San Francisco/Chinatown-North Beach
Chinatown-North Beach in San Francisco combines two adjoining neighbors, both of which are among the city's most popular immigrant neighborhoods. Culturally and aesthetically, they could not be more different yet their streets mesh seamlessly together. Chinatown is the oldest and largest Chinese community outside of Asia. More than just a tourist destination, it is a functioning, living, and breathing Chinese community that can offer intriguing cultural experiences even to the most jaded old China hand. Its tiny and crowded streets bustle with activity and energy. North Beach, on the other hand, is much more laid back. This "Little Italy," with its cafes and alfresco dining, has a real European charm and flavor reminiscent of the romance of Europe and Italy. The area runs from roughly Bay Street to the north, Powell Street south of Filbert Street and Columbus Avenue north of Filbert on the west, the Embarcadero on the east, and Washington Street on the south with an extension to Bush Street between Kearny and Powell Streets to encompass the rest of Chinatown.
With pagoda-tiled roofs, Cantonese conversations, busy live-produce markets, mahjong players, and little old Chinese ladies confidently spitting on the pavement — Chinatown is a unique part of San Francisco. Established in 1850, in the area around Portsmouth Plaza, San Francisco's Chinatown is reputed to be the oldest and one of the largest and most famous of all Chinatowns outside of Asia. Many of the Chinese who settled here were merchants or immigrant workers, working on either the transcontinental railroad or as mine workers during the Gold Rush. Today, it is home for more than 100,000 Chinese and Chinese-Americans, many of whom are low-income, elderly, and foreign born, living in dense tenements. It is also a cultural link for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Chinatown holds a prominent position in the history of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the United States, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the present day. The residual "bachelor" society one finds in San Francisco's Chinatown today cannot be understood without some knowledge of these hostile decades. The tourist section of Chinatown is mainly along Grant Avenue, from Bush to Broadway. Grant Avenue was made famous by Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song. The Chinatown market area is mainly along Stockton Street, one block above (west of) Grant Avenue, and the east-west streets crossing Stockton. Other San Francisco concentrations of Chinese shops and restaurants are located in the Inner Richmond District, mainly along Clement Street, and the Outer Sunset District, mainly along Irving Street.
Forming part of the old Barbary Coast (an extinct neighborhood infamous for its crime, prostitution, and general unruliness), and popular with both locals and tourists alike, North Beach remains one of the most popular and beloved neighborhoods in San Francisco. Nestled between Chinatown to the south and Fisherman's Wharf to the north, North Beach is the Italian part of town and is known by the moniker "Little Italy." Telegraph poles, painted in the colors of the Italian flag (green, white, and red), delineate the boundaries between these two neighbors. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and is rich in both history and culture. The neighborhood derived its name as the bay shoreline originally reached as far as Taylor and Francisco streets, and the area was indeed a real beach until the city subsequently filled it in. The portion of Grant Avenue that runs straight through North Beach is the oldest street in San Francisco. Authentic old-world Italian cafes, restaurants, delicatessens and bakeries line the steep streets. North Beach was also the West Coast's capital for the Beatnik movement in the 1950s — you can still see many of the places where Jack Kerouac and the "Dharma Bums" hung out and wrote their dark poetry. Other literati celebrities that hung out there were; Alan Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy (Dean Moriarity in Kerouac's On The Road), and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Alan Ginsberg wrote his most famous poem 'Howl' while living at 1010 Montgomery Street. Today, the neighborhood is also very well known for its happening nightlife scene. Nightclubs and bars abound — particularly at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Grant Avenue. At its base, Broadway is a mini red-light district, made famous in the 1960s by Carol Doda with her "twin 44s." The area is still full of adult bookstores and strip clubs; despite this, strangely, like everything in San Francisco, it retains a certain charm. Washington Square (another old Beat hangout), in front of the Saints Peter and Paul Church, is a very popular hangout with locals, and a great place to relax. North Beach has also some famous residents past and present, like baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and movie director Francis Ford Coppola.
Driving into the area is not recommended, but if you must, the closest parking garage to Chinatown is underneath Portsmouth Plaza, on Kearny Street (which is a one-way street north) between Clay and Washington. Other Chinatown garages are the Golden Gateway at 250 Clay Street, North Beach at 755 Vallejo Street, and St. Mary's Square at 433 Kearny Street. All garages are open 24 hours a day, except for Golden Gateway. There are also a few small parking garages scattered throughout North Beach, including Imperial Parking at 425 Broadway Street. Driving to the base of Coit Tower is definitely not recommended, as there is a very limited amount of parking at the top of the hill.
By cable car
Each of the three Cable Car lines pass through Chinatown. If you exit BART or the MUNI Metro at the Powell St. Station you can catch the Powell-Mason or the Powell-Hyde cable car line at Powell and Market. Both routes will take you into Chinatown, but the Powell-Mason line is a better bet for getting to North Beach as the Powell-Hyde line turns west at Jackson and proceeds into Russian Hill. To reach Chinatown's famous Grant Avenue via the cable car, exit BART or the MUNI Metro at the Embarcadero Station and catch the California cable car line at California and Market.
Of course, if you'd rather avoid the long lines and crowded trip that a cable car ride entails, there are several good MUNI bus lines that serve the area. To get to Chinatown from the BART/MUNI Metro, exit at the Montgomery Street Station, walk one block up Post Street, and catch the 30-Stockton or 45-Union bus line on Kearny near Post. The 30 or 45 bus will turn left onto Sutter and then right onto Stockton; after passing through the Stockton Tunnel, the bus will stop twice in Chinatown, on Stockton near Clay and on Stockton near Pacific. To get to North Beach from Market Street, the 10-Townsend, 12-Folsom/Pacific, 30, or 45 lines will do nicely. From the east, the 1-California line passes through Chinatown. The 39-Coit goes from Fisherman's Wharf up to the Coit Tower, but can be obstructed by traffic that clogs the parking lot there, but there are plans to change this.
Chinatown is also an easy walk from Union Square (walk north on Stockton through the tunnel or north on Grant through the Chinatown Gate at Grant and Bush). Similarly, North Beach can be easily accessed by walking northbound from Market Street, straight through the Financial District. Both neighborhoods can also be easily reached from Market Street by simply walking northbound on Grant Avenue. To get to the area from Fisherman's Wharf, walk southbound straight down Columbus Avenue.
There can be little doubt that once you have arrived in the Chinatown-North Beach area, by far the best way to get around is on foot. Due to the busy and cluttered nature of both neighborhoods, and also because of the lack of parking options, driving around is certainly not recommended — especially in Chinatown. Buses can also be a help, particularly when you are going in a north-south direction (or vice versa). Pedicabs also operate a route along the Embarcadero and through Chinatown and then North Beach. Stop one of them if they're empty and negotiate a price. For a bit extra many of them do walking tours of Chinatown.
There are many more parks, public seating, and cafes with curbside tables in North Beach, so why not see Chinatown first. That way, by the time you'd made it through its bustling streets you'll be ready for a coffee and a sit down in North Beach.
The listings in this article are geographically organized in roughly a south-to-north direction; meaning that they start with Chinatown first — then North Beach.
- Stockton Street Produce Markets, Stockton St (runs parallel to Grant Ave, one block west — between Sacramento St and Vallejo St). The fruit, vegetable, and live produce markets on Stockton Street are a must for any adventurous traveler. The greatest concentration of Chinese shops and Chinese shoppers can be found in the three blocks from Washington to Broadway. They are notoriously busy, and not for the faint of heart as locals deftly paw over each and every piece of fruit... you have to be quick! Tangerines are important during Chinese New Years. You may need a gut check as well in the live produce markets — there are all kinds of live fauna flapping about from frogs and turtles to chickens and ducks. The best time to explore Stockton Street is on weekdays; weekends are even more crowded, when Chinese families that have moved up to the suburbs return for shopping on Stockton Street. To avoid the crowds, explore the area in the morning or late afternoon. Many of the shops close around 6PM, but the eateries will remain open into the evening hours.
