There are plenty of things to do in North Beach. Its history reflects the district’s eclectic range of attractions.
Historically, this neighborhood has been known as Little Italy due to the large Italian population. Traditionally, North Beach has been an international district.
There is no waterfront in this neighborhood, which is one of the first things you will notice. So, if North Beach isn’t on the waterfront, why is it called that? Simply put, it used to be.
To see everything in North Beach, you would need to walk approximately 10 hours a day for approximately three months.
That’s awesome, but not really if you’re just in town for a short visit. You will get the best flavor by simply wandering about with no fixed agenda.
That said, here are some of the best things to do while in North Beach, San Francisco.
- The 14 Best Things To Do In North Beach SF
- Walk Along Columbus Ave
- Visit Washington Square Park
- Walk Pioneer Park
- Climb the Filbert Street Steps
- Watch Beach Blanket Babylon
- Visit Caffe Trieste
- Ride the Cable Cars
- Browse the Famous City Lights Bookstore
- Attend a Local Festival
- Walk Grant Ave
- Comedy Shows at Cobb's Comedy Club
- Visit The Beat Museum
- Visit Lyle Tuttle's Tattoo Art Museum
- Visit Fisherman's Wharf
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Last Words
The 14 Best Things To Do In North Beach SF
Walk Along Columbus Ave
Sidewalks, traffic, and other merchants all contribute to the vibrant energy that makes San Francisco a great place to live. One street in particular – Columbus Avenue, has a high concentration of Italian cafes and coffee shops.
If you sit for a while and watch people pass you by while enjoying a fine cup of cappuccino at Caffe Puccini or Caffe Greco (both with a great view), you’ll feel like you really are in Italy.
There is a well-known Italian bakery across the street from Cafe Puccini, Stella Pastry. Make sure to pick up some Italian cookies for food souvenirs!
Filbert St & Stockton Street, San Francisco // +14152740291
Washington Square Park is located right in the middle of North Beach. An adjacent church and a small library dot the horizon of this triangle-shaped park. The North Beach community revolves around this beloved park.
My favorite thing about this park is that it isn’t overcrowded with people. So you can enjoy picnics on a Sunday afternoon, and dogs can run around without anyone getting upset.
Additionally, there are lots of locals hanging out, playing chess, or relaxing by the fountain. It doesn’t have much greenery, so it isn’t considered one of the most beautiful parks, but Washington Square Park has plenty to impress!
Walk Pioneer Park
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco // +14152740291
San Francisco’s Pioneer Park is one of my favorite spots and one of the best things to do in North Beach, SF. There is a panoramic view of the bay and city from the top of Telegraph Hill.
It’s not a big park, but it has a lot to offer: two different sets of steps that lead down the hill (the Filbert Steps on the side, green in the above picture, and Greenwich Steps on the front), a statue of Christopher Columbus, a play area for children, picnic areas, an old-style-looking carousel, colorful trees, and bushes planted all around, and Coit Tower at the top.
You would be better off walking around Pioneer Park rather than driving around it, as it would be much more enjoyable than sitting in a long line of slow-moving cars.
By walking along Filbert St., you can reach Telegraph Hill in approximately six blocks. And if you’re lucky, you can see the famed wild parrots who live among the trees along the hill.
Filbert Street is one of San Francisco’s most beautiful city streets. As the drive follows the waterfront, it traverses a series of steep hills before ending in grand steps leading to Telegraph Hill. You can walk up the steps if you have time, or you can sit on a bench and enjoy the view of San Francisco Bay.
Filbert Street is where San Francisco Bay was before the landfill was transformed into a landfill. It makes you feel like you are back in time, when birds, antelopes, and bison roamed around what is known today as San Francisco.
If you enjoy the feeling of being in an urban jungle, the Filbert Street Steps should be on your list when visiting North Beach.
