North Beach San Francisco on The No Regrets Tour

North Beach San Francisco  — poetry and music, sex and scandal, hard work and freedom, saloons and cafes, tradition and change — sometimes the mix is unpredictable, but that’s amore.

Records 101 exterior north beach san francisco californiaSharing a border with Chinatown and a history with the Beat Generation, North Beach is first and foremost San Francisco’s Little Italy. The Italian American population may have declined since Italian immigrants rebuilt the neighborhood following the 1906 earthquake, but old-school restaurants, cafes, bakeries and delicatessens — some in existence for more than a century — still line the streets surrounding Washington Square. At night, when the neon signs point to candle lit rooms with checkered tablecloths and tiles, and the colored lights strung across Grant Avenue blink on, Italian-American classic songs of the ’50’s and ’60’s spill out of jukeboxes.

That’s Amore  became Dean Martin’s signature hit in 1953 (written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks). We like to imagine it playing in the background at Caffe Trieste while Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady engaged in heated arguments over love and sex. Could have happened. But no matter how you slice its “big pizza pie” — especially with Valentines’ Day only a week away — it will be impossible not to sway and sing along once you click play.

Window boot Al's Attire custom made shoes clothing north beach san francisco

Revivsed North Beach Editourialzippertravel zipperTony Nick Cafe sign night north beach san franciscozippertravel zipperSaints Peter and Paul Church towers night North Beach San Franciscozippertravel zipperPeople sitting in window Cafe Trieste North Beach San Franciscozippertravel zipperWoman shadow Coit Tower North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipperBanksy mural North Beach San Franciscozippertravel zipperLamp post building turret Peter Macchiarini steps sign North Beach San Franciscozippertravel zipperComstock Saloon bartender North Beach San Franciscozippertravel zipperLittle City Meats signage North Beacvh San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipper

Coit tower shadow north beach san francisco californiaFrom the observation deck at Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill, North Beach spread out beneath us – the towers of Saints Peter and Paul awaiting a touch of the magic wand from Tinkerbell, Victorian houses in bleached whites and creamy pastels surrounded by the blue bay, the blue sky – calm cool collected crystal clear. On the entry level of the tower WPA murals of the 1930’s tell the story of San Francisco — with a leftist bent influenced by Diego Rivera – ushering in a North Beach tradition of idiosyncracy that would be strengthened by the Beats in the ‘50’s and the hippies who followed soon after. Down on Columbus, Grant, Green, Stockton, Broadway, Filbert, Union, Little Italy meets City Lights meets Big Al’s strip club and artisanal coffee shops and chic new restaurants face off with delis where the salami recipe has remained the same for five generations. Custom made shoes and clothing have left the confines of the fine Italian shoemaker and tailor’s shops  —  now Al’s Attire styles a new generation in tooled leather boots and denim workers’ jackets. More immigrants arrive from China than Italy today, diversifying the face of North Beach and in a world full of acronyms NoBe has become a shorthand for the changing neighborhood where rents are rising to keep pace with San Francisco’s tech economy. Despite the changes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and owner of City Lights believes love is the answer to what the future holds for North Beach.  As he told Jeffrey Brown in a 2015 interview on the PBS Newshour, “Love can make a civilization bloom, and hate can kill a civilization.” Ferlinghetti expresses the simple nature of that love with his poetry:

“One grand boulevard with trees. One grand cafe in sun with very black coffee in very small cups. One not necessarily very beautiful man or woman who loves you one fine day.”

zippertravel zipperconey island of the mind signage City Lights bookstore north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zipperDockworker smoking pipe Railroads and Shipyards mural by William Hesthal Coit Tower North Beach San Francisco California zippertravel zipperGreen Street restaurant signage North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipperWorker's cell phone check Original Joes North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipperColumbus Tower North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipperReveille Coffee Co outdoor cafe north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zipperScientists measuring liquids Industries of California mural Ralph Stackpole Coit Tower North Beach Californiazippertravel zipperman in Clemente baseball jersey cleaning window Tacolicious North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipperMeat Industry mural Ray Bertrand Coit Tower North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipper cow relief Saints Peter and Paul Church North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipperStella Pastry neon sign North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zippermural detail roy boynton coit tower north beach san francisco california

Lawrence Ferlinghetti photo by Don UsnerLegendary North Beach poet, painter, activist and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti turns 97 next month. In 1953 he co-founded City Lights Booksellers and Publishers (along with Peter D. Martin, who bowed out of the business in 1955). Through City Lights he published the works of a wide range of poets and novelists, most famously the Beats. Arrested on obscenity charges for the publication and distribution of Allen Ginsberg’s extraordinary poem Howl, Ferlinghetti’s legal battle would garner worldwide attention for the Beat movement and result in his acquittal.

Influenced by Proust, e.e.cummings and T.S. Eliot, Ferlinghetti, one of San Francisco’s poet laureates, never considered his own work part of the Beat genre. In the last 63 years his individual poems, prose and compilations have been published by City Lights and other publishers, and his most famous work A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) has sold more than one million copies — making him the best-selling American poet of the past century. Twenty-nine poems in 96 pages, A Coney Island of the Mind is chock-full of Ferlinghetti’s humanity, humor and musicality. The 50th anniversary edition of the book, published in 2008, includes a CD of the poet reading his work and is available online at Citylights  — or better yet, by visiting this iconic bookstore in person. For a more in depth look at this important literary figure who has called North Beach home since 1950, cue up Christopher Felver’s 2013 documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, available through Netflix. zippertravel zipperSteven Saden photographing real men wear gowns billboard north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zipperCoit Tower view North Beach San Francisco Californiazippertravel zipper jack kerouac street psychic north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zippermen reading newspapers library mural by bernard zakheim coit tower north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zipperman walking past italian athletic club north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zipperwaiter dining patrons outdoor cafe italian restaurant north beach san francisco california

North Beach San Francisco neon signs

Be sure to come to North Beach hungry, because you’ll be tempted to stop in every bakery, delicatessen, café and restaurant you pass along the way. Many places cater to tourists, but you only need to follow your nose to suss out the best offerings. Here are our favorites:

Liguria Bakery on Washington Square only sells focaccia. Get there early, because they close up shop as soon as they sell out of the six varieties baked daily.

Molinari Delicatessen on Columbus has great sandwiches to go (perfect for enjoying while people watching from a bench in Washington Square Park), or you can stop in for traditional Italian groceries, cheeses, salamis and wines to take home.

Stella Pastry and Café is known for its cakes, but it’s also the perfect place to pick up a flakey almond pastry and a huge cup of tea to start your day like a local.

If you love old-school Italian butchers, stop into Little City Market for some amazing sausages to cook at home. While you’re there you really should pick up some freshly made lobster ravioli. Really.

What’s in a name? Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café doesn’t sell cigars but its meatball sandwich served on Liguria focaccia is delicious and this tiny unpretentious little place deserves a big bohemian name.

Comstock Saloon is a beloved North Beach bar that was founded in 1907. Their excellent cocktail list ranges from classic to trending. If you’re craving a Beat vibe, follow Jack Kerouac to Vesuvio. And if you’re in the mood for live blues music in a down and dirty honky tonk, the Saloon bears the mantle of the oldest bar in San Francisco.

Park Tavern is a beautiful modern tavern with excellent food. Reservations are recommended for the dining room, but there is a long comfortable counter across from the bar and outdoor park view seating if weather permits.

Between meals, spend a few hours in the stacks at City Lights and don’t leave without buying at least one book. Check out the Beat Museum’s photographs and odd paraphernalia, then head over to 101 Music for classic vinyl, vintage concert posters, musical instruments and random stuff that is weird and wonderful. Add in Coit Tower and Al’s Attire featured in the essay above and you’ll have a delicious and fantastic day in North Beach, a neighborhood where you can look backward and forward at an ever-changing San Francisco.zippertravel zipper

strip clubs neon signs broadway north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zippermolinari delicatessen interior north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zippermacy's advertisement on bus north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zippermen talking stella pastry cafe north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zipperspecs' cards on wall saroyan placenorth beach zippertravel zipperfrosting long cake at stella pastry cafe north beach san francisco californiazippertravel zipperhttp://pinterest.com/zippertravel

There’s always something new on Zippertravel’s Pinterest. This week you’ll find 196 images on our board North Beach SF at Pinterest.com/zippertravel.

And while you’re on our Pinterest page, browse through some of the other 164 terrific boards dedicated to travel, architecture, fashion, and design. You don’t have to be a Pinterest member to view Zippertravel’s boards, but if you enjoy pinning you can do so by clicking on the button in the upper left hand corner of this page or selecting the Pinterest icon below. It’s just that easy.Remember to share Zippertravel.com

4 thoughts on “North Beach San Francisco on The No Regrets Tour

Comments are closed.