- Chinatown Alleys. Though Grant Avenue has a lot to offer, it is quite touristy; thus, it is essential that you examine the more authentic areas in the alleys, such as Waverly Place, Pagoda Place, Spofford Lane, and Ross Alley, between Grant and Stockton. Ross Alley is the oldest alley in the city and many movies have had scenes shot here including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. These alleys have got a real old-world feel and you will hear Cantonese conversations and the clicking sound of mahjong tiles being shuffled.
- Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, 56 Ross Alley (between Jackson St, Washington St, Stockton St and Grant Ave), ☎ +1 415 781-3956. 7AM-8:30PM daily. Opened in 1962, this tiny factory produces more than 20,000 fortune cookies a day. The factory is in a small alley and it is tiny with only 3 people making fortune cookies. Tourists are welcome to walk in off the street — you get a flat (un-bended) fortune cookie sample but photos cost 50 cents and the moment you walk in they are asking you in their broken English what cookies you want to buy. It is a must see though! Free entry, $10 for a huge bag of cookies.
- City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave (at Broadway St), ☎ +1 415 362-8193, fax: +1 415 362-4921. 10AM-Midnight daily. Co-founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlenghetti, City Lights was one of the centers of the Beat community in the 1950s. It's iconic and has become synonymous with the literati Beat movement. Oh, don't forget to check out the books, they have a huge collection of Beat prose and poetry. Why not buy a copy of On the Road while you're there — you won't find a better place to get it!
- Jack Kerouac Alley, Jack Kerouac Alley (at Columbus Ave and Broadway St). This tiny paved pedestrian alley was named after the famous Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac who used to hang out in the alley a lot. It was intended to form a literary (and actual) connection between the communities of Chinatown and North Beach. There are plaques embedded into the street which are engraved with Chinese and Western poems from Kerouac, Confucius and John Steinbeck among others.
- Telegraph Hill. Telegraph Hill earned its name in the days of the Gold Rush when it was used as a signaling post to relay messages about incoming ships to the bay. Coit Tower was erected at its peak in 1933 and rewards a weary traveler with some wonderful views over the city. Over time a quiet residential neighborhood built up along the hillside, and their magnificent flowing gardens have always been something to admire on your way up or down. Other neighbors include a colony of colorful feral parrots, predominantly red-masked parakeets, which grew up as descendants of escaped domesticated pets. One can drive to the top, but it's better to take one of the narrow steps leading up and down the sides of the hill (including the Greenwich and Filbert Steps), as they offer better views over the Bay.
The Lonely Meter
Similar to paved streets, the Filbert Steps have fire hydrants, road signs, and a solitary parking meter. The parking meter, numbered 568 47610, is hidden on a landing off the stairs. 568 47610 is notable for several reasons. Foremost, 568 47610 does not serve any apparent parking space; instead it tends a remote bench with which it shares a wooden platform. Together the platform, bench and meter offer visitors a welcome rest from the steps with a view of North Beach and the bay. The parking meter also boasts a small Buddha, which is glued to its top. 568 47610 is not a functioning unit: inserting quarters will not buy you any time; however, it is a good time.
- Filbert Steps. The Filbert Steps are the part of Filbert Street that runs between Battery Street and Telegraph Hill Boulevard in North Beach. The steps end next to Coit Tower, and offer a scenic — though some what strenuous — route for visitors of the tower. In fact, following the steps is at times faster than driving to Coit Tower due to the high demand for relatively few parking spots near the site. Visitors of the steps will see public gardens, stylish homes and views of North Beach and the bay; if a path is not gated or specifically signed with "No Trespassing," then it is most likely public. Also, it pays to be adventurous: some of the best gardens and views are off the stairs. Finally, there is more than one way up and down; if you make a round trip you should find a new route for the return leg. Just avoid private property.
Museums and galleries
- Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny St, 3rd floor (From Portsmouth Sq: just walk across the footbridge that crosses Kearny St to the Hilton Hotel), ☎ +1 415 986-1822, fax: +1 415 986-2825, e-mail: email@example.com. Tu-Sa 10AM-4PM. The center was established in order to promote understanding of Chinese and Chinese American history, art, and culture in the US. They have a small gallery with changing Chinese art exhibitions. Free.
- Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, 965 Clay St (between Stockton St and Powell St), ☎ +1 415 391-1188, fax: +1 415 391-1150, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu–F noon–5PM, Sa 11AM-4PM. This is well worth a visit, with exhibits on the history and experience of Chinese immigrants to San Francisco over the past 150 years. Free.
- Stylers Art Gallery (時代畫廊), 661 Jackson St (between Kearny St and Grant Ave), ☎ +1 415 520-5694, e-mail: email@example.com. M-F 11AM-5PM; Sa-Su 10:30AM-5:30PM. Enjoy authentic Chinese artwork at this gallery. It has the biggest showroom (at basement level) for Chinese painting and calligraphy in China Town. They also offer classes in calligraphy for those who want to take their appreciation a step further. Free.
- Beat Museum, 540 Broadway St (at Columbus Ave), toll-free: +1-800-537-6822. Daily 10AM-7PM. Features quite an extensive collection of exhibits, books and manuscripts that focus on Jack Kerouac and the literary Beat Generation. Plenty of books and T-Shirts for sale here as well. $8 adults, $5 students/seniors.
- North Beach Museum, 1435 Stockton St (on the second floor of the Eureka Bank building, between Green St and Vallejo St), ☎ +1 415 391-6210. M-Th 9AM-4PM, F 9AM-6PM. Photographs, pictures and artifacts that shed light on the rich history of North Beach. Free.
Temples and churches
- Old St. Mary's Church, 660 California St (at Grant Ave), ☎ +1 415 288-3800. M-F 7AM-7PM, Sa 10AM-7PM, Su 8AM-3PM. This is a Chinatown landmark. A beautiful brick building, it is the oldest Roman Catholic church in San Francisco. Free.
- Tin How Temple (天后古廟), 125 Waverly Pl, 4th floor (between Washington St, Clay St, Stockton St, and Grant Ave). 10AM-4PM daily. This tiny temple is the oldest Taoist temple in the country. It is dedicated to Matsu, the Taoist goddess of the Sea. Hundreds of gold and red colored lanterns adorn the ceilings, whose relative size depends on the size of the donation made. The lanterns are inscribed with the name of the donor, in the hope that it will bring them a long and fulfilling life. Free (Donations accepted).
- Norras Temple, 109 Waverly Pl (between Washington St, Clay St, Stockton St, and Grant Ave), ☎ +1 415 362-1993. 10AM-4PM daily. This is the oldest Buddhist temple in the city and was named after the Norras Buddhist Temple in Tibet. It has an impressive gilded-wood altar that was imported from China. Free.
- Ma-Tsu Temple, 30 Beckett St (between Pacific Ave, Jackson St, Kearny St and Grant Ave). Dedicated to Matsu, goddess of the Sea, but has only been around since 1986. Free, a small donation will get you a good luck charm to wear around your neck.
- First Chinese Baptist Church, 15 Waverly Pl (at Sacramento St, between Stockton St and Grant Ave), ☎ +1 415 362-4139, fax: +1 415 362-7644, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Established in the year 1880 as one of the oldest churches in the city, it is worth a visit. It was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but rebuilt with the help of American Baptists across the US. It is known as a bilingual and bi-cultural church and its ministry has historically reached out to immigrants and newcomers. Free.
- Buddhas Universal Church, 720 Washington St (between Kearny St and Grant Ave), ☎ +1 415 982-6116, fax: +1 415 421-3325, e-mail: email@example.com. At five stories tall, this is the largest Buddhist church in the US and is home to the largest Buddhist congregation in San Francisco. The altar was shaped to represent the ship of the Dharma (teachings of the Buddha) and its teak-paneled walls are supposed to be the sails of the ship. Free.
- Kong Chow Temple, 855 Stockton St (between Clay St and Sacramento St), ☎ +1 415 788-1339. Founded in 1857, this is a Taoist temple in honor of the God of honesty and trust — the deity, Kuan Ti. It has many colorful altars, where color is used as metaphor — green for longevity, red warns off evil spirits, and gold projects majesty. Free — donations accepted.
