in this magical city. He has traveled to over 30 countries, and has never found a place he loves as much as this one! If you come to San Francisco, you might join one of Britt's tours of the city. A graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, he has been leading tours for Free Tours by Foot since 2015.
Updated: September 27th, 2021
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