The North Beach San Francisco neighborhood is a vibrant and colorful district where you will find Coit Tower, Washington Square Park, and dozens of Italian restaurants. The district is often called "Little Italy" and has always had a large concentration of Italian immigrants.
This area also has a lively nightlife scene. You can catch a performance of the musical comedy Beach Blanket Babylon, laugh at internationally recognized comedians at the local comedy clubs and grab a drink at one of Jack Kerouac's hangouts.
It also has some great boutique shops lined up along Columbus Avenue.
One of the first things you will notice is that this neighborhood is not along the waterfront. So, if it's not on the waterfront, why is it called North Beach? The simple answer is that it used to be.
Back in the 1800s, this part of the city was right on the water. Since it was the northernmost district in SF, locals named it North Beach.
Over the years, the shoreline of San Francisco filled in quite a bit, extending the city out a few blocks. Even though the name stuck, you will no longer find a 'beach' anywhere in this neighborhood.
North Beach San Francisco was also home to The Beat Generation in the 1950s and 1960s. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti called this district home during this time.
Other famous people to call this district home include Joe DiMaggio. He lived here as a boy and also for a few years in the 1950s when he was married to Marilyn Monroe.
Paul Kantner, the co-founder of Jefferson Airplane and a member of Jefferson Starship, was born in SF and lived in this district in his later years until his death in 2016.
You will find North Beach San Francisco on the northeastern part of the city. It's neighbors include Russian Hill to the west, Fisherman's Wharf to the north, Chinatown to the southwest, and the Financial District to the south.
The current boarders of the district vary slightly based on who you ask. However, the heart of the action in this district is south of Bay Street and north of Broadway.
Although its western border is officially Columbus, most people consider the bars and restaurants within a few blocks west of Columbus to be in this district although it's technically Russian Hill.
The Telegraph Hill and North Beach San Francisco districts partially overlap. Coit Tower, one of the top attractions in this area, sits on top of Telegraph Hill.
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You will find some many fun things to do in North Beach San Francisco. My list includes those officially in the district and a few that are just a block or two outside of it.
Big hats are the norm in this long-running comedic musical satire. These sold-out performances keep the audience laughing as the actors poke fun at pop culture.
You will never see the same show twice as they are frequently updated to get a laugh on current events. It's a fun and unique experience that is truly San Francisco.
Coit Tower is a San Francisco attraction that sits atop Telegraph Hill. It's a famous landmark in this district that is easy to spot from any of the nearby districts.
You can either climb to the top of the hill for your visit or take the #39 bus. Once you arrive, step inside to admire the gorgeous murals on the first floor (one shown in the picture above). You can then pay to take the elevator to the top floor for 360-degree views of the city.
The tower is open every day except major holidays.
North Beach San Francisco is also home to most of the comedy clubs in San Francisco. You will find big name acts as well as large comedy festivals. Most of them take place right here in North Beach. You'll want to get your tickets in advance, though, since most shows sell out quickly.
Here are a few of the top upcoming shows.
If you are lucky enough to travel to San Francisco in June, you should check out this street fair. This festival is one of the largest in San Francisco and a local favorite.
The event showcases arts and crafts from hundreds of artists, gourmet food, three stages with live entertainment, beer gardens, and more. The festival is spread out on many of the main streets in North Beach San Francisco.
This internationally recognized event is one you won't want to miss!
Another great nightlife option in North Beach San Francisco is Bimbo's 365. This concert hall has several shows a month. Artists performing here include Tainted Love (an 80's era cover band) and Super Diamond (all Neil Diamond cover band). Here are just a few of their upcoming shows.
San Francisco was the heart of the Beat Generation in the mid- to late-1950s. Members of this generation were famous writers that created and publicized information about their unique culture. It included everything from experimental drugs and sex to an overly expressive way of living life.
The three most famous of the group include Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. All three spent quite a bit of time in North Beach San Francisco. This museum is dedicated to their legacy and is a great way to learn more about their movement.
One of the cornerstones of this neighborhood is the large and beautiful Washington Square Park. This historic park is one of the three oldest parks in the city. It is right on Columbus Avenue between Union and Filbert Streets.
On a nice sunny day, this park is full of activity. It's fun to grab a coffee and spend a little time here. There are several restaurants and cafes that line the park too.
Just a little over a block east of Columbus Avenue on Filbert Street is Saints Peter and Paul Church. It's a large Italian cathedral that was built in 1924.
North Beach San Francisco is the home of the famous baseball player, Joe DiMaggio. When he and Marilyn Monroe eloped, they were married at the San Francisco Courthouse, but afterward they headed here for their wedding photos.
It's a beautiful church and worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood.
One of the hidden gems in the heart of North Beach San Francisco is the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi. This attraction has two places to visit. The first is the historic chapel which was built in 1849. They added on a chapel in 2008.