- St. Francis of Assisi Church, 610 Vallejo St (at Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 983-0405, fax: +1 415 983-0407, e-mail: ShrineSF@flash.net. 11AM-5PM daily. Established during the days of the Gold Rush, this church does not host an active parish, however it still functions as a national shrine and tribute to St. Francis of Assisi. It also has a gift shop where you can purchase crosses, frescoes, rosaries, holy cards, as well as many other trinkets. Free.
- Sts. Peter and Paul Church, 666 Filbert St (overlooking Washington Square), ☎ +1 415 421-0809, fax: +1 415 421-1831. Su Services: 7:30AM, 9AM, 10:15AM, 11:30AM, 12:45AM, 5:30PM M-F Services: 7AM, 8AM, 9AM, 12:15PM. A white statuesque, neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral situated directly in front of Washington Square. After Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe wed at City Hall in 1954, they were famously photographed afterward at the this church. Free.
Much of the architecture in Chinatown and North Beach was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire. However, there are still some structures that are worth seeing including the Saints Peter and Paul Church and Old Saint Mary's Church, listed under Temples and Churches above. Chinatown is a mix of Edwardian and Chinoiserie architecture that was built after the fire and it has some interesting pagoda buildings. It may not be authentic Chinese architecture, but it retains a certain charm. The Chinese here also eschewed the traditional grid system of American cities, and a whole series of interesting alleys permeate through Chinatown. Other architectural points of interest include:
- Chinatown Gate, Grant Ave (Grant Ave and Bush St). Erected in 1970, this ornate dragon-crested gate, marks the southern entrance to Chinatown. The Gateway is inscribed with the saying "All under heaven is for the good of the people," by Dr. Sun Yat-sen.
- Bank of Canton, 743 Washington St (between Kearny St and Grant Ave). M-Th 9AM-5PM, F 9AM-6PM, Sa 9AM-4PM. Built in 1891, it was destroyed and rebuilt in 1909, originally the building housed the country's only Chinese telephone exchange. The exchange closed in 1949 and the building was subsequently restored and turned into a bank in 1960. The building is arguably the first important building in Chinatown. It is a three-tiered pagoda style building.
- Sing Fat Building and Sing Chong Building (at the corner of California St and Grant Ave). Two great examples of multi-tiered pagoda buildings on opposite sides of the intersection. The Sing Chong Building was one of the first buildings rebuilt after the fire, and today it is one of the most photographed buildings in the city.
- Bank of America, 701 Grant Ave (at Sacramento St). M-F 9AM-6PM, Sa 9AM-2PM. Pagoda style building with a three tiered roof and decorated with ornate gold dragons and medallions on the outside.
- Engine No. 1 — Firehouse, 451 Pacific Ave (between Montgomery St and Samaome St). One of the original Fire Houses in the city, it used horse-drawn equipment and was built in 1868. It was ironically destroyed by the 1906 fire and was rebuilt in 1909 by architect Newton J. Tharp as a two-story building with large arched entrance. The new architecture was heavily influenced by the "City Beautiful" movement.
- Columbus Tower/Sentinel Building, 916 Kearny St (at Columbus Ave). This flatiron (wedge shaped) copper-green building is an unmistakable San Francisco beauty. The "Grateful Dead" once recorded some of their songs there. Today it is owned by movie-director, Francis Ford Copolla. It now has a cafe on its ground floor, where you can grab a coffee whilst admiring its impressive setting, at the foot of North Beach.
- Coit Tower, 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd (limited parking; or take #39 Muni bus from Washington Square), ☎ +1 415 249-0995, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. May–October: daily 10AM-6PM; November–April: daily 10AM-5PM. Visible from much of San Francisco and the Bay Area, Coit Tower stands atop Telegraph Hill and gives an excellent view of the bay and the rest of the city. The tower was built by the Federal Works Projects Administration in 1933 with money bequeathed by eccentric San Franciscan Lillie Coit. Coit was said to have chased after firefighters as a young girl, and as an older woman sponsored her favorite fire company. A fan of the volunteer city firefighters, and local legend has it that the shape of the tower is supposed to simulate the end of a fire hose — although the architects denied this claim. The first and second floors house beautiful examples of New Deal-era idealist murals, and the top floor (reached by elevator) has featured paintings or other art. Artists put in their own signatures and messages in the murals, which interpretive plaques point out. $8 for elevator to top floor ($5 seniors/teens, $2 children 5-11, children under 5 free); the rest is free.
Parks, monuments, and public art
- Portsmouth Square (花園角廣場) (bordered by Kearny St, Washington St, Clay St, and Walter Lum Pl). This is the largest area of open space in Chinatown. It is known as the "Heart of Chinatown" because the neighborhood began along one of its sides and extended from there to become what is known as Chinatown today. The square bristles with activity, and here you find local residents playing cards or Chinese chess, and practicing Tai Chi. The square contains several memorials, statues, and plaques — including a bronze replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue and a marker commemorating Robert Louis Stevenson.
- St. Mary's Park (聖瑪利公園) (south side of California St, opposite Old St. Mary's Church). 6AM-10PM. This park boasts an Art Deco statue of Sun Yat-Sen, created by sculptor Benny Bufano in the 1930s. It also has a plaque commemorating those soldiers of Chinese ancestry that died in both World Wars.
- Woh Hei Yuen Park (和喜園) (at Powell St between John and Jackson Sts). Small park and recreation center that has some interesting public art like the Five Carved Stones by Marcia Donahue and Tectonic Melange by Lampo Leong. Its name translates to "Garden of Peace and Joy".
- Ping Yen Mural (at Stockton St and Pacific Ave). Created by Darryl Mar, this mural celebrates the history of Chinatown and what life is like there today.
- Chinese Railroad Workers Mural, 827 Stockton St (on the Chinese Charity Cultural Services Center between Sacramento St and Clay St). A mural by Amy Nelder depicting the early Chinese workers who settled the area in the 1870s to work on the transcontinental railroad. Unfortunately, they were often the target of racism, ignorance, and intolerance.
- Washington Square (at Union St and Powell St). Every day at around 8AM-10AM, locals practice tai-chi, the martial art and meditation practice. Different sections of the park will host everything from jazzercise to sword-play. Sunny days will bring out locals lounging on their blankets. Art fairs are frequent, and the oyster-beer fair in March is very popular. Note the sculpture to volunteer firefighters on the Columbus Ave side. The Sts. Peter and Paul church of the Salesians borders the northern side. Joe Dimaggio and Marilyn Monroe were photographed outside of the church, but they could not be married inside because she was divorced. Monroe and Dimaggio had their reception around the corner at a place which is now called "Pena Pacha Mama" (Powell St between Union & Green). The park used to be a favorite among the Beat poets as well — Jack Kerouac used to hang out here frequently enjoying the sunshine with a bottle of port.
- Juana Briones Monument (at Stockton St and Filbert St). See the monument erected in honor of this humanitarian and pioneer settler of Yerba Buena (now North Beach).
- Pioneer Park (atop Telegraph Hill). This park sits atop Telegraph Hill and surrounds the base of Coit Tower. It has some excellent 360 degree vistas around the city and there are some coin operated binoculars to help you enjoy the view.
- Sydney G. Walton Square (Front and Davis, Pacific and Jackson Sts). Small (one square block), well maintained park/square in the heart of the city, located right beside the Financial District. Tai Chi practitioners exercise here in the early morning hours.
- Levi's Plaza Park, 1160 Battery St (at Filbert St). Located in front of the Levi Strauss headquarters, this immaculately kept little park is perhaps the perfect spot for a picnic... especially if you're exhausted after climbing over Telegraph Hill! It has a soothing fountain as its centerpiece. Having said that, ever present security guards at the park can bring you down from your mellow moments here... just don't dip your feet in the water!
- Jun Yu’s Barber Shop, 32 Ross Alley (between Jackson St, Washington St, Stockton St and Grant Ave). Need a haircut? Why not let one of Chinatown's local celebrities cut it for you? Since 1963, this elderly Chinese barber has sheared the locks of some of Hollywood's best including Michael Douglas and Sinatra. The photos in the front window tell the story. When he has no customers to attend to, he breaks out a violin and Ross Alley fills with his tune.
