Neighborhoods / North Beach

North Beach

The utmost in classic San Francisco

Whispers of San Francisco’s great literary and counterculture past drift through these, the city’s oldest neighborhoods, along with hints of a time when fishermen shoved off into the bay each morning, returning to cramped flats with their catch each night. Some climbed steep Telegraph Hill, where ramshackle cabins awaited, scattered along the hillside. Their reward for the journey was endless views of San Francisco Bay, their workplace and their muse. Plenty of time has passed since turn-of-the-century immigrants made North Beach San Francisco’s center for Italian culture (and food); if anything, the neighborhood is even more colorful than it was then, a teeming stew of day-to-day life unlike any other. It’s no mistake that the American Planning Association once named North Beach one of American’s top ten neighborhoods. Come see for yourself.

Area Map

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Commute

Commuter Buses
The Google bus stops at Columbus Avenue and Union Street. All other tech bus lines stop at Union and Van Ness Avenue, then continue down Van Ness to points south.

SFMTA light rail
The F line skirts Telegraph Hill’s eastern edge, following Jefferson Street and then The Embarcadero from Fisherman’s Wharf to Market Street. Otherwise, closest MUNI metro stops are on Market Street, but the Central Subway, when completed, will stop in Chinatown at Stockton and Washington Street.

Several MUNI bus routes cut through North Beach . The 30 and 8B Express travel down Columbus Avenue, which cuts diagonally through the neighborhood. The 41 and 45 routes follow Union Street east-west. Further north, the 47 and 49 head east and west on North Point Street, the 82 Express goes north-south on Sansome Street and the 39 travels to and from Coit Tower.

Nearest CalTrain Station
3rd and King Streets

Nearest BART
Powell Street and Montgomery Street stations.

Estimated Commute Times
Financial District on foot: 20 minutes
Financial District via auto: 15 minutes
Financial District via transit: 20 minutes
South San Francisco via auto: 30 minutes
Silicon Valley via auto: 60 minutes

Around the Block

Who Lives Here
Old San Franciscans and recent arrivals from all over the country and the world; North Beach and Telegraph Hill are rooted in the city’s history and focused on its future.

An always changing melting pot
Once overcrowded districts full of recent arrivals and working-class families, North Beach and Telegraph Hill have undergone sea changes since their founding. Telegraph Hill in particular transformed when renters and homebuyers discovered an affinity for sweeping views; Telegraph Hills, a combination of downtown skyline and San Francisco Bay, are arguably the city’s best, putting the neighborhood in high demand and replacing its blue collar fishermen with the tech titans, financial wizards and occasional celebrity blessed with the resources to buy into its high-end real estate market. Meanwhile, down the hill North Beach has become a diverse community, as demographic changes have lessened the neighborhood’s Italian identity. Today’s North Beach attracts young professionals and families, who’ve joined a base of long-time residents, families who’ve handed their flats and apartments down to their children via ownership and elderly fixtures blessed with favorable rent control. It’s still a jumble of activity, but the types of activity have evolved.

How They Live
As befitting two of San Francisco’s most central neighborhoods, North Beach and Telegraph Hill residents are attuned to almost constant buzz. Theirs is a busy meeting place that works by day and plays at night.

Cheek-to-jowl and loving it
If there’s one word that encapsulates the world of North Beach and Telegraph Hill it’s alive. This area is alive both day and night, weekdays and weekends, and simple activities suburbanites take for granted, like buying groceries for the week, aren’t as easy as you might think. Life here is more like life was decades ago, with small shops and neighborhood restaurants, with people standing in line at the bakery or the butcher, or passing time simply sitting on a bench and watching the world go by. Most residents of these two neighborhoods don’t live in mansions; for them, the bright, buzzing world outside their door is as much a part of their everyday life as the quiet, personal world within their home. Expect to see them sitting idly in barber shops, arguing over cappuccinos outside Caffe Trieste, shopping in produce markets in nearby Chinatown and hoisting a cold one on a Tuesday night (no tourists) at the Columbus Cafe. Life in North Beach and on Telegraph Hill is a singular act in 2015; it’s a throwback to a time when cities were places to live out loud.

