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North Beach is the historic home of SF’s notoriously bawdy Barbary Coast, some of the city’s oldest bars, and the seat of Beatnik culture. It’s also a historically Italian neighborhood and home to cafes, bakeries, bars, and other historic haunts started by homesick Italians. Here are our picks for an incredible visit to North Beach.
This historic coffeehouse opened in 1956 and claims to be the first espresso coffeehouse established on the West Coast. Over the years they’ve deftly served rich espressos and cappuccinos to authors, poets, movie stars, and anyone else looking for an authentic taste of North Beach. This is the cafe that fueled the beat generation and maintains a close relationship with the local arts and music scene.
Location: 601 Vallejo Street
This sun-drenched cafe serves a lighter roast than some of their neighbor’ and the crowd skews a little younger. This popular cafe is the perfect spot to grab a cortado and get a little work done while enjoying the view of SF’s iconic Sentinel Building. They have a full kitchen and their menu ranges from a matcha chia pudding to a freshly made breakfast burrito.
Location: 200 Columbus Avenue
3. Caffe Greco
Opened in 1988, Caffe Greco is a sprawling cafe that’s centrally located along a busting block of Columbus Ave. They proudly serve Italy’s popular Illy Caffe, but the real star of the show are their baked goods. Their selection of tiramisu, cannoli, and other classic Italian cakes and treats are some of the best in SF. Grab an outdoor table under the awning and enjoy an espresso while doing some first-rate people-watching.
Location: 423 Columbus Avenue
Ask a few San Franciscans about brunch in North Beach, and 9 out of 10 will immediately mention Mama’s. For over 60 years, they’ve been known for both their long lines and deeply satisfying food. You can get hearty breakfast classics like omelets, benedicts, and their famously flavorful french toast.
Location: 1701 Stockton Street
Multi-course tasting menus aren’t just for dinner. North Beach’s Hilda and Jesse offers a 3-dish tasting menu for $49, the chef’s adventure menu for $85, and plenty of a la carte options if you want to add on or build your own. Some current favorites include a rolled Latvian pancake, fried duck wings, and a decadent take on steak and eggs.
Location: 701 Union Street
6. Dago Bagel
What happens when SF’s most iconic pizza maker sets his sights on making the perfect NY bagel? Magic. The freshly baked bagels and schmears are delicious and all proceeds from the business go to the SF Italian Athletic Club Foundation to help preserve and celebrate the Italian culture in the North Beach community.
Location: 728 Vallejo Street
This old-school Italian deli is a beloved gourmet sandwich shop near Washington Square Park. Enjoy artisanal meats, cheeses, bread, and other Italian treats for a high-quality, on-the-go lunch.
Location: 373 Columbus Avenue
This historic cafe and bar is an equally enjoyable place to enjoy an espresso or beer, depending on your mood. Their freshly prepared sandwiches and made using nearby Liguria Bakery’s celebrated focaccia bread. Expect a relaxed, loungy atmosphere that feels more like a genuine neighborhood bar than a tourist destination. Before you ask, they stopped selling cigars in 1992 but kept the name as a nod to their past.
Location: 566 Columbus Avenue
There’s a lot of pizza in North Beach, but there’s nothing quite like Golden Boy. These mouthwatering square pies consist of pillowy-soft focaccia dough topped with classic pizza topping and served fresh from the oven. It’s the perfect pre- or post-bar crawl meal in North Beach. It’s an easy place to find, just look for their legendary “pointing hand” sign.
Location: 542 Green Street
When the sun comes out, Washington Square Park is the perfect place to spread out a picnic blanket and soak up the rays. It’s one of the City’s first parks, established in 1847, and is surrounded by bustling cafes, bars, and restaurants. It’s the site of several popular festivals, free movie nights, and other special events throughout the year.
Location: Between Filbert and Stockton Street
11. Coit Tower
Coit Tower is an essential San Francisco landmark rising high above Telegraph Hill. Visitors can travel to the top of the 212-foot-high tower and marvel at 360° views of SF, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, and much more. In addition to the gorgeous views, the tower contains 26 colorful frescoes painted inside the base by local artists in 1934.
Location: 1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard
This 2-acre playground is named for the famous baseball player and features activities for kids of all ages. There’s a children’s play area, tennis courts, bocce courts, a pool building, and other assorted sports courts.