- Beach Blanket Babylon, Fugazi Hall, 678 Green St, ☎ +1 415 421-4222, e-mail: email@example.com. W-Th 8PM, F-Sa 6:30PM and 9:30PM, Su 2PM and 5PM (Matinees). This zany Steve Silver cabaret is the longest running musical revue in US theater history. The show is an internationally acclaimed San Francisco institution, and famous for its use of enormous hats, some of which are up to ten feet tall! It has even been seen by Queen Elizabeth. $25-$73.
Walking is not only the most environmentally friendly way to see this area, it is also undoubtedly the best way, as it allows one to experience its rich ambiance and charms first hand. A knowledgeable guide can be a big help in this regard, and several companies offer different kinds of walking tours through both Chinatown and North Beach:
- San Francisco City Guides, ☎ +1 415 557-4266, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Take an informative and free tour of either North Beach or Chinatown from the people who know it best — the locals. Free.
- Barbary Coast Trail, ☎ +1 415 454-2355, e-mail: email@example.com. Take a tour of San Francisco's historic Barbary Coast. A series of bronze medallions and arrows are embedded into the sidewalks and help you navigate through the Barbary Coast Trail’s historic sites. You can either download a map ($8.95) or audio tour ($25) or take one of their guided tours which are available by appointment only ($22 per person with a $352 minimum).
- Culinary Walking Tour of North Beach and Little Italy, Departs: Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Shop at 569 Columbus Ave at Washington Square Park. 10AM, 2PM daily (except December 25, 26, January 1, and Easter). North Beach is famous for its food and cafe culture, so why not take a four hour guided tour of its family bakeries, sidewalk cafés and traditional Italian pastry shops. The tour includes an authentic Italian meal as well as a narration of North Beach history. Adult, $89; Child (14 & under), $69 — Included: Narration, Food Not Included: Gratuities.
- GraceAnn Walden's SF North Beach Walking tours, ☎ +1 415 302-5898, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Every Saturday, restaurant critic and radio personality GraceAnn Walden conducts a walking tour of North Beach. The tour includes a historical narration, and it takes you to see a 125 year old brick-oven bakery, a stylish restaurant, and an Italian bakery. Lunch accompanied by wine is included. Reservations are necessary. Private tours of North Beach are available on weekdays for 12 or more. $80 all inclusive.
- Local Tastes of the City Tours, ☎ +1 415 665-0480. They offer an affordable $59 three hour tour of North Beach, starting at either 10AM or 2PM. You get to sample coffees, handmade chocolates, pastries, breads and olive oils. A historical lecture accompanies the tour and they will take you to some of the old Beat Generation hangouts. They also offer a separate three hour tour of Chinatown starting either 10AM or 2PM. Here you will get to sample Chinese Teas and Dim Sum, as well as see how fortune cookies are made at the Fortune Cookie Factory. Finally, they do a combined two hour night tour of both Chinatown and North Beach which starts at 6PM and also costs $59.
Events and festivals
- Chinese New Year Festivities. Jan or Feb. Celebrated for over 5,000 years, the San Francisco version of the Chinese New Year dates back to the Gold Rush Days. The parade is colorful, vibrant and loud, with decorative costumes, lions, deafening firecrackers, "lucky-money" envelopes, colorful banners, over 100 ornately themed floats, martial arts groups, stilt walkers, acrobats, and of course a 200 foot Golden Dragon that has a six foot-long head. Free.
- Autumn Moon Festival, ☎ +1 415 982-6306, e-mail: email@example.com. Mid-late Sept for two days, 11AM-6PM each day. Commemorating the autumn equinox, a full moon, and Chang O (an immortal Goddess that lives in the moon), this festival is an important event in the Chinese lunar calendar. It has parallels with America's Thanksgiving Day, as it encourages contemplation and giving thanks for the rich bounty of the summer harvest. The festivities include Chinese acrobats, lions, music, dance and Chinese opera among other things. Free.
- North Beach Festival, Washington Square Park, 1200-1500 blocks of Grant Avenue and adjacent streets in North Beach, ☎ +1 415 989-2220, fax: +1 415 989-6427. Takes place in Mid June. A North Beach tradition that celebrates its Italian heritage. It features live music and entertainment, poetry readings, classical concerts, dancing, ArtE di Gesso (chalk art on the street), and varied arts and crafts exhibitions. Free.
- Art in the Alley, Jack Kerouac Alley (between the City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio at Columbus Ave and Broadway St), ☎ +1 415 263-8959, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. May. See website for exact dates and times. Taking place twice a year in Kerouac Alley (a beautiful, if tiny, cobble stoned alley that was named after Jack Kerouac), this is an open-air art exhibition that showcases the work of local artists. Free.
- Columbus Day Parade (all along Columbus Avenue), ☎ +1 415 703-9888, e-mail: email@example.com. Starts at 12:30PM. This parade, which celebrates Christopher Columbus and Italian heritage, attracts almost half a million spectators each year. The parade dates all the way back to 1869, making it the city's oldest civic event. Handmade floats run all the way from Fisherman's Wharf, and up Columbus Avenue as far as Vallejo Street, where the parade does a 180 finishing in Washington Square. Free.
Chinatown and North Beach are unique immigrant neighborhoods, and consequently there are almost no large chain stores to be found. In Chinatown, Grant Avenue is the main shopping thoroughfare for tourists. Here you will find Oriental handicrafts of all descriptions, from jade statues to Asian rugs and kimonos. It also has many souvenir stores and small market stalls that sell typical tourist knickknacks. Stockton Street runs parallel to Grant on its west, and has many fresh produce and household ware stores that are popular with locals. North Beach has predominantly small boutique stores selling mostly clothing and jewelry, arts and handicrafts, furniture and Italian wares. Here is a selection of the stores available:
- Chinese Bookmarks, Ross Alley (on the left hand side of Ross Alley (when entering from Jackson Street) and near the beginning). Hours : Vary (Sometimes he's there, sometimes he's not!). Tired of the same old souvenir stores? Looking for a more authentic souvenir? Down Ross Alley you'll sometimes find an old Chinese man in a doorway, who for a few dollars, will inscribe your name in Chinese onto a handcrafted bookmark. $2-$4.
- China Station, 456-460 Grant Ave (between Pine St and Bush St), ☎ +1 415 397-4848. M-Sa 10AM-10PM, Su 10AM-9PM. If you like reasonably priced souvenirs, this is the place for you. They have a very broad selection, selling everything from Chinese exercise balls to Buddha statues.
- Dragon House, 455 Grant Ave, ☎ +1 415 421-3696, fax: +1 415 781-2351, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sells genuine antiques and fine art from China, Japan, Tibet and Mongolia.
- Peking Bazaar, 826-832 Grant Ave (between California St and Sacramento St), ☎ +1 415 982-9847. 10AM-10PM daily. Huge sprawling store selling a wide range of discount imported goods from Asia including lanterns, candles, sarongs, silk kimonos, geisha outfits and Chinese dolls.
- A. Cavalli & Co, 1441 Stockton St (between Vallejo St and Green St), ☎ +1 415 421-4219. M-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-6:30PM. This shop with its friendly proprietor sells everything Italian, from ornate imported espresso and pasta makers to Italian newspapers, magazines, CDs, and DVDs.
- Biordi Arts, 412 Columbus Ave (at Vallejo St), ☎ +1 415 392-8096. Tu-F 11AM-5PM, Sa 9:30AM-5PM. For 50 years the owners have been selling imprinted Renaissance style Italian Majolica as well as Italian Hand painted Dinnerware.
- Goorin Brothers Hat Makers, 1612 Stockton St (at Washington Sq), ☎ +1 415 402-0454, fax: +1 415 431-9199. Su-Th 11AM-8PM, F-Sa 10AM-9PM. These guys are determined to bring hats back in a big way. Along the way they've had many famous customers including Tom Cruise and JayZ. How big is your head?
