Discover the local charms of San Francisco’s “Little Italy.”

Travel + Leisure
May 30, 2012

More than a one-note Little Italy, North Beach exudes a raffish charm—and the smell of roasting coffee. The main drag, Columbus Avenue, is lined with cafes and other Beat hangouts. Grant Avenue slides from Chinese bakeries to boho boutiques in just a few blocks, while Broadway buzzes with hoochie-coochie neon.

Climb the Filbert Steps

Running down the east slope of Telegraph Hill on the old trail of dock workers, the Filbert Steps is the same seemingly endless staircase Humphrey Bogart stumbles up in the noir classic Dark Passage. The stairs rise in three sections from Sansome Street to Coit Tower, past art deco buildings, such as Lauren Bacall’s pad from the same movie at 1360 Montgomery Street. Many of the homes along the route can only be reach from the stairs. Besides city views, the steps have a garden, known as the Grace Marchant Garden, that is home to a flock of emerald parrots. 

City Lights Books

Located on Columbus Avenue, City Lights Bookstore is an independent bookstore and publisher, best known for publishing the Pocket Poets Series, including Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems. Built in a classical revival style in 1907, the once tiny bookshop filling up just the mezzanine gradually expanded over the years to include the triangular storefront, the main room, the barber shop, and basement, until eventually buying the entire building in 2000. Although the first all-paperback bookstore, City Lights now sells both hardcovers and paperbacks from all major publishing houses, along with titles from smaller, harder-to-find, specialty publishers. It also hosts hot-ticket readings, and stays open until midnight daily. 

Molinari Delicatessen

For over a century, locals have flocked to Molinari for Italian specialties: olive oil, fresh pasta, and the plump, house-made salami dangling over the counter. Take a number for a heaping sandwich on fresh focaccia.

Saints Peter and Paul Church

The twin neo-Gothic spires of Joe DiMaggio’s church loom above the picnic-friendly lawn in Washington Square Park.

Stella Pastry & Cafe

Make a beeline for the back display cases and order Stella’s signature sacripantina, a hard-to-find Genoese specialty. The rum-soaked sponge cake, layered with zabaglione, is somehow both richly creamy and wonderfully light.

Caffe Trieste

An espresso pioneer, Trieste has been roasting beans and caffeinating the city since 1956. On Saturday afternoons, the owners and other local musicians belt out everything from opera to Patsy Cline.

Coit Tower

Perched atop Telegraph Hill, this 1930s Art Moderne landmark is a dashingly romantic spot at sunset. It’s all fluted, ivory glamour on the outside; inside you’ll find period murals of city life. You can climb up to the observation deck, but the bay view from the ground is nearly as grand.

You May Like