North Beach San Francisco

Little Italy Attractions, Bars, Restaurants & Things to Do

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.

north beach mural

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.

Where is North Beach San Francisco

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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Top Things Do In North Beach San Francisco

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.

north beach murals

1. 'Beach Blanket Babylon'

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.

>> Beach Blanket Babylon

>> Search for discounted tickets to the show on Goldstar


2. Coit Tower

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.

>> Additional visiting tips for Coit Tower


3. Comedy Shows at Cobb's Comedy Club

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.

>> Find additional comedy clubs in North Beach and around SF


4. North Beach Festival

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!

>> More on this year's event

>> Additional festivals and events in SF each year


5. Concerts at Bimbo's 365

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.

>> Find a full calendar of concerts and live music in SF


6. Beat Museum

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.

>> More on visiting the Beat Museum


7. Washington Square Park

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.


8. Saints Peter and Paul Church

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.


9. National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi

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.


10. North Beach San Francisco Murals

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 it's found on the corner of Columbus and Broadway. You will also find some great murals in Jack Kerouac Alley between Columbus and Grant Avenue.


11. Explore City Lights Bookstore

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. 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.


12. Lyle Tuttle's Tattoo Art Museum

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!

North Beach San Francisco Tours

If you want to learn even more about this district, head out on a guided tour. You will find several great options in this district. These are some I recommend you check out.

north beach mural

Little Italy and North Beach Food Walking Tour

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.

>> Find availability for this tour on GetYourGuide

Free SF Public Library Walks

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.

  • An Overview of this District
  • Coit Tower Murals
  • North Beach by Night
  • Tastes and Tales of North Beach
  • Telegraph Hill Stairway Hike

>> Visit my free walking tours page for more information about SFCityGuides and these tours

San Francisco North Beach Pub Crawl

Do you want to learn more about, and experience, the nightlife that made this neighborhood 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.

>> Learn more and find tickets for this tour on GetYourGuide

Check out these additional tours in North Beach San Francisco on GetYourGuide.

Hop On Hop Off Bus

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.

Places to Shop

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 the neighborhood.

Best Restaurants

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

san francisco stinking rose

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

Best Places to Stay

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.

SW Hotel
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:

  • Free coffee, tea, and continental breakfast each morning
  • Free wireless internet
  • Cable TV
  • Air conditioning

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:

  • Hotel Boheme: 444 Columbus Avenue, 3 stars
    • This hotel is on the northern end of North Beach, just a few blocks away from Fisherman's Wharf
    • It's a small, local, historic hotel with a lot of character and in a great location
    • You will want to be aware that there are no elevators, so you will have to carry your luggage up the stairs
    • Amenities include free wireless internet, use of a nearby fitness center for a small fee, safe deposit box at front desk, cable TV and daily housekeeping
    • Rooms start at around $215 to $300 a night

  • Columbus Motor Inn: 1075 Columbus Avenue
    • Another highly rated hotel at a great price and location, right between North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf
    • Simple, yet clean
    • On a busy street, so make sure to request a room in the back
    • Amenities include free parking and free wireless internet
    • Rooms range from about $170 to $300 per night

  • Hotel North Beach: 935 Kearny Street, 2 stars
    • Fantastic location in the heart of North Beach, just a few minutes walk away from Chinatown. You can easily catch a bus and head to Fisherman's Wharf and other parts of the city
    • Downside is that the street noise can be loud at times
    • Overall, it's a great value for the money and the perfect place if you don't mind the street noise and are not in your room that often during your visit
    • Amenities include free Wifi in public areas, microwave and refrigerator in room, secure baggage storage
    • Rooms start at around $45 to $120 a night

  • Royal Pacific Motor Inn: 661 Broadway Street, 2 stars
    • This is another great option, also in the heart of the action, but on a busy street
    • Amenities include free parking (huge plus!), free wireless internet, coffee maker and TV in every room
    • Rooms start at around $140 to $235 a night

  • Green Tortoise Hostel - San Francisco: 494 Broadway Street
    • If you are looking to save money and don't mind a 'community' sleeping experience, then this is a great option. It's one of my top five youth hostels in San Francisco
    • Amenities include breakfast, free high speed internet, laundry facilities, and linens and towels available for a small fee
    • Beds here start at around $50 a night per person

Find the best deals on these and other SF hotels on TripAdvisor.

Best Bars in North Beach San Francisco

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 in North Beach San Francisco

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.

  • 501 Filbert Street: This parking garage is open 24 hours a day. It's on the northern side of the district. It's also a great option for those visiting Coit Tower and don't mind climbing a steep couple of blocks to get there.

  • 721 Filbert Street: This parking garage is also on the northern end of the district. It's a great option for those heading to Cobb's Comedy Club, Bimbo's 365 or Washington Square.

  • 1625 Powell Street: This garage is valet parking only. It's just steps to Beach Blanket Babylon and the restaurants and bars along Columbus Avenue.

  • 735 Vallejo St # 763 (The North Beach Garage): This is usually where I park. It's on the southwest side of the district and has over 200 spots.

How to Get Here

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.

north beach mural

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.

North Beach: Fun Things to Do in this Top San Francisco District

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> > North Beach

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