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
|Budget||$10 or less|
|Splurge||$20 or more|
The area is a veritable smörgåsbord of dining opportunities, enough for even the most discerning palette. Chinatown is famous for its cheap eats (like Dim Sum) and "family style" eating in restaurants. You can fill up for as little as $3, but there are more expensive full service restaurants here as well. North Beach is generally pricier and the focus is mainly on Italian favorites like pizza, pasta, and risotto accompanied by a nice bottle of wine. With many of its restaurants situated directly on Columbus Avenue, it's a great place for alfresco style dining. There are however more affordable options in North Beach, including several great cafes, delis, and American diner style restaurants, where you can get a good quality meal at a more reasonable price.
The localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to — it is common to hear complaints from Chinese visitors that Chinese food here is not like the food back home. There are several main types of Chinese restaurants in San Francisco: those primarily serving immigrants from Hong Kong ("Hong Kong style") which commonly have signs on the wall in Chinese characters, live fish and shellfish tanks and some exotic main ingredients, such as pig's blood or sea cucumber; those primarily serving San Franciscans who are not Asian immigrants ("California Chinese") which commonly have Westernized table service, low fat content and more emphasis on fresh vegetables; those primarily serving tourists or other people accustomed to Chinese food as it is commonly served in the United States ("Americanized Chinese"); and those primarily serving immigrants from other areas or a particular dietary need or interest (regional cuisines, vegetarian, Muslim). There may be some mixing between these various classifications and each category may influence the others, for instance, the Americanized dish known as Chop Suey is often not served even at Americanized Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, while Chinese vegetables such as bok choy and pea sprouts may turn up on your plate at California Cuisine style restaurants.
The cheapest meal you can have on the go is to partake of the numerous take-out places along Stockton Street in Chinatown. The most dense parts of the Stockton Street Market stretch from Washington Street north to Broadway Street, filled with BBQ shops, dim sum shops, and other stores. Consider the Stockton Street Market as a progressive meal. Be patient, it is very crowded during the lunch hour. If you don't like crowds, try some of the restaurants off Stockton Street.
Although the many restaurants in Chinatown advertise themselves as Hong Kong or Guangzhou style, their offerings are by chefs from provincial towns in Guangdong, the quality of which is generally considered by Hong Kong or Guangzhou diners to be subpar to authentic Hong Kong or Guangzhou food.
- Dol Ho (多好茶室), 808 Pacific Ave (up from Stockton St), ☎ +1 415 392-2828. Th-Tu 7AM-5PM. For excellent dim sum at a price that's a bargain compared to the touristy joints on Grant, this is a great place to eat. Most, if not all, of the clientele are Chinese, and this is a good thing. $1.75-$6.
- Bow Hon (寶漢), 850 Grant Ave (between Clay St and Washington St), ☎ +1 415 362-0601. 11AM-10:30PM daily. This small restaurant serves traditional clay pot dishes. Cash only. $3.95-$10.
- Chung King Restaurant, 606 Jackson St (down near Kearney), ☎ +1 415 986-3899. daily 11:30-3PM, 5:00-9:30PM. Inexpensive but good Chinese food served in a comfortable setting for Chinatown. Not too many small tables; ample large tables for family and friends. $5-$10.
- Hong Kong Clay Pot Restaurant, 960 Grant Ave (between Jackson St and Washington St), ☎ +1 415 989-2638. Daily 11:30AM-3PM, 5:30PM-9PM. Closed Wednesdays. Formerly “Hong Kong Dim Sum,” this restaurant serves great dim sum and traditional noodle dishes and is frequented by Chinatown locals. $5-$8.
- Vietnam Restaurant, 620 Broadway St (near Grant and Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 788-7034. 9AM-3AM daily. Situated right next-door to Sam's (and another Vietnamese restaurant), this is a healthier late night option to the burger and fries. The place is tiny (the open grill is right behind the cash-register), the decor dated, and the three Vietnamese ladies who run it are about as friendly as a poke in the eye, but the food is excellent, fresh, well seasoned, and very cheap. The crab soup is a favorite as is the inimitable $3.50 pork sandwich. $3.50-$10.
- Sam's Pizza, 618 Broadway St (near Grant and Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 391-1539. M-F 5PM-9PM. If you like greasy but very tasty fast food then you've come to the right place. Sam's is a small dingy late night diner; the sign says pizza, but they do a mean burger and fries. It’s very popular with locals from the busy Broadway area. $5-$10.
- Giordano Bros., 303 Columbus Ave (at Broadway St), ☎ +1 415 397-BROS (2767), fax: +1 415 397-2794. M-Th 11AM-12:30AM, F-Sa 11AM-2AM, Su 11AM-12:30AM. Enjoy a great sandwich? Well their creations were voted "Best Sandwich" by the readers of SF Weekly. $7-$10.
- Taqueria Zorro, 308 Columbus Ave (near Broadway St and Grant Ave), ☎ +1 415 392-9677, fax: +1 415 392-1299, e-mail: email@example.com. 10AM-10PM daily. Excellent little budget taqueria with good quality food at a very reasonable price. It's clean, the portions are generous and the service is excellent. They can sometimes put together a large burrito in less than a minute from time of order to time of eating. Juke box and large screen TV in the back. $6-$10.
- Buster's, 366 Columbus Ave (corner of Columbus Ave and Vallejo St), ☎ +1 415 392-2800. Su-Th 11AM-12AM, F-Sa 11AM-2AM. Another classic late-night spot for the inebriated and starving. The sign outside says that they have the best Philly-cheese steaks in the city... almost certainly not true, but with its fresh ingredients, it’s pretty good nonetheless. They also do a very good burger at a reasonable price. Friendly staff and open late to cater to the party crowd. $5-$10.
- BurgerMeister, 759 Columbus Ave (near Greenwich St), ☎ +1 415 296-9907. 11AM-11PM daily. Excellent and varied selection of burgers at a reasonable price. Inside it has typical retro American-diner decor and the service is fast and friendly. This place is very popular and was voted "Best Burger 2007" in San Francisco by the readers of SF Weekly. $10-$12.
- Pat's Cafe, 2330 Taylor St (at Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 776-8735. Breakfast and Lunch: Daily 7:30AM-3PM, Dinner: Th-M 5:30PM-9PM. Charming little cafe serving traditional American fare, with friendly staff and very reasonable prices. $5-$10.
- Bocadillos, 710 Montgomery St (at Washington St), ☎ +1 415 982-2622, fax: +1 415 982-0177, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-W 7AM-10PM, Th-F 7AM-10:30PM, Sa 5PM-10:30PM. Basque restaurant in North Beach, good champagne and rose wine selection. Menu favorites: Serrano ham, crab fritters. Tapas, small plates, moderately priced. Modern decor with windows onto Washington Street. Bubble Lounge is next door, also specializing in huge champagne collection. Gets very well-dressed crowd in after work and later evening. No line (yet) and serves parties up to 10, but small space. Entrees $9-$15.
- Cafe Zoetrope, 916 Kearny St (at Columbus), ☎ +1 415 291-1700. M-F 11AM-10PM, Sa Noon-10, Su Noon-9. Owned by the film director Francis Ford Coppola, Zoetrope is an elegant Italian restaurant located in a historic landmark, the Sentinel Building, in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid.
- Caffè Puccini, 411 Columbus Ave (at Vallejo St), ☎ +1 415 989-7033. 6AM-12AM daily. Puccini serves a mean cappuccino and a delicious homemade lasagna. The walls are adorned with opera posters, and the sounds of Verdi and spoken Italian are in the air. Excellent tiramisù, the Italian layered custard and chocolate dessert. $9-$15.
- Calzone's Pizza Cucina, 430 Columbus Ave (between Green St and Valejo St), ☎ +1 415 397-3600. M-Su 11AM-1AM. You can't miss this restaurant — it's the one with the large awning and all the curbside tables that overlook Columbus Street. They make great fresh mojitos here and the pizza is pretty good too. $13-$20.
- House of Nanking, 919 Kearny St (Cross Street — Jackson St), ☎ +1 415 421-1429. M-Sa 11AM-10PM, Su 12PM-9:30PM. The most famous Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and justifiably so. Let the waiter order for you. The Moo Shu Pork is sublime. $6-$12.
