A blend of Italian culture, tourist attractions, and literary history, San Francisco’s North Beach is home to many young professionals, families, and Chinese and Italian immigrants. Residents enjoy easy access to downtown San Francisco, proximity to Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, lots of delicious restaurants and bakeries, and a vibrant nightlife. Here’s a guide on everything you need to know when living in North Beach.
How safe is North Beach?
San Francisco has a slightly higher percentage of homeless people than other major cities. As a result, you’ll undoubtedly come across them while living in San Francisco, and you’ll soon learn that some neighborhoods have more than others.
North Beach tends to have more homeless people and panhandlers, as it’s close to Union Square and is frequented by tourists. You should certainly expect to see homeless people on the streets. However, North Beach Citizens is a fantastic non-profit working to help the homeless population by offering resources, food, and housing assistance.
As part of the Barbary Coast, North Beach was once a red-light district filled with crime, drug use, and prostitution. While the neighborhood has left its violent history in the past, it can still be a bit seedy. It has a higher crime rate than the more residential and quieter neighborhoods on the west side of the city. However, thousands of people live in and come and go through North Beach each day without any incidents. If something does happen, don’t be afraid to contact the SFPD Central Station for help.
San Francisco is just like any major city. Crime happens, and it can happen anywhere. Exercise common sense. Stick to well-lit and trafficked streets, and always be aware of your surroundings.
Where to grocery shop
North Beach has a few mainstream grocery stores, like Trader Joe’s and Safeway, which are conveniently located diagonally from each other. From May to the end of November, the North Beach Farmer’s Market also pops up with fresh produce, flowers, bread, fish, and eggs every Saturday. It’s fairly small but is a nice addition to the neighborhood’s otherwise limited grocery stores.
If you love to cook and find North Beach’s grocery selection limited, head just a few blocks over to Chinatown. Frequented by locals, the numerous small Chinese markets sell a much wider variety of fruits, vegetables, and meat than your typical grocery store. Plus, doing your shopping in Chinatown can be a lot cheaper.
Where to eat out
We hope you really like Italian food, since North Beach is home to Little Italy. At The Italian Homemade Company, you get to DIY your pasta. Just choose a type of pasta and the sauce you’d like to top it off with. They’ll cook it fresh and serve it to you steaming hot, with some parmesan cheese on top. Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood is run by North Beach natives Rich and Laura Azzolino. They serve “the best damn crab cioppino,” fresh oysters, and seafood pasta dishes.
There’s also no shortage of pizza in North Beach. To grab a quick slice, head to Golden Boy Pizza for their delicious focaccia pizza. Be sure to bring cash with you, and don’t let the long line scare you off — it moves fast. If you’re willing to face a potentially long wait, go to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, which is what many San Franciscans consider to be the best pizza in the city.
If you’re not in the mood for Italian food, Molinari Delicatessen makes mouth-watering sandwiches featuring their cured meats and cheeses. The House is known for its Asian fusion dishes, like its famous wasabi noodles. Chubby Noodle, another Asian fusion restaurant, gets particularly busy on the weekends due to its bottomless dim sum and drinks brunch. You can even find great Mexican food in North Beach at Don Pisto’s.
Where to grab coffee
When you want to get out of the house, take a stroll, and grab some coffee, you’ll find mostly old-school Italian cafes in North Beach. Caffe Trieste, a fixture that started the espresso movement over 50 years ago, is both a local and tourist favorite. Caffe Greco dates back to 1988 and serves an assortment of cakes, cannolis, and breakfast and lunch fare. If you’re looking for a more modern take on your coffee, head to either Beacon Coffee & Pantry or Hole In The Wall Coffee.
Where to go out
You won’t find many dance clubs in North Beach unless you’re looking for ones of the adult entertainment variety. North Beach continues to buzz at night, albeit in a more low-key way than the Castro or the Mission. Head to Belle Cora, a sports bar offering wine, beer, snacks, and outdoor seating. If you fancy handcrafted cocktails by candlelight, check out 15 Romolo, Tony Nik’s, or The Devil’s Acre.
For a side-splitting good time, head to Cobb’s Comedy Club, where you can see upcoming comedians and established acts. The 400-seat venue offers drinks and food, so there’s no need to grab a bite before heading to the show.
If you’re looking for a different type of night out, the Exploratorium, an interactive museum for people of all ages, hosts its After Dark event every Thursday evening. Each After Dark event has a different theme and features unique speakers and special exhibits. After Dark is only for adults (18+), so you can drink and play freely without having to watch for children running around.
Where to work out
There are a few gyms available in North Beach. 24 Hour Fitness will do the job for most, as it has basic gym equipment and low membership prices. If you’re looking to take your fitness efforts to the next level and work out in a more social setting, though, The Bay Club offers many more amenities, like a steam room, pools, and lounges. They also host happy hours and other events for their members.
If you prefer more guidance, there are a few fitness studios in North Beach that offer group workout classes. Tribe is a small studio offering yoga, strength and conditioning, and cardio classes. You can also check out