‘Beach Blanket Babylon’ has a new home with Steve Silver the creator of the show. A theatre with an intimate setting and a beautiful rotunda is located several blocks from Washington Square on Columbus Avenue.
You may still be able to get one of the remaining seats on the main floor of this close-up venue if you are one of the lucky audience members who obtain one of the few still available seats. You will be able to see the colorful performance and creative development of the musical revue.
With fast-paced and witty dialogue, the show is a musical comedy in the traditional sense. The music is so diverse, from swing to doo-wop to blues to rock & roll to rhythm & blues.
The story is set in the fictional Californian metropolis of Wash-a-tone Beach, where the Mayor is desperately trying to distract the citizens from a looming scandal involving the mysterious disappearance of Captain Hook’s pirate ship.
601 Vallejo St., San Francisco // +14159822605
There is a lemon tree in the courtyard of this charming cafe. The Caffe Trieste is one of the most authentic places in San Francisco. A unique and incredibly rich coffee or glass of wine from the impressive wine list awaits you at this quaint coffee shop.
Enjoy a snack or a meal with an Italian dish, the traditional way. Menu items include pizza, cheese salads, seafood, and meat dishes.
If you feel like trying some tasteful and fresh salad, take pasta primavera, which is sure to satisfy your taste buds. If you’d like to end your meal with something sweet, there are plenty of desserts here too.
Caffe Trieste is considered the birthplace of the American Cappuccino.
There are pictures of writers, artists, and political figures on its walls, such as Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Bill Cosby, and likely others whose names I don’t recall.
Ride the Cable Cars
Cable cars in San Francisco may seem hokey (entirely pretentious) at first, but they’re not as bad as they seem. Residents of San Francisco and visitors to the city have used cable cars to get around since 1873.
The Powell-Mason line runs through North Beach and has been called the city’s only moving historic landmark. The Powell-Mason is usually delayed due to its connections with other major lines, but there are ways to avoid that!
Browse the Famous City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco // +14153628193
Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore helped usher in a new generation of writers during the Beat Generation era when San Francisco was the literary capital of the world. As such, it continues to be very important in literature today.
Behind the display window on Columbus Avenue, you will find books by Hemingway, James Joyce, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Anais Nin, and many other famous authors.
City Lights was named after a small Parisian bookstore owned by Louis Malle. Likewise, it is a literary landmark, and you might recognize its neon sign from films like Midnight in Paris and Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories.”
Attend a Local Festival
Throughout the year, North Beach hosts several art festivals. The neighborhood is home to a large population of artists, including muralists and painters who have their works displayed throughout the community, which adds to the charm and allure of the area.
There are many things to do in this San Francisco neighborhood. For example, the Art in the Alley festival in North Beach brings artists and art lovers together to view and purchase works from local designers.
In the summer, visitors can enjoy live music and great food at the North Beach Festival.
Walk Grant Ave
Many of the city’s wonderful character buildings and storefronts have been removed as Grant Avenue has grown in popularity. Here, you will find many things you wouldn’t expect to see in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of San Francisco, but there was once a time when it was that way.
The street got its start in 1846 when James Lick, a prosperous businessman from Alta California, “owned a lot at the corner of Clay Street” where market stalls were set up for selling.
At the northeast corner of the market is a building was known as Lick’s Station, or simply “Lick House.”
You’ll find small cafes, vintage shops, boutiques, and side streets as you head north on Grant Ave from Broadway. Some of these cater to the local community more than tourists, though their presence and absence depend on the economy.
915 Columbus Ave, San Francisco // +14159284320
The comedy scene in San Francisco is fantastic. North Beach is home to most of San Francisco’s comedy clubs. You’ll find big-name acts as well as large comedy festivals.
Cobb’s Comedy Club hosts many of these events.
Tickets for most shows tend to sell out quickly, so you’ll want to purchase them in advance.
Watch a lot of comedy shows of today and yesterday performed right here in North Beach over the years if you have a good sense of humor.
