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San Francisco North Beach: Walking Tour

Self-Guided Walking Tour of North Beach

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San Francisco North Beach: Walking Tour

North Beach Street Scene

© 2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by permission.

This North Beach walking tour takes you into some interesting corners. It takes an hour or two if you don't get sidetracked, longer if you have a meal or linger over a cup of coffee.

If you'd rather see pictures of North Beach than read about it, click over to our photo tour. Don't forget to print this page and also our North Beach map to take along.

North Beach Walking Tour

Start along Columbus Avenue at a sidewalk cafe or coffee shop. San Franciscans have been mad about coffee since the Gold Rush, and there are plenty of excellent coffee roasters here. Caffe Roma is a personal favorite.

  • Saints Peter and Paul Church: (666 Filbert) Built in 1924, the church boasts twin spires 191 feet tall.
     
  • Washington Square: Facing the church, this grassy park is North Beach's center. One of three parks set aside by San Francisco's first mayor in 1848, this unpretentious place is an official Historical Landmark. In the morning, Chinese women often do tai chi exercises on the lawn, a visible symbol of the area's ever-changing ethnic balance.

    San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote of Washington Square: "...its heart is Washington Square, which isn't on Washington Street, isn't a square, doesn't contain a statue of Washington but of Benjamin Franklin." The central statue, stands atop a (now closed) water fountain erected by Henry Cogswell, a crusader for temperance.

    Watch out for doggy deposits as you walk toward the park's northeast corner.

  • Juana Briones Monument: At Stockton and Filbert, you'll find a monument where you will learn about Juana Briones, an extraordinary pioneer who was the area's first settler.
     
  • Mama's: (1701 Stockton) Standing on land that once belonged to the church, this is the best breakfast spot in town.
     
  • Liguria Bakery: (1700 Stockton) This small bakery across from Mama's has been making focaccia bread and nothing else since 1911. If you want to buy some, go early. When they run out, they go home.

    Walk uphill on Stockton from here.

  • Telegraph Hill Parrots: A flock of wild parrots live on Telegraph Hill just below Coit Tower. You may hear them squawking as they fly overhead.
     
  • Coit Tower: The white monolith atop Telegraph Hill boasts some nice views and notable WPA-era murals in its lobby. Walk up Filbert Street on a sidewalk so steep it that it needs steps to keep walkers from accidentally sliding down or finish this tour and then take Muni Bus 39, which stops on Union at Columbus.

    Turn right on Grant Avenue.

  • Upper Grant Avenue: Some call sometimes-gritty block a barometer of San Francisco's economic health. When times are good, shops extend all the way up to Filbert, and when the economy is bad, they move back down toward Columbus. Any time, it's a neighborly street, lined with laundromats and nail parlors among the trendy boutiques and restaurants.
     
  • Caffe Trieste: (601 Vallejo) A great place for coffee any time and the West Coast's first espresso coffee house. On Saturday afternoons, they serve up live opera with their Italian-style coffee

    Turn right onto Vallejo Street.

  • National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi: This former parish church has a beautiful interior and often hosts free concerts.
     
  • Corner of Broadway and Columbus: If you wonder why a place called North Beach has no beach, look down Columbus toward the Transamerica Building and you'll see where once was, where the street flattens out. The triangular-shaped, green building to its right is owned by Francis Ford Coppola. The Grateful Dead recorded their first album in its basement.
     
  • North Beach Mural: Across the street is a mural celebrating of North Beach history. Look for the lateen-sailed fishing boats used by Italian fishermen. The figures in the lower left (from left to right) include ormer San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, former Mayor Art Agnos, former Mayor Willie Brown (whose likeness was painted over Senator Barbara Boxer in a recent restoration) and Senator Diane Feinstein.
     
  • The Condor: This is where "it all began," according to a fake historic marker outside, "it" being topless dancing, which started here when a manager persuaded former prune-picker Carol Doda to don a topless swimsuit and dance for patrons. The sign outside once sported a woman outlined in neon, with two blinking lights. We'll let you guess where they were. After a period of less sexually-charged operations, the club is once again a topless watering hole. You can almost hear Dirty Harry muttering: "These loonies, they ought to throw a net over the whole lot of them" as he drives past in his 1968 Ford Galaxie 500.

    Turn left on Broadway, and go one block.

  • The Beat Museum: (540 Broadway) features writings, photographs and other materials from the "Beat Generation."

    Return to Columbus, cross it and turn left.

  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore: (261 Columbus) A great independent bookstore, it's especially popular with serious readers and fans of Beat Era literature. The section nearest Columbus and Broadway was once a topless shoeshine parlor.

    In the alley next to City Lights, you'll find a humorous mural on Vesuvio's wall - and a more serious reproduction of a mural painted by a Mayan community in Chiapas, Mexico which the Mexican Army destroyed in a military raid on their village in April 1998.

  • Vesuvio's: (225 Columbus) A Beat-Era hangout that's little changed. Across the street are two other famous San Francisco bars, Specs Adler's and Tosca.

    Go back on Columbus, staying on the same side of the street as City Lights.

  • Molinari's Deli (373 Columbus) This place is famous for their house-made salami and imported Italian delicacies, and it's a great place to get a sandwich.
     
  • Sidewalk Cafes: Sidewalk cafes line Columbus Avenue and any of them a good place to stop for coffee and people watching.

    At Stockton, turn left.

    North Beach Museum: (1435 Stockton in the Mezzanine of the bank), open during banking hours. Don't miss photos of the 1906 earthquake and fire, child-sized shoes made for a Chinese woman's bound feet and Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem, Old Men Dying.

  • Green Street Mortuary: It may be one of the few funeral homes to ever make it onto a list of things for tourists to see, but traditionally Italian North Beach is where one of San Francisco's multicultural events often originate. Chinese funeral processions kick off at Green Street Mortuary, near Stockton and Columbus (often on Saturday mornings). They're a cultural mash-up that features an American-style brass band followed by an open convertible bearing a large photograph of the deceased, trailed by an automobile procession. Most of them go straight down Columbus, but a few make a detour through the streets of Chinatown.

    Cross Columbus at Union and go left on Columbus.

  • Fireman Statue: Built using money Lillie Hitchcock Coit bequeathed to the city.
     
  • XOX Truffles: This homey place produces some of the country's best chocolate truffles. You get one free with a cup of coffee - or buy a whole box - I dare you to stay out of them long enough to get them home.
More: Visiting North Beach | North Beach Dining and Nightlife

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