You are welcome to visit for free daily between 10am and 5pm. Even though it's free, they do ask for donations. You will find it at 610 Vallejo Street.
One of my favorite parts of North Beach San Francisco is its colorful murals. One of the largest is called "Language of the Birds" and you will find it on the corner of Columbus and Broadway.
This is another example of the gorgeous murals you will find all around Little Italy San Francisco.
You will also find some great murals in Jack Kerouac Alley between Columbus and Grant Avenue.
City Lights Bookstore opened in 1953. It was a opened by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a famous poet from the Beat Generation. This independent bookstore helped spread the works of this generation and other books that were banned in other stores.
Today, it's still one of the top independent bookstores in the US and a favorite of visitors to Little Italy San Francisco. They offer lesser known selection as well as a handful of mainstream books. Feel free to come in, grab a book, and spend some time reading.
Another hidden gem in North Beach San Francisco is Lyle Tuttle's Tattoo Art Museum. Tuttle is an internationally known tattoo artist. He started his work here in the 1950s and worked until recently (although he does do tattoos on request from time to time).
Even though he no longer works regularly, he does have a group of talented artists at his shop. In the back, you will find this cool tattoo art museum with pictures of some of his work and more about his life. At times, you will also find him hanging out and answering questions.
The museum is located at 809 Columbus Avenue.
Self-Guided Tour: To make your planning process easier, I created a self-guided tour for this district called "The Perfect Day in North Beach San Francisco." It's the best way to hit all the highlights, including the top attractions, shopping on Columbus Avenue, and eating lots and lots of Italian goodies!
If you want to learn even more about this district, head out on a guided tour. You will find several great options in Little Italy in San Francisco. These are some I recommend you check out.
This 3-hour trek allows you to sip and savor goodies from cappuccinos to fresh baked breads. You also get the chance to try some delicious olive oils, gourmet chocolates, and handmade Italian pizza.
Along the way, you will see how coffee is roasted, how chocolates are made, and how breads are baked in 130-year-old ovens. You will also get the chance to peek into several hideouts of the 1960s Beat Generation.
In addition, this tour gives you an overview of the history of the neighborhood. You'll walk by its main attractions, including Washington Square Park and some Italian Cathedrals. It's also a great opportunity to hunt for Italian arts and crafts.
This tour runs twice a day, at 10am and 2pm. All food and drinks you sample along the way are included.
The route covers about seven to eight blocks and is flat.
SFCityGuides.org is a local organization that offers free walks throughout SF. They have several great walking tours of North Beach San Francisco. It's a great way to learn more about this district.
You don't need to register in advance, instead you only have to show up at the designated location about 5 minutes before the tours start. Here is a list of the current tours in this district.
Do you want to learn more about, and experience, the nightlife that made Little Italy San Francisco famous? This 3-hour small group pub crawl gives you an inside look at the famous pubs and saloons of the district.
Your journey starts at the famous Vesuvio Cafe. Here you will learn about the celebrities who frequented this place and see many of their pictures on the walls.
From here, you will visit two other watering holes of the Beat Generation and find the top Bohemian hangouts. As you stroll the streets of North Beach, your guide will tell you stories about the district's history and point out additional hidden gems.
One alcoholic beverage is included with your ticket and is a 21+ tour.
Check out these additional tours in North Beach San Francisco on GetYourGuide.
A great option to get to North Beach San Francisco is the Hop On Hop Off Bus. The bus route offers 40+ stops throughout SF including North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square, Haight-Ashbury and others.
The bus runs from 9am to 5pm daily with about a 30 minute wait between buses. You can jump out in this district, explore for a while, and then hop back on to visit another stop on its route.
The most popular is the 2-day or 48-hour bus. This gives you plenty of time to hit all of SF's hot spots. Visit the City Sightseeing website for details and ticketing information. They offer a $5 discount to anyone that books their tickets online.
Another popular activity in North Beach San Francisco is shopping. You will find more than a dozen cute boutique shops side by side on Columbus Avenue.
They sell everything from jewelry to famous Italian delights. Most are little shops owned by locals, so you will find many unique gifts and San Francisco souvenirs.
You can start your adventure around Columbus and Union Street. This is where you will find some of the best shopping in Little Italy San Francisco.
North Beach San Francisco is known for its great Italian food, but you will also find some other great restaurants with a broad array of cuisines. Below is a list of some of my favorites in this San Francisco neighborhood.
