Discovering the Adventure
SF's North Beach Neighborhood

Little Italy: SF's North Beach Neighborhood

North Beach is tucked between Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf. It's fairly easy walking distance to or from either one if you're in reasonable walking-shape; and it's another of those split-personality-type neighborhoods, fun for both tourists and locals!

Although not exclusively Italian anymore, North Beach is still known for it's Italian community and ristorantes, but it's equally renowned for icons of the Beatnik movement, like City Lights Bookstore.

The neighborhood has quite a diverse history, having evolved from an actual beach through the infamous and crime-ridden periods of Sydney-Town and the Barbary Coast, to Italian neighborhood, to hangout of the Beat Generation, and to the nightlife of strip joints, Carol Doda's Condor Club, and Finochio's (famous for its female impersonators).

Bits and pieces of all this history are still to be found in and around the compact community today.

A Little North Beach History

City Lights Bookstore by Suzi RosenbergCity Lights Bookstore by Suzi Rosenberg

The original shoreline of the village of Yerba Buena ended about where Taylor and Francisco streets are today.

The rest of what is now North Beach was an actual stretch of beach before the California Gold Rush took place.

The beach area was built up with Gold Rush detritus (abandoned ships, household goods, etc.) in the mid- to late-1800s to provide an area for warehouses, fishing wharves, and docks.

Then the hooligans moved in.

The area became known as Sydney-Town when it began to attract the Barbary Coast element of toughs and thugs from the British penal colonies in Australia.

It was a rough area of vicious crimes, prostitution, gambling, and shanghaiing. The inhabitants were called the Sydney Ducks, and they were blamed for just about every misdeed that occurred in San Francisco at the time.

The Italian fishermen from Genova didn't begin to arrive until late in the 1800s (peaking in 1913), but when they did, they quickly made the neighborhood their own, and it has maintained its Italian flare since then.

In the 1950s, the San Francisco North Beach area was invaded by the Beat Generation, a group of American writers, poets, and artists who rejected mainstream values and fostered drug experimentation, sexual freedom, and Eastern spiritualism - people like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.

The City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, a favorite hangout of the Beatniks, is still a wonderfully independent and famous icon for lovers of ideas and books. It's a must-see stop when you visit the neighborhood!

And, of course, the North Beach of the '60s was the venue strip joints, Carol Doda and topless bars, Finocchio's where female impersonators reigned supreme, and jazz clubs like the hungry i, which helped to launch the careers of many illustrious entertainers.

When You Visit the Neighborhood

Today North Beach is a place of ristorantes with checkered tablecloths, spirited nightclubs, Beach Blanket Babylon, festivals, bakeries and delis, unique import shops, coffee house traditions, and a general aura of bustling conviviality!

If you roam the streets, whether it be day or night, you're sure to find much to intrigue you and plenty of things to do!

You might join the locals for an espresso at Caffe Greco or Caffe Puccini, visit the Beat Museum or - for something a little more unusual - Lyle Tuttle's Tattoo Museum.

Perhaps you'll be there during the festival for the
blessing of the animals in June, or the O'Reilly's Oyster and Beer Festival in May.

Or maybe you'll attend a Beach Blanket Babylon performance - it's
a great show and it changes every time you see it! - or browse the poetry at City Lights.

Try breakfast at Mama's, dinner at Washington Square Bar & Grill, or eat at Michelangelo's with its house wine that's brought out in a rooster-pitcher, and where they serve a bowl of Gummi Bears for dessert.

Hang out and people watch in Washington Square, or celebrate Columbus Day at Sts. Peter and Paul's Columbus Day Bazaar.

Dance the night away at the Velvet Lounge, or have a weekday pint and a game of pool at the Savoy-Tivoli, or really join the locals for happy hour at the Columbus Cafe.

You might want to shop for a pasta maker at A. Cavalli & Co., or for European and Asian designer jeans at AB fits, or Majolica pottery at Biordi Arts.

And to experience the full flavor of the neighborhood, you gotta at least stroll under the neon on Broadway and take a look at the strip clubs, especially the Broadway Showgirls Cabaret which offers fine dining along with its classy adult entertainment.

There's lots to do in North Beach, and you'll feel like you're in an authentic San Francisco neighborhood with character while you're doing it!

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