Housing Market
The watchword in both North Beach and Telegraph Hill is “rare,” as in “listings rarely come up,” and “this Telegraph Hill condo is a rare find,” and “single-family homes are a rarity in North Beach and Telegraph Hill.” Properties are in various states of renovation and restoration, and usually smaller than homes available in other neighborhoods.

Rentals and a few listings
North Beach is a throwback in more ways than one. One of those ways regards the distribution of owner-occupied housing units in the neighborhood. Though both North Beach and Telegraph Hill have followed the city’s recent trend of increased owner-occupied properties, the neighborhoods still count a greater percentage of renters than owners among its residents. As a result, the local housing market is very heavy on rentals and very light on for-sale homes. It is rare to find more than a handful of individual units (single-family homes are rare on a par with the Loch Ness Monster) on the market at any one time – despite the introduction of a few mid-rise complexes like the North Beach Malt House in recent years. In North Beach, properties aren’t necessarily high end but they are hard to find. They are also rare on Telegraph Hill, where available properties are usually high end. You will find a few single-family homes up there, often asking prices ranging up to eight figures, but flats and condominiums are more common, and will command higher prices than their flatland North Beach neighbors. Views count; so do one-of-a-kind contemporary homes, which seem to be finding their way up to Telegraph Hill in greater numbers these days.

What To Expect
A glimpse into the city as it was long before anyone had even heard of personal computing, when San Francisco was a working city of mom and pop stores, neighborhood restaurants and constant activity.

The sights and sounds of the big city
In North Beach, the smell of freshly-baked pastries mingles with the aroma of won ton soup; the sidewalks are full — of locals but also of tourists, as this is one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods for visitors. Barkers stand outside each Italian restaurant, hyping the food and trying to draw people inside. The beatniks are long gone, but their echoing ghosts still show up from time to time, appearing as beret-wearing eccentrics at sidewalk tables, setting up camp on benches in Washington Square, where elderly Asian women do Tai Chi at sun up every morning. Nearby on Telegraph Hill, the vibe is quieter. Residents trudge up and down steep streets, lugging grocery bags, or they cruise slowly block after block, looking for that elusive parking spot. They scale the Filbert Steps, pausing to admire the gardens and look in wonder at the homes of Darrell Lane, a narrow wooden path accessible only on foot. These are special places, time-worn and iconic, where people come to fully experience San Francisco the way they’ve seen it in movies and on television, and if that means you shop locally and not at Safeway, or if you sacrifice some of the conveniences of the suburbs, so be it. How can you argue with a 10-minute walk downtown or a breathtaking view of the bay?

What Not To Expect
You won’t find wide open spaces here, but you will find amazing bay views (Telegraph Hill), wonderful examples of post-earthquake Edwardian architecture (North Beach and Telegraph Hill) and constant glimpses into the riotous, ramshackle world of San Francisco’s colorful past.

Life here isn’t always convenient
There are things that are at a premium in North Beach and Telegraph Hill that are taken for granted in other neighborhoods, other cities, other ways of life; parking, for example. So simple in the suburbs, a big issue here. North Beach and Telegraph Hill locals make allowances. To them, it’s a fair trade to live in such an exciting place. So they carry three, four bags of groceries up two flights of stairs: it’s worth it. So they live in smaller spaces with less storage space than they’d find somewhere else; they learn to adapt. On weekends, North Beach fills with revelers, come to enjoy the districts many bars and restaurants. The locals? They might join them, or they might stay inside and watch a movie with the windows closed. This is not a quiet place. They didn’t come for the quiet. They came for the excitement, for the feeling that every day will be more exciting than the last. There are plenty of places to live for parking, convenience and quiet, but there are few places to match North Beach and Telegraph Hill.