- L'Osteria del Forno, 519 Columbus Ave (at Green St), ☎ +1 415 982-1124. Su, M, W, Th 11:30AM-10PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-10:30PM. No reservations. A charming, crowded, locally known date restaurant, L'Osteria has a line out the door after 5PM, so arrive early. The small semi-surly staff cooks up wonderful, affordably-priced dishes in the kitchen's one oven, so things can take a little while... specials on the menu: the roast pork, baked penne, and salmon carpaccio are favorites. Excellent Italian wine selection by the glass and bottle. Cannot seat more than 4 in a party. Entrees $10-$18.
- Michelangelo Cafe, 579 Columbus Ave (between Green St and Union St), ☎ +1 415 986-4058. M-Th 5PM-11PM, F-Sa 12PM-11PM, Su 12PM-10PM. Small, cozy and ornately decorated Italian restaurant in the heart of North Beach. Great service! Entrees $15-$25.
- Mo's Gourmet Hamburgers, 1322 Grant Ave (between Vallejo St and Green St), ☎ +1 415 788-3779. Su-Th 9AM-10:30PM, F-Sa 9AM-11:30PM. American style diner that definitely has one of the best burgers in San Francisco. Mo's has a unique rotary-style grill in the front window to lure unsuspecting hungry people in. When you leave though, you will not be hungry — Mo's burgers are HUGE, and are best complimented with a frosted cold glass of beer! Burgers, fries and a coke around $12.
- Mama's, 1701 Stockton St (On Washington Sq), ☎ +1 415 362-6421. Tu-Su 8AM-3PM. Unbelievably popular place with locals, you only need to see how long the lines are outside at breakfast to understand the popularity of Mama's — it has become a North Beach institution. In 2007, it won Zagat's "Best Breakfast in San Francisco." Breakfast and lunch go for about $9-$11.
- North Beach Pizza, 1462 Grant Ave (at Union St), ☎ +1 415 433-2444. 9AM-1AM daily. One of the best pizzas in the city, and right in the heart of North Beach. $8-$25.
- Old Ship Saloon, 298 Pacific Ave (at Battery St), ☎ +1 415 788-2222. M-F 11:30AM-3PM, 4:30PM-Midnight; closed Sa & Su. Great sandwiches in the reincarnation of an old saloon built atop the buried remains of a merchant ship that was blown ashore by a storm in 1849. $9-$14.
- Yuet Lee, 1300 Stockton St (at Broadway St), ☎ +1 415 982-6020. W-M 11AM-3AM. No-nonsense Chinese restaurant with an eclectic but authentic menu, with offerings like stir-fried Watercress and Fresh Frog Rice Soup. $8-$25.
- Great Eastern, 649 Jackson St (at Kearny St), ☎ +1 415 986-2500. 10AM-2:45PM, 3:30PM-1AM daily. This Chinese restaurant has a HUGE menu that focuses primarily on the fruits of the sea like Dungeness crab, oysters and giant prawns. They are also known for doing a pretty good duck. $12-$258.
- Jai Yun, 680 Clay St (between Kearny St and Montgomery St), ☎ +1 415 981-7438. 6:30PM-9:30PM daily. This quirky Chinese restaurant has a "prix-fixe" menu and reservations are required. It serves excellent ornate Shanghai style dishes with a "no-fuss" style table service. By the way, there is no fixed menu — it changes based upon what the chef selects that day. $30-$150.
- R & G Lounge, 631 Kearny St (at Commercial St), ☎ +1 415 982-7877, e-mail: email@example.com. Daily 11:30AM to 9:30PM. An authentic upscale Cantonese Restaurant and Lounge. All types of seafood including Salt and Pepper Crab. Entrees $10-$35.
- The House, 1230 Grant Ave (at Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 986-8612. M-Th 11AM-3PM, 5:30PM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-3PM, 5:30PM-11PM, Su 5PM-10PM. Reservations recommended. The home of Asian fusion cuisine. The dining space is tiny, but the possible ensuing wait is worth it. Don't miss the scallop-topped Caesar salad or the often-imitated seared Ahi tuna. $17-$30.
- Caffe Sport, 574 Green St (off Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 981-1251. T-Sa 12PM-2PM, 5PM-10:30PM. Italian food meets hippie bus. Plates of pasta served family style. Some very nice seafood pastas. They may bring what you order, or perhaps what the chef thinks would go together better. They have house wine, served in water tumblers. Small, a little noisy, and a lot of fun. Opens special hours for World Cup faithful. Cash only. Entrees $15-$24.
- The Stinking Rose, 325 Columbus Ave (between Vallejo St and Broadway), ☎ +1 415 781-7673, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Su-Th 11:30AM-10PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-11PM. This is the place if you love garlic, and only if you really love garlic. The original in what has become a chain of garlic restaurants offering sumptuous, contemporary California-Italian cuisine prepared and adorned with garlic. Motto: "We Season Our Garlic With Food!" Be warned, people might be reluctant to be near you the next day. Entrees $19-$30.
- North Beach Restaurant, 1512 Stockton St (at Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 392-1700, fax: +1 415 392-1587, e-mail: NorthBeachRestaurant@yahoo.com. 11:30AM-11:45PM daily. Fine dining from the Tuscany region of Italy. This restaurant has a lavish interior with cherry wood walls, high ceilings and Florentine tiled floors. There are four dining rooms in total and there is a cigar room and wine cellar in the basement. $30-$60.
- Fior D'Italia, 2237 Mason St (between Chesnut St and Francisco St), ☎ +1 415 986-1886, fax: +1 415 441-8774, e-mail: email@example.com. 11:30AM-10:30PM daily. Set a few blocks back from the Wharf area, this is one of the nation's oldest Italian restaurants, and it has been open since 1886. A favorite among locals and visitors alike, it serves authentic Northern Italian cuisine. Entrees from $16-$36.
Chinatown has less drinking establishments, but North Beach with its abundance of bars and clubs is one of the major nightlife hotspots in the San Francisco. It attracts revelers from all over the city who are looking for a good time and somewhere to party into the wee hours of the morning... so put your drinking cap on!
- Li Po's, 916 Grant Ave (at Washington St), ☎ +1 415 982-0072. 2PM-2AM daily. This dive bar is great to pop into while in Chinatown. Although it has nothing on tap, bottled beer is available. Check out the seedy booths in the back lit by a single red bulb. Or catch a live act in the dimly-lit basement on the weekends.
- Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge (寶寶), 1155 Grant Ave (near the intersection of Kearney St and Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 421-6730. 3PM-2AM daily. Little hole in the wall dive bar, run by the irrepressible hostess/owner Candy Mama, a 50-something woman originally from Taiwan. She's a spitfire and a complete rock star. She'll end up doing shots with you, sneaking shots into your drinks, force-feeding you endless peanuts and making adorable and incessant conversation. The crowd's an eclectic mix, which makes for great people-watching, especially when the karaoke is broken out.
- Buddha Lounge, 901 Grant Ave (at Washington St), ☎ +1 415 362-1792. 12PM-2AM daily. Another favorite dive bar in Chinatown, this is a cramped yet lively place that's great for people watching.
- Red's Place, 672 Jackson St (at Beckett St), ☎ +1 415 956-4490. 11AM-2AM daily. It is the oldest operating bar in Chinatown. It's a quiet place, ideal for conversations.
- 15 Romolo, 15 Romolo Pl (at Broadway St, half block in from Columbus Ave intersection), ☎ +1 415 398-1359. 5:30PM-2AM daily. The hidden bar has a lovely dark red decor. Formerly the "Basque Hotel" this historic hotel and bar becomes quite crowded on one of the busiest blocks during a Friday and Saturday night in North Beach. It's also positioned on a steep street, with a side entrance that seems furtive and secret.
- NorthStar Cafe, 1560 Powell St (at Green St), ☎ +1 415 397-0577. 1PM-2AM daily. The North Star is a standard bar that you will find almost everywhere in the U.S. It has pool tables, a bar, and as the evening goes on becomes standing room only. This is a good bar for hanging out with friends and making new ones.
