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San Francisco Neighborhoods: North Beach

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street painters at san francisco north beach festival

Street Painting at the North Beach Festival

©2004 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Of all the waves of residents who lived their lives and left their mark on San Francisco's North Beach, the most permanent and visible stamp has been Italian. For decades, Italian restaurants, delis and bakeries were abundant, and the smells of Italian cooking have perfumed the air in San Francisco's "Little Italy."

Today's shoppers on Grant Avenue find old shops replaced by trendy boutiques, but the French-Italian Bakery and Caffe Trieste still hold their own. On Columbus Avenue, you'll find the legendary City Lights bookstore, Italian pottery shops, a scrumptious-smelling deli and chef Jean-Marc Gorce's handmade chocolate truffles.

North Beach is mellow during the day, but after dark, Columbus Avenue lights up and the atmosphere becomes festive. The watering holes on Grant Avenue get especially busy, too.

See It Now: Photo Tour

Visiting North Beach

Columbus Avenue is North Beach's main thoroughfare, and it's enjoyable enough to just wander up and down, window-shopping, eating or stopping at a sidewalk cafe for some people-watching. If you take the time to wander off the beaten track, you'll find some of the area's most interesting sights.

If you're looking for something a little more structured, try the self-guided North Beach Walking Tour. Or if you're not the do-it-yourself type, see the options for guided North Beach tours.

North Beach Festivals

  • North Beach Festival: Held in June, it's an outdoor party featuring Arte di Gesso (Italian street chalk art), animal blessings, food and music.
  • North Beach Jazz Festival: Held in late June, this music fest offers some great jazz music.
  • Italian Heritage Parade: This October festival, the nation's oldest Italian-American parade, celebrates North Beach's Italian roots and includes a festive parade.

North Beach Review

We rate North Beach 3.5 out of 5. It's full of surprises, and while we miss some of the old spots that have disappeared, it's still a great place to spend some time.

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Where to "Go" in North Beach

Facilities are scarce in this part of the city, but you'll find public restrooms at the corner of Filbert and Columbus in Washington Square. There's also a coin-operated public toilet on Union Street at the park. Local restaurants are often unsympathetic to your plight, posting signs that their potties are for customers only, but if you're in a real pinch, buy a cup of coffee at one of the cafes to gain access to their toilet.

Getting to North Beach

North Beach is roughly bounded by Columbus Avenue, Broadway, Bay Street and Telegraph Hill. Most of the shops and restaurants are along Grant and Columbus Avenues.

The Powell-Hyde cable car stops at Columbus Avenue and Mason, and the #30 Muni bus runs down Columbus. Parking is hard to find here, but North Beach Magazine has an excellent parking map to ease your search.

More: North Beach Walking Tour | North Beach Dining and Nightlife

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