PERFECT FOR
Wide-eyed newcomers looking to get the “full San Francisco experience,” nightlife lovers, epicureans and anyone who enjoys a good dinner out, historians, poets, beatniks (the neighborhood needs more), lovers of incredible city and bay views, those interested in unconventional living opportunities (like living on a wooden lane accessible only on foot), fans of Edwardian architecture, Tai Chi enthusiasts, fans of pizza and pasta, literary types, urbanites, pedestrians, people who can’t get enough pastries and/or coffee, downtown workers, families unafraid to carry a stroller up a flight of stairs, boutique shoppers.

NOT PERFECT FOR
Suburbanites, including people who get frustrated when they can’t find a parking spot, families needing lots of storage space, people who dislike climbing hills and/or stairs, convenience-seekers, hermit types of value quiet over all else, adherents of a rural lifestyle, anyone not purchasing a high-end property but still needing several bedrooms and maybe a bonus room, someone who can only live in a single-family home, car commuters, agoraphobics.

You’ll Fall In Love With
The sense that you are living your San Francisco life to the fullest, knowing that people come from all over the world to visit your neighborhood.

Realizing that all of the romantic San Francisco scenes you’ve seen in movies are now part of your actual life; picnicking in Washington Square; starting the day with a latte at Caffe Roma and finishing it, several hours later, with another viewing of Beach Blanket Babylon; the new library branch and the fact that the adjacent park is called “Joe DiMaggio Park;” learning about the area’s rich local history; climbing the Filbert Steps; marveling at the view from Coit Tower; trying every bakery in the neighborhood, then trying every Italian restaurant in the neighborhood; wondering what the new Julius’ Castle will be like; lazy Sundays that include watching football at the North Star and grabbing a slice at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana; a night out at the Park Tavern; standing in line with the tourists to see if Mama’s is all it’s cracked up to be, then deciding to just get some Focaccia at Liguria, but make it before noon, which is when they usually run out; perusing the shops on Grant Avenue; City Lights Books; Tosca; Spec’s; The Beat Museum.

Places to go

Park Tavern
Park Tavern
1652 Stockton Street

The Park Tavern has continued the sophisticated but casual reputation of Moose’s which once occupied this address; creative American food in a comfortable setting.

Rose Pistola
Rose Pistola
532 Columbus Street

An extensive wine list, authentic Ligurian menu and well-appointed atmosphere vaults the Rose Pistola to the top of North Beach’s crowded Italian restaurant scene.

Cafe Jacqueline
Cafe Jacqueline
1454 Grant Avenue

Tiny, venerated French cafe featuring a limited menu (souffles) and an unlimited reputation.

Mama’s
Mama’s
1701 Stockton

Look no further than the long lines snaking out the front of this Washington Square breakfast spot to validate its reputation.

Tomasso’s
Tomasso’s
1042 Kearny Street

The oldest of old school, down a flight of stairs and a hearty time machine, for pizza some swear by.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
1570 Stockton Street

Forbes Magazine’s “best pizzeria in America” is right in the heart of North Beach.

Tosca
Tosca
242 Columbus Avenue

The original North Beach hangout has been renovated and reopened in its original space.

Vesuvio
Vesuvio
255 Columbus

Opened in 1948, Vesuvio continues to play host to artists, poets, writers and would-be Beatniks.

The Saloon
The Saloon
1232 Grand Avenue

Arguably the oldest bar in San Francisco, reportedly opened in 1861 and hosting live music several nights a week today.

Bimbo’s 365 Club
Bimbo’s 365 Club
1025 Columbus

Created as the consolidation of two clubs in 1951, Bimbo’s continues to host national rock and jazz acts.

Gino and Carlo’s
Gino and Carlo’s
548 Green Street

Come here to experience a bit of “old” North Beach, along with snippets of Italian, old-time bartenders and many opinions regarding sports.

Tony Nik’s
Tony Nik’s
1534 Stockton Street

Operating at this location since 1933, Tony Nik’s was recently reborn as a sophisticated cocktail lounge.