Location: 651 Lombard Street
This famous bookstore and book publisher is the epicenter of the beat poet scene in SF, and an extraordinary place to visit. The shop features three stories of books from both major publishing houses and smaller, harder-to-find, specialty publishers. The top floor is dedicated entirely to poetry and houses one of the nation’s largest poetry collections. Whether you’re looking for a specific volume or just want to admire the historic space, City Lights is well worth a visit.
Location: 261 Columbus Avenue
14. Al’s Attire
One shop that epitomizes the old-world charm of North Beach is the custom tailor shop, Al’s Attire. Owner Al Ribaya and his team have designed clothes for musicians, politicos, and numerous businesses across SF since 1986. They use vintage materials alongside new fabrics and leathers sourced directly from mills and tanneries. Almost everything is done by hand including embroidery, hat blocking, and even hand-sewing button holes. There’s no place like Al’s and the shop certainly adds to the old-world feel of the neighborhood.
Location: 1300 Grant Ave
15. Vacation Vintage
Vacation is famous for its exquisite clothes, effortless indie vibe, and history of hosting live music. Vacation is fun! Their colorful and beautifully styled location in North Beach is worth the visit alone. You might come across a ‘70s Halston gown, a ‘40s swimsuit (made famous by Marylin Monroe), or a vintage Bob Dylan t-shirt.
Location: 1499 Grant Avenue
Opened in 2007, Sotto Mare is synonymous with SF’s beloved seafood stew, cioppino. This popular restaurant is packed with historic photos, mounted fish, and other nautical bric-a-brac. No need to throw on a suit and tie, but you will want to don one of their plastic bibs if you plan to tackle a bowl of cioppino.
Location: 552 Green Street
Opened in 1919, Tosca Cafe is as famous for its drinks and decor as it is for the legendary parties held in its private back rooms. Italian-inspired dishes and inventive cocktails are still enjoyed under the numerous frescoes that adorn the walls. Their classic “House Cappuccino” cocktail is still on the menu and you can still have an incredible night at this historic haunt.
Location: 242 Columbus Avenue
Located across Jack Kerouac Alley from City Lights Books, Vesuvio is a cherished time capsule of the beat generation and one of the most beloved bars in San Francisco. The beer is cold, the cocktails are strong and the prices are fair, considering Vesuvio’s level of fame. Grab a seat on the second story and enjoy the eclectic interior as well as a view of Columbus Street.
Location: 255 Columbus Avenue
19. Comstock Saloon
Comstock occupies a historic space that housed the San Francisco Brewing Company from 1907 until 2012. While the current owners don’t brew, they have done an exceptional job of celebrating the look and feel of turn-of-the-century San Francisco. The menu is populated with classic cocktails like the Martinez and Pisco Punch, while the kitchen serves up elevated bar bites and gastropub fare. It’s an ideal date night spot but is equally fun for after work drinks with a few friends.
Location: 155 Columbus Avenue
20. Club Fugazi
This historic theater is most famous for hosting a 45-year run of “Beach Blanket Babylon,” which earned the distinction of being the world longest running musical revue. Today, Club Fugaziis home to “Dear San Francisco,” a 90-minute ride through SF history using mind-blowing circus acts, impressive aerial feats, and live original music. It promises to be a thrilling night out.
Location: 678 Green Street
21. The Condor Club
Yes, The Condor is a strip club, but hear me out. The Condor became the world’s first topless bar in 1964 and the world’s first bottomless bar in 1969, thanks to their star, Carol Doda. In 1972, bottomless dancing became illegal in California, but Doda continued dancing topless until 1986. Doda, a beloved member of the North Beach community, was recently memorialized in a large-scale mural. Whether you stop by or not, The Condor Club is an important part of North Beach’s history.
Location: 560 Broadway Street
22. The Beat Museum
This unique museum is dedicated to the Beat movement of the 1950s, with North Beach as the epicenter at one point. The museum is home to an extensive collection of Beat memorabilia, including original manuscripts, rare books, letters, personal effects, and cultural ephemera. They have an incredible collection and every Kerouc, Ginsberg or Burroughs fan out there should visit at least one.
Location: 540 Broadway Street