North Beach San Francisco: Little Italy Attractions, Bars, Restaurants & Things to Do

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: February 5, 2024

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 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.

The mural in North Beach next to Vesuvio Cafe

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 has 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 that 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 in the northeastern part of the city. Its 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 borders 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. 

The western border is officially Columbus, but most people consider the bars and restaurants within a few blocks west of Columbus (technically Russian Hill) to be part of North Beach.

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.

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

Top Things Do in North Beach San Francisco

You will find 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.

1. 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 and from the bay looking back at the city.

One of the murals on the first floor of Coit Tower in North Beach.

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

2. 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.

>> More upcoming shows at Cobb's and what you can expect

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

3. 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. 

North Beach Festival in Little Italy

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

4. 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 (a Neil Diamond cover band). 

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

5. 'Dear San Francisco' Acrobatic Show 

With rave reviews, Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story has succeeded Beach Blanket Babylon's 45-year run at the legendary Club Fugazi in North Beach as a very contemporary portrayal of the city's rich history and diversity that is sure to have you on the edge of your seat. 

If you're looking for a night of thrills, entertainment, and a fun way to experience the heart of San Francisco through the arts, this 90-minute acrobatic show will hit all the marks.

Be wowed by performers jumping through hoops and flying through the air, combined with original music, spoken word, shadow play, and more. You'll see the City by the Bay come to life in unimaginable dimensions!

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.

Beat Generation

The three most famous authors 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.

Saints Peter and Paul

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.

>> Learn more about visiting this beautiful church

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 10 am and 5 pm. 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 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.

Red & Black Mural in Little Italy

You will also find some great murals in Jack Kerouac Alley between Columbus and Grant Avenue.

>> Find additional murals all around SF

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 and a favorite of visitors to Little Italy San Francisco. They offer a lesser known selection as well as a handful of mainstream books. Feel free to come in, grab a book, and spend some time reading.

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 Little Italy in San Francisco. These are some I recommend you check out.

A mural of the bay bridge in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood

Little Italy and North Beach Food Walking Tour

This three-hour urban 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 daily at 10:30 am during the week and 10am on the weekends. 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 is a local organization that offers free walks throughout SF. Their walking tours of North Beach San Francisco are 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 tour starts. 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

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 9 am to 5 pm 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. Find details and ticketing information.

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.

Fudge SF Shopping

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.

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. 

The Stinking Rose

This is a famous hot spot for anyone who 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.

Moderate, 430 Columbus Avenue

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

Additional Options

Here are a few additional North Beach San Francisco restaurants I love.

Italian Homemade Company: Casual Italian restaurant, 716 Columbus Avenue, moderate

Molinari Delicatessen: Casual sandwich shop, 373 Columbus Avenue, moderate

Sotto Mare: Seafood, Italian, 552 Green Street, moderate

Original Joe's: Italian, seafood, steakhouse, 601 Union Street, 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 and rooms of the SW Hotel here.

Here are a few more lodging options in North Beach San Francisco:

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
  • 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

Find reviews and rooms for the Hotel Boheme

Columbus 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

>> Find a room and accommodations at Columbus Inn

Hotel North Beach: 935 Kearny Street, 2 stars 

  • Fantastic location in the heart of North Beach, just a few minutes' walk from Chinatown; you can easily catch a bus and head to Fisherman's Wharf and other parts of the city
  • The 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

>> Find accommodations and reviews for Hotel North Beach

Royal Pacific Motor Inn: 661 Broadway Street, 2 stars

  • 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

>> Find rooms for Royal Pacific Motor Inn

Green Tortoise Hostel - San Francisco: 494 Broadway Street

Find the best deals on these and other hotels here.

Vacation Rentals Near North Beach

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

Gino & Carlo Cocktail Lounge: Another staple in North Beach San Francisco is Gino & Carlo. This bar has been around for years. It offers a laid 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 Street

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. However, you will 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 higher due to local events that day.

Here are a few of my recommendations.

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 Club Fugazi 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. 

A colorful mural in SF's North Beach district

Bus: Your best bet is to take the Muni bus, which is $3.00 cash for adults. The 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. 

Lyft/Uber: Both of these ride share companies are another great way to get here. You can do a 'shared ride' and save on your trip too.

Cable Car: From Union Square, you can also take the Powell/Mason Cable Car. Hop off once you get to Columbus Street, since you will then be in the heart of North Beach San Francisco.

>> More tips for getting around SF

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

Other Fun Attractions

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?

I would love for you to join me in my private Facebook group

It's a great place to interact with me and others who know the area well.

You can ask questions, get advice for your upcoming stay, and then share your photos and advice with others when you return home. It's a great community and the fastest way to get answers to those nagging questions about your visit!

Come join the fun here!

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