Liguria Bakery
Liguria Bakery
1700 Stockton Street

Family-owned bakery sells only focaccia, and only sells it until they run out for the day, which usually happens around noon.

Xox Truffles
Xox Truffles
754 Columbus Avenue

“Celebrities who shall remain nameless” prefer these chocolate delights, served up in a storefront and in business since 1998.

Mara’s Italian Pastry
Mara’s Italian Pastry
503 Columbus

An enticing window full of pastries draws you in. Remarkable biscotti, focaccia and cookies keep you coming back.

Little City Market
Little City Market
1400 Stockton

Can meat be indulgent? When it’s the amazing sausage made in-house at Little City it can!

City Lights Bookstore
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Avenue

The granddaddy of independent bookstores is a hangout, a meeting place, an important literary landmark, a publisher and, finally, a place to purchase books.

Biordi Art Imports
Biordi Art Imports
412 Columbus

A small shop, filled to overflow with colorful, beautifully-crafted Italian ceramics and dinnerware.

North Beach Bauhaus
North Beach Bauhaus
703 Columbus

A new addition to the neighborhood offering art openings, rental space for artists and a retail shop with artwork, t-shirts, posters and gifts.

Al’s Attire
Al’s Attire
1300 Grant Avenue

Handmade men’s and women’s clothing with a vintage feel; all garments are custom made.

Schein & Schein Maps
Schein & Schein Maps
1435 Grant

Schein & Schein sells maps of all types of all places. Indeed, it is the only place to go to meet your antiquarian map needs.

A-B Fits
1519 Grant

A small space doing a big job: taking men’s and women's jeans out of the assembly line and onto the runway.

Washington Square
Washington Square
bordered by Union, Stockton and Filbert Streets and Columbus Avenue

North Beach’s town square, great for festivals, Tai Chi, frisbee, soccer, dogs, picnics and just hanging out.

Joe DiMaggio Playground
Joe DiMaggio Playground
651 Lombard Street

Full-scale renovation brings new life to this classic urban playground, with children’s area, bocce, tennis, a swimming pool building and sport courts.

Columbus Cyclery
Columbus Cyclery
801 Columbus Avenue

Buy, sell, rent, trade or repair your bike, because in North Beach, you’re going to need it.

Filbert Steps
Filbert Steps
Filbert Street between Montgomery and Sansome Streets

Step back in time by descending (or climbing) these rickety stairways, passing lush greenery and hidden historic homes.

Blue Sparrow Pilates
Blue Sparrow Pilates
1441 Grant Avenue

“Highly trained. Research based. Seriously effective.” So promises North Beach’s only Pilates studio.

Bay Club San Francisco
Bay Club San Francisco
150 Greenwich Street

One of 24 clubs in California boasting full-service fitness facilities and well-trained fitness consultants.

Ladies and Gents
Ladies and Gents
629 Union Street

A neighborhood salon with a great view, perched across the street from Washington Park.

Pupology: Modern Dog Grooming
Pupology: Modern Dog Grooming
641 Green Street

Why should people have all the fun? Pupology promises “safer, better dog grooming” that reaches beyond “superficial.”

Public Barber
Public Barber
1528 Grant Avenue

A cool, wood-paneled hipster atmosphere welcomes clients to this up-to-the-moment barber offering styles for men and women.

Beat Museum
Beat Museum
540 Broadway

Step back into North Beach’s glory days with memorabilia, books, letters, collectibles and a vast gift shop.

Saints Peter and Paul Church
Saints Peter and Paul Church
666 Filbert Street

Stand on the steps and imagine you’re Joe D., getting married for the first time. Head inside and marvel at the beauty. Come away inspired.

Cobb’s Comedy Club
Cobb’s Comedy Club
915 Columbus Avenue

Maybe not inspirational but certainly entertaining, Cobb’s books nationally-known comedians several days a week.

Cafe Trieste
Cafe Trieste
601 Vallejo Street

Have more than coffee; add a lifetime of art and artsy eccentrics to your latte. Trieste is where it happens, and has happened, for decades.

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