North Beach Restaurant: This is one of the most popular and well known restaurants in North Beach. It sits right on the corner of Stockton at Columbus Avenue. They serve authentic Tuscan cuisine. It's always busy, so I recommend making a reservation. High-end, 1512 Stockton Street
The Stinking Rose: This is a famous hot spot for anyone that likes a little Italian food with their garlic. The name says it all and I highly recommend going only with your closest friends, since there it a LOT of garlic in the food. The atmosphere is fun and the food is good. It's located right on Columbus Avenue near Broadway Street. It's a lot more casual and budget friendly than the North Beach Restaurant. See pictures & learn more about what to expect when you stop by here for lunch or dinner. Moderate, 325 Columbus Avenue
The House: This is a great small restaurant offering delicious Asian Fusion cuisine. They have an eclectic menu that is updated frequently. I recommend this restaurant for anyone looking for something a little different. Make a reservation ahead of time, since it only has a handful of tables. High-end, 1230 Grant Street
Golden Boy Pizza: If you are looking for something really casual and laid back, then you should stop by Golden Boy Pizza on Green Street. The menu is simple (pizza and beer only) and the price is right. Don't get discouraged if you see a long line outside; most of the locals like to pop in for a quick slice and then head home. It's a fun way to experience North Beach San Francisco without the high bill. Budget-friendly, 542 Green Street
Tony's Pizza Napoletana: Golden Boy Pizza is great for a quick slice on the run, but if you are looking for an experience, then head to Tony's Pizza. The owner is an 11-time winner of the World Pizza Championship in Italy. It's even more impressive that he is the only non-Italian to win the competition. He takes pride in the fact that he can offer you almost any type of pizza you desire. He equipped his kitchen with four types of ovens to be able to offer the largest and best selection of pizzas in town. Moderate, 1570 Stockton Street
Here are a few additional North Beach San Francisco restaurant I love.
Italian Handmade Company: Casual Italian restaurant, 716 Columbus Ave, Moderate
Molinari Delicatessen: Casual sandwich shop, 373 Columbus Ave, Moderate
Massawa Restaurant: Ethiopian, Vegetarian, 532 Green St, Moderate
Sotto Mare: Seafood and Italian, 552 Green St, Moderate
Original Joe's: Italian/Seafood/Steakhouse, 601 Union St, Moderate
Staying in North Beach San Francisco puts you in the heart of the action. There are only a handful of hotels in this area, and most are locally owned and operated.
615 Broadway Street
The SW Hotel is a three-star hotel just steps from North Beach. It's a smaller hotel with only 81 rooms. Amenities include:
A standard room here ranges from about $170 to $345 per night. Find additional reviews of the SW Hotel on TripAdvisor.com.
Here are a few other options:
Find the best deals on these and other SF hotels on TripAdvisor.
Vesuvio Cafe: This is a bar with a history. It's a fun, old bar right in the heart of North Beach San Francisco. It was a popular hangout for Jack Kerouac and others from the Beat Generation in the 1950s. The clientele here is quite diverse and it's a great place to grab a beer or two. See pictures and learn more about what to expect when you stop by here for a drink. 255 Columbus Avenue at Jack Kerouac Alley
Northstar Cafe: Another fun place to hang out is Northstar Cafe. This bar has been in the neighborhood since the late 1880s. It's an institution in San Francisco and a great stop if you are visiting North Beach San Francisco. 1560 Powell Street
Tony Nik's Cafe: This was the first official bar to open in North Beach after the prohibition. It's a fun dive bar with great beers and a lively atmosphere. You will also find a great mix of other visitors and locals. 1534 Stockton Street
Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe: This fun, funky place is a great stop for a drink. It's filled with memorabilia that the bar has been collecting for years. It's a local bar hidden away in this busy, touristy district. 12 William Saroyan Place
Bar Nua: This Irish pub is another local favorite. It has some great beers on tap, tasty bar food, and a fun atmosphere. Everything is reasonably priced too. 561 Columbus Avenue
Gino & Carlo Cocktail Lounge: Another staple in North Beach San Francisco is Gino & Carlo. This bar has been around for years. It offers a layed back feel with great drinks and beers on tap. It has a local feel and some people that have been loyal customers for decades. 548 Green St.
Parking is tight in this district. There are parking meters on the street, but they are tough to come by. You will also find a few great parking garages and lots, so you don't have to drive around for an hour looking for a spot.
Rates start at around $4 an hour and can cost up to $30 or more for the entire day. Make sure to check current rates before you park as they could be more due to local events that day.
Here are a few of my recommendations.
Your best option is to take public transportation in and around San Francisco. This is especially true if you are heading to North Beach San Francisco.
Bus: Your best bet is to take the bus, which is $2.75 for adults. The 20, 30, and 45 run through North Beach and drop off at a variety of locations in the neighborhood.
Taxi: Another option is to take a cab. A cab from Union Square is around $15 plus tip and should take only around 10 minutes or so. It's an easy way to get around without having to worry about driving.
Cable Car: From Union Square, you can also take the Powell/Mason Cable Car. You can pick up the cable car just a few blocks from Union Square. Hop off once you get to Columbus Street, since you will then be in the heart of North Beach San Francisco.
Fine Arts Museum