540 Broadway, San Francisco // +18005376822
As a traveler, I am interested in the history of the places I visit. On my trip to San Francisco, I discovered that the Beat Museum has been in North Beach since 1997. The primary purpose of this museum is to display and preserve the history, poetry, and writing of the Beat Generation in bohemian San Francisco.
The Beat Generation is an exciting story about San Francisco. The beat writers tell this story so well, and the end contains some wonderful photos. This museum will help you learn a great deal about history that you may never have known, as well as introduce you to famous authors such as Jack Kerouac.
Visit Lyle Tuttle’s Tattoo Art Museum
841 Columbus Ave, San Francisco // +14158373287
Many people may not consider visiting a tattoo museum on their next vacation. But you should go and see the Lyle Tuttle Tattoo Museum. Then, you can check out some of these tattoos and maybe even get one yourself! These are unique tattoos that display different techniques used by tattoo artists from around the globe.
A large part of the inspiration for this exhibition came from the legacy of Tattooist Lyle Tuttle. In addition to being an architect of contemporary tattooing, he is a living link to its history. Tattooing has been influenced by his artistic accomplishments, worldwide recognition, and long-term presence.
Over time, this evolved into an ever-growing encyclopedia of tattoo artists around the world. It details his own artistic journey in this historical account. In addition, he has created a guideline on how to look at and appreciate tattoos.
Besides that, he also wrote his first book about the same topic. Unfortunately, it took a period of 20 years or so for all these things to come into existence.
Visit Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of San Francisco’s most iconic places. In the afternoon, when everyone has left, it is a nice and quiet place to visit.
It has a lot of exciting attractions, so many people come here to see them. You have plenty of options to eat and drink in this area, including cafes and restaurants.
On the Wharf, you can find a variety of restaurants serving seafood, Italian food, desserts, and more. Sea lions are also located near a tourist area, where you can take some cute pictures with them.
This area might be one of your first choices if you want to relax after a long journey or just take a walk around the area where fishermen live.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is North Beach known for?
North Beach, SF, is famous for its rich Italian heritage, vibrant nightlife, delectable eateries, and classic espresso bars. It’s often recognized as the Little Italy of San Francisco. The neighborhood is also renowned for its connection to the Beatnik literary movement.
Can I do a walking tour of North Beach?
North Beach is perfect for a walking tour. The neighborhood is compact, and many of its attractions are within walking distance of each other. This allows for a leisurely exploration of its history, food scene, and local culture.
What’s the best time of year to visit North Beach?
North Beach is a year-round destination, but spring and fall offer the most pleasant weather. During these seasons, the neighborhood’s outdoor dining scene comes alive, and it’s an excellent time for walking tours. But no matter when you visit, there’s always something exciting happening in North Beach.
Are there any must-try Italian restaurants in North Beach?
Absolutely, North Beach is filled with Italian eateries that are worth a visit. Some favorites among locals and tourists alike include “Tony’s Pizza Napoletana,” which is known for its award-winning pizzas, “Trattoria Contadina” for their homestyle pasta, and “Sotto Mare” for their exquisite seafood.
One of the most fascinating neighborhoods in San Francisco is definitely North Beach. The landscape changes from a bustling urban environment to rolling hills to a gorgeous little beach town in minutes. There is nothing like it anywhere else. It’s bursting with culture and atmosphere.
I hope I covered everything you could possibly do! But if you have a suggestion, let me know down below in the comments
Wonder where else to visit when in California? Check out our other California guides:
Igor Jovanovski is an aspiring digital nomad, travel blogger and graphic designer who really loves food. He also has a creative side, and he works as a freelance graphic designer in his spare time. He has traveled across Europe quite a few times since he was young and recently started his mission to visit every country in the world! Igor’s favorite thing about traveling is the way he gets to know new people, food, places and cultures.
This exciting experience helps him create his own stories and make memories that will last forever