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North Beach: A Taste of Italy

North Beach: A Taste of Italy

North Beach started changing almost as soon as it was first settled by Europeans, and it has never stopped. Over the years, it's been home to Spanish settlers, Italian immigrants, 1960s hippies, artists and writers, newcomers and old-timers. 

 

You'll find as much variety in things to do in North Beach as you will among its residents. Columbus and Broadway is the center of the city's strip-club district, just across the intersection from esteemed City Lights bookstore and down the road from the Beat Museum, which recounts the city's history during the 1960s. At the same crossroads is a mural by Bill Weber that portrays North Beach history; on the same building is its companion, dedicated to Chinatown, which starts right next door.

 

If you've got the legs for it, a walk up to Coit Tower at the top of Telegraph Hill rewards with breathtaking views of the city and the bay. You can also take the #39 bus from Fisherman's Wharf or Washington Square to reach the tower, which is decorated insdie with Depression-era murals (free admission) and offers nice city views from the top (for a fee). You can also just enjoy the tower's handsome design from Washington Square, a lively public park just in front of Saints Peter and Paul Church (666 Filbert).

 

Even thought most of the Italian immigrants moved out decades ago, North Beach hsas long retained an Italian veneer, its streets lined with Italian restaurants, cafes, and delicatessens. These days, change is in the air. As older establishments close and new ones take their places, the ethnic dining mix is becoming more diverse. Among the old standbys are Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe (566 Columbus), serving great sandwiches on fresh focaccia bread; Osteria del Forno (519 Columbus), a tiny spot that often ends up on lists of the city's best places to eat; North Beach Pizza (1462 Grant);  and The Stinking Rose (325 Columbus), a tourist favorite where the specialty is garlic and more garlic. Newly opened is Original Joe's - North Beach, a new location for an old San Francisco tradition.

 

While other parts of the city may boast newer, fancier coffee-drinking spots these days, you won't find a better place to savor an authentic, Italian-style cappuccino or espresso than North Beach. Local favorites include Caffe Roma (526 Columbus Ave) and Caffe Trieste (601 Vallejo St), where they still host Saturday concerts with the Giotta Family. Both have great streetside tables that beg you to hang around to enjoy some great people-watching. If you prefer a bite of chocolate with your coffee, try XOX Truffles (754 Columbus), whose creations have been rated among the best in America.

 

The annual North Beach Festival, held in June, includes the blessing of the animals at the Shrine of St. Francis, sidewalk chalk artists, great food, and entertainment.

 

San Francisco City Guides offers walking tours of North Beach every Saturday and some Tuesdays.

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