What To Do In North Beach - San Francisco's Little Italy

Photo: Dimaggio Playground

Welcome to North Beach! Once you’ve settled into your new Starcity coliving community, you’ll want to get out and explore the North Beach neighborhood for yourself. It's such an historic and eclectic spot with plenty of ways to stay active. Of course, with so many options, it can be hard to know where to start, so we’ve put together a bit of taste to get you going.

Get Active!

San Francisco, suffused with startups, hardly carries a reputation for athletic prowess. This could be because life in the City by the Bay, ensconced as it is upon and amongst hilltops, is an everyday workout program. If you choose coliving, you’re already predisposed to meeting new people and there’s nothing better than sports for active socialization.

Joe DiMaggio Playground is not just for kids. I mean, part of it is, so leave the slides to the little ones, but there’s plenty for adults here. For the aspiring Serenas and Rogers, there are three tennis courts awaiting your serves and slices. If you’re looking to hoop it up, you’ll be in good company; since the Warriors’ 2015 Championship, the City has breed thousands of new lifelong basketball fans. There is a full court for the ambitious and two half-courts for the realists. On weekends, there are numerous regular pickup games going.

Joe DiMaggio PlaygroundJoe DiMaggio Playground, photo http://www.baumanland.com/

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Joe DiMaggio playground without baseball. While a full-sized field would be impractical to maintain, there is a large kickball/wiffleball/stickball field; though the green concrete would preclude sliding by all but the most intensely dedicated recreational athlete (you know the type.) Oh, and if you’re feeling nostalgic, there are two Four Square, um, courts. You do you.

Filbert Street Looking Up to Coit TowerFilbert Street Looking Up to Coit Tower, photo: Wikipedia

If you’d like a bit of history or nature while staying active, the Filbert Steps are a secluded journey just nearby. Remember Coit Tower? I hope so, it was only a few paragraphs ago. On the other side of Telegraph Hill are two sets of steps heading towards the waterfront. “Steps?”, you’re thinking. “Steps,” I’m saying. Given the nature of San Francisco, there are times when hills or cliffs are simply too steep for roads. The Filbert Steps are a continuation of Filbert Street and are flanked on either side by beautiful community gardens. Along the top of the steps and around Telegraph Hill more generally, you may catch a glimpse—or, more likely, the scream—of a parrots. There are a few hundred cherry-headed conure parrots that live in the area, presumedly escaped or released pets that have formed a stable community in and around North Beach. 

Laze N Learn

City Lights BookstoreCity Lights Books

Some weekends, you’ll want a little downtime. Maybe just to relax in the sun, grab a blanket, and picnic out to Washington Square Park. You’re going to need something to read, so stop by City Lights Books. City Lights was founded and, for most of its history, operated poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The shop, along with Vesuvio Cafe across Jack Kerouac Alley, was a regular haunt of Beat poets and writers. City Lights was the first publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, in a handy pocket-sized form that is still available today. In fact, the small third floor is dedicated entirely to the Beat literature, so you can pick up a copy of The Dharma Bums for a park read.

If you’re still curious to learn more, The Beat Museum is located just across Columbus. One of the owners, the Ciminos, is usually there to give informative tours. You’ll learn how influential the Beats were, not only in the budding San Francisco Renaissance but for the literary world at large. You can see Ginsberg’s typewriter and memorabilia from the obscenity trial stemming from “Howl”. These were community members who left their mark not only on North Beach, but on the future of artistic liberty in America.

 

Neighborhood Art

306North Beach Jazz Mural by Bill Weber on Broadway and Columbus. Photo: SF Mural Arts

Speaking of art, North Beach isn’t limited to a purely literary tradition. There’s a difference between “neighborhood art” and “art made by people in the neighborhood.” The latter is what you see hanging in local bars or coffee shops or small businesses—watercolors by Mark Marzolla over on Stockton Street or a landscape of Coit Tower made from decoupaged clippings out of the Chronicle’s Sports section. And then there is neighborhood art, built by and for this community; it’s the kind of cultural destination you walk to after Sunday brunch or when you need a break while “working from home.”

North Beach has a number of public murals fitting the bill. Right on Columbus and Broadway, above the New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant, is a beautiful mural representing North Beach’s (née Barbary Coast’s) jazz heritage. Look closely and you can find other San Francisco notables like long-time Chronicle writer Herb Caen and Joshua Norton, who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and reigned North Beach for over two decades.

In Washington Square Park sits Saints Peter and Paul Church. Now, of course, your relationship with higher powers is nobody’s business but your own. Regardless, you should take a visit to this cathedral for the stained glass, mosaics, and marble sculpture. The mosaics, in particular, are absolutely stunning works of art; a true testament to what humankind is capable of (and to the opportunity cost of social media.) Before the quirky TransAmerica Pyramid or the unimaginative Salesforce tower, cathedrals were our response to the redwood forests or the weight of the ocean crashing against littoral Big Sur cliffs. Spend just fifteen minutes in the deafening silence of Saints Peter and Paul to clear your mind and reflect. It’s worth every penny of the free admission.

Coit Tower
Coit Tower

If you’re looking for something a bit more down to Earth, get your walking shoes on and head up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. The building itself offers spectacular panoramic views of the city and bay, and is home to the SF’s most historic mural project. Painted during the early 1930s, as America was working its way out of the Great Depression, the walls pay homage to California industry, agriculture, civil justice, and intellectual history. At the time, the subject matter was quite controversial—what with its unsubtle indicators of racial equality and workers’ rights—speaking to California and the Bay Area’s status as progressive bastions. San Franciscans are a passionate people, unafraid of controversy or bold statements, and the intricate frescos are a case-in-point. 


As with any summary, this can only give a small taste of what to do in North Beach. Immersed in history, culture, and the eccentricity so emblematic of The City by the Bay, you’re living in one of San Francisco’s most vibrant community neighborhoods. So what are you waiting for? Get out there already!

Are you hungry for more? Check out What to eat in North Beach!

 


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