- Specs, 12 William Saroyan Pl (down a small alley off of Columbus Ave, around the corner from Tosca), ☎ +1 415 421-4112. F-Sa 5PM-2AM, Su-Th 4:30PM-2AM. Mariner's hangout and general dive bar in North Beach, this is a hidden gem.
- Tosca, 242 Columbus Ave (between Broadway St and Pacific Ave), ☎ +1 415 391-1244. Tu-Su 5PM-2AM. Another landmark North Beach Cafe/Bar, Tosca is dark but atmospheric interior complete with some cool red-leather booths. The bar is named after the opera Tosca and has an intense list of operas on the jukebox. Willie Brown, former mayor, hangout. It's known for its specialty "Coffeeless Cappuccino" — steamed milk with brandy and chocolate. There are about 15 cappuccinos lined up on the bar ready to serve since they are so popular.
- Vesuvio's, 255 Columbus Ave (next door to the famous City Lights Bookstore). 6AM-2AM daily. This quirky and historic bar was founded in 1948, and is famous for its association with jazz, poetry, and the Beat Generation. Neal Cassidy first made a pit stop here in the mid fifties, and ever since it became a favorite hangout for literati celebrities, including Jack Kerouac. While you're there, why not order "The Jack Kerouac" — a healthy dose of tequila, rum, and cranberry juice. The bar is located next-door to the iconic City Lights Book store and what is now known as "Jack Kerouac Alley".
- The Saloon, 1232 Grant Ave (between Columbus Ave and Vallejo St), ☎ +1 415 989-7666. 12PM-2AM daily. Old Blues/Jazz bar that has survived the raucous Barbary Coast and the 1906 earthquake. This is the oldest bar in San Francisco and it certainly looks like it too — it's grotty and rough looking inside and out, and it's extremely loud, but it can also be great fun and a must if you love the Blues. Weekends — $5 cover charge.
- Savoy-Tivoli, 1434 Grant Ave (between Green St and Union St), ☎ +1 415 362-7023. Tu-F 5PM-1:30AM, Sa 3PM-1:30AM. Roomy, fun open-air bar on Grant Avenue, this bar is a favorite with both tourists and locals alike. It has been around since 1906 and attracts an eclectic yet discerning crowd.
- Columbus Cafe, 562 Green St (Columbus Ave and Green St), ☎ +1 415 274-2599. Sa-Su 12PM-2AM, M-F 2PM-2AM. Great bar situated in a huddle of bars around the intersection of Grant Avenue and Green Street. It draws a lively and predominantly young crowd. It does a two-for-one happy hour on beers and also $3 Fernets. Watch out though, it can get crowded.
- Grant and Green Saloon, 1371 Grant Ave (at Grant Ave and Green St), ☎ +1 415 693-9565. M-Th 4PM-2AM, F 12PM-2AM, Sa-Su 10AM-2AM. Named after the intersection it resides on is this popular if slightly dingy bar. They have live bands playing every night.
- Amante, 570 Green St (Columbus Ave and Green St), ☎ +1 415 362-4400, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 5PM-2AM daily. Trendy bar with sumptuous decor, high ceilings and lots of open spaces. It's a little bit pricier than other bars in the area and attracts a younger well dressed crowd.
- Gino & Carlo Cocktail Lounge, 548 Green St (Columbus Ave and Green St), ☎ +1 415 421-0896. 6AM-2AM daily. One of a trilogy of bars that line up on Green Street, it's a classic North Beach neighborhood bar. It's colorful, has a great juke box, and attracts lots of locals looking to socialize.
- Kells Irish Restaurant & Bar, 530 Jackson St (at Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 955-1916. M-Th 11:30AM-12AM, F 11:30AM-2AM, Sa 5PM-2AM. On a secluded narrow street, this is more of an upscale Irish bar and attracts twenty and young thirty-something workers from the nearby Financial District who are looking to unwind. It has another bar upstairs which tends to be quieter.
- International Sports Club, 1000 Columbus St (at Columbus Ave and Chestnut St), ☎ +1 415 775-6036. 12PM-2AM daily, Happy Hour: 4PM-8PM daily. Nice little bar with a well worn-in interior, moderately loud jukebox and friendly bar staff. They have cheap prices, a pool table and a couple seats by the door for the smokers. Nice mix of locals and tourists, very low key and down to earth. A very good place to make new friends and gets a good young crowd after about nine.
- La Trappe Cafe, 800 Greenwich St, ☎ +1 415 440-8727. 6PM-12AM. A great beer bar and restaurtant hidden in the lower part of North Beach. Out of the way of most tourists because of its low profile. Huge Belgian Beer selection, and other craft brews from around the world. Restaurant offers mussels and frites - classic Belgian combo. Be prepared to splurge if you go, you can easily drink your way to a hefty bill. $15-$20.
Clubs and venues
- Fuse, 493 Broadway St (at Kearny St), ☎ +1 415 788-2706. 8PM-2AM daily. Catering to a musical taste that leans towards electronica, Fuse regularly features DJs that spin a variety of house and down tempo. This being San Francisco, the crowd tends to show up on the late side, but when they turn out they arrive in force. Fuse isn't that big, so if you arrive after everyone, be prepared to wait in line. The dance floor is minimal, establishing a space that's more for drinking and enjoying the music than getting funky. However, the quality of music is fun, and the bar staff is very friendly.
- Zebra Lounge, 447 Broadway St (between Montgomery St and Kearny St), ☎ +1 415 788-0188, e-mail: email@example.com. Tu-Su 9PM-2AM. Upscale and trendy new lounge and nightclub with DJs and a reasonably sized dance floor. It gets a young crowd.
- Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Ave (at Chestnut St), ☎ +1 415 474-0365, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Box office: M-F 10AM-4PM, Club hours: Vary. Bimbo's is a glamorous upscale event venue and nightclub that holds up to 700 people. It has three bars, a dance floor and stage. Robin Williams did his act here quite regularly.
- Penthouse Club, 412 Broadway, ☎ +1 415 391 2800, e-mail: email@example.com. 4PM - 2AM M-F 7PM - 2AM Sat-Sun. Upscale topless club is part fine dining, part dance club.
Back in the days of the Gold Rush, Osgood Street (O-So-Good Street!) in North Beach used to be considered the red-light district. Today, the section on Broadway Street between Columbus and Samsome Street is an area that many consider to be the city's red-light district. It has many exotic-dance clubs like Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, Roaring 20s, and the more famous Condor. Carol Doda made this place famous in 1964 by injecting silicone into her chest and creating what would become known as "the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco." A plaque on the ouside commemorates the venue; The Condor; Where it all began; The birthplace of the world's first topless & bottomless entertainment; Topless — June 19, 1964 Bottomless — September 3, 1969 Starring Ms. Carol Doda; San Francisco, California
The undiscriminating heckles from over-zealous doormen enticing customers into the shows can be a bit tacky and off-putting, especially for those who enter the area to go to the other non-strip clubs. Consequently, many people are put off from even entering the area.
North Beach in particular is famous its "caffe culture." It has an excellent variety of cafes, many of which serve award winning coffee, sometimes imported all the way from Italy. Here is a selection of the more popular ones;
- Caffe Trieste, 601 Vallejo St (Vallejo St and Grant Ave), ☎ +1 415 392-6739. F-Sa 6:30AM-12AM Su-Th 6:30AM-11PM. Has become a North Beach landmark. Although a little bit scruffy, it has excellent coffee — certainly one of the best cups of coffee in North Beach, and it’s very popular with the locals. One famous local patron was Jack Kerouac and reportedly Francis Ford Copolla wrote part of the Godfather here.
- Stella Pastry & Cafe, 446 Columbus Ave (between Green St and Vallejo St), ☎ +1 415 986-2914, fax: +1 415 397-9140. M-Th 7:30AM-7PM, F-Sa 7:30AM-12AM, Su 8:30AM-7PM. Small elegant cafe/bakery that serves fresh affordable coffee with delicious treats like cannoli and tiramisù available on the side.
- Caffe Greco, 423 Columbus Ave (between Green St and Vallejo St), ☎ +1 415 397-6261. Su-Th 7AM-11:30PM, F-Sa 7AM-12AM. Probably North Beach's most popular cafe, especially with locals. It has a real European atmosphere and imports its coffee from Italy. Curbside tables add to the ambiance.
- Caffe Roma, 526 Columbus Ave (at Union St), ☎ +1 415 296-7942. M-Th 6AM-7PM, F 6AM-8PM, Sa 6AM-10PM, Su 7AM-7:30PM. Excellent coffee but a little bit pricey by comparison.
- Bohemian Cigar Store, 566 Columbus Ave (at Washington Sq), ☎ +1 415 362-0536. M-Sa 10AM-midnight, Su 10AM-11PM. Excellent espresso and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere with curbside tables that overlook Washington Square. Its cappuccino is prize-winning.
- Melt, 700 Columbus Ave (at Filbert St), ☎ +1 415 392-9290. Su-Th 9AM-10PM, F-Sa 9AM-12AM. Excellent bohemian corner cafe/eatery that is right on the edge of Washington Square. It has a relaxed coffee-house atmosphere and is a great place to refuel with a panini, a salad or one of their excellent cheese platters. Often features live entertainment and old movies on a big screen.
- XoX Truffles, 754 Columbus Ave (between Filbert St and Greenwich St), ☎ +1 415 421-4814. M-Sa 9AM-6PM. Run by local Chef Jean-Marc Gorce, this teeny-tiny place is more of an award-winning truffle vendor than coffee shop. However, the coffee is fresh and even if you just order a small house-blend for just $1 you'll get a free truffle (worth 75 cents).
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
|Splurge||$200 and over|
Many of the hotel accommodations in the area are of the S.R.O (Single Room Occcupancy) variety, especially in Chinatown. These are of less interest to tourists as they usually rent them out by the month ($600-800 p.m.). There are more traditional hotels however including:
- Grant Plaza Hotel, 465 Grant Ave (at Pine St), ☎ +1 415 434-3883, fax: +1 415 434-3886, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2:30PM, check-out: 12PM. Good for 1 or 2 night stay. Rates are reasonable. Make sure you ask for one of the outside rooms that overlook Grant Avenue, the inside rooms are small, dark and dingy. Close to parking garages and walking distance to many restaurants, bars and attractions. Staff is friendly. $70-$95.
- The Green Tortoise Hostel, 494 Broadway St (at Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 834-1000, toll-free: +1-800-867-8647, fax: +1 415 956-4900, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. A favorite of backpackers world-wide, price includes free internet and wi-fi, free breakfast every morning and dinner 3 nights a week, a 24-hour sauna, pool table, common room, free beer at the Beer Olympics on Tuesday nights and free live music on Sundays. An ideal location, right between Chinatown and North Beach and a short walk from downtown. dorms from $25, private from $59.
- San Remo Hotel, 2237 Mason St (near Lombard St and Columbus Ave, three blocks south of the main tourist area and near the other cable car line), ☎ +1 415 776-8688, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM-10PM and 11PM F-Sa, check-out: 11AM. At the other end of the spectrum is the San Remo Hotel, All rooms except a rooftop suite are under $100. It was built right after the 1906 earthquake, became apartments later, and has been nicely reconverted to a hotel. It appears to be a favorite place for European tourists. It is quiet, all non-smoking, has no room phones nor TVs, and shared baths. A nice and large Italian restaurant, Fior d`Italia, self-proclaimed "The oldest Italian restaurant in the United States," has moved into its street floor. $75-$85.
- Castro Hotel, 705 Vallejo St (between Emery Ln and Stockton St), ☎ +1 415 788-9709. Fancy a short stay at an S.R.O., well here's one that rents by the week. The rooms are clean, it's in the heart of North Beach, it's safe — being directly opposite the police station, and it gets good reviews. $165 per week.
- SW Hotel, 615 Broadway St (near Columbus Ave), ☎ +1 415 362-2999, fax: +1 415 362-1808, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Named after its owner Sam Wong, this budget hotel is decorated with everything Asian. The rooms are a bit smaller than standard but it is situated in a very central location in Chinatown and the price is reasonable. $140-$160.
- Hotel Boheme, 444 Columbus Ave (between Vallejo St and Green St), ☎ +1 415 433-9111, fax: +1 415 362-6292, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 12PM. Hotel Boheme is located in a popular Italian neighborhood with decorations that pay tribute to San Francisco's Beat Generation. The building may be hard to find, with only a single innocuous doorway covered by a small awning. You have to buzz at the door to enter but you get a key for this door on check in. Past the door is a steep and narrow staircase leading up to the next floor. On the second floor to the right of the landing is the hotel office. A bottle of Sherry surrounded by cordial glasses is set out for guests on the landing sideboard each night. Hotel staff are always friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about everything San Francisco. $174-$194.
- Columbus Motor Inn, 1075 Columbus Ave (Columbus and Francisco), ☎ +1 415 885-1492, fax: +1 415 928-2174. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 12PM. The Columbus Motor Inn is in the nice part of North Beach, on the border of the Fishermen's Wharf district, within easy walking distance of all Fisherman's Wharf attractions, and from Washington Square. Public transportation is very convenient, with the No. 30 bus stopping at the door, and the Bay and Taylor Cable Car Turntable a short walk away. Rooms are spacious, with good views and balconies on most Columbus Side rooms. Parking is limited, but covered: the first two floors of the building are parking, with all guest rooms above. No on-site food, but nearby restaurants cater to every budget and taste. $90-295.
- The Orchard Garden Hotel, 466 Bush St (between Grant Ave and Kearny St), ☎ +1 415 399-9807, fax: +1 415 393-9917. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 12PM. A stylish eco-friendly hotel, claiming to be San Francisco's "greenest" hotel, this lodging gets almost universally good reviews. $200-$309.
- Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, 600 Stockton St (at Pine St), ☎ +1 415 296-7465, fax: +1 415 291-0288. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 12PM. This hotel has a spacious lounge, fitness center, pool, and 4 star dining room in a Beaux-Arts building. It has 336 guestrooms, including 60 suites. $449-$500.
- Washington Square Inn, 1660 Stockton St (at Washington Sq), ☎ +1 415 981-4220, toll-free: +1-800-388-0220, fax: +1 415 397-7242, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM-9PM, check-out: 11AM. Modeled after boutique European hotels it offers many services including a complimentary breakfast, and evening hors d'oeuvres. Rooms are well appointed with European antiques, cable TV, private baths, and free wi-fi. Centrally located in North Beach, it has views over Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, and Washington Square Park. $179-$395.
There are an abundance of coffee shops in North Beach that offer free wi-fi facilities upon purchasing a beverage. There are also two library branches that have internet computers.
- San Francisco Public Library — Chinatown Branch, 1135 Powell St (between Jackson St and Washington St), ☎ +1 415 355-2888. Su 1-5PM, M 1-6PM, Tu-Th 10AM-9PM, F 1-6PM, Sa 10AM-6PM. Free internet facilities.
- San Francisco Public Library — North Beach Branch, 850 Columbus Ave (at Lombard St), ☎ +1 415 355-5626. Su closed, M 1-6PM, Tu 10AM-9PM, W 1-9PM, Th 10AM-6PM, F 1-6PM, Sa 10AM-6PM. Free internet facilities.
North Beach remains busy with revelers and party-goers well into the early hours of the morning, but Chinatown, despite its crowds during the day, becomes eerily quiet after around 6-7PM. Chinatown has also had a somewhat of a poor reputation for pugnacious youngsters (as young as 12) that tend to hang around in groups, and also for bona-fide gangs. Therefore, a sensible amount of care should be taken when enjoying the sights and sounds of Chinatown.
On the road again? Well, if you are following in the footsteps of the Beat literati that loved this area so much, why not continue your tour into other areas of the city?
- 29 Russell Street, at the bottom of Nob Hill, is where Jack Kerouac lived and wrote during the 50s.
- The Six Gallery, 3119 Fillmore Street in the Cow Hollow area, hosted a seminal moment in the history of the Beat movement — The Six Gallery reading. The gallery is of course long closed, but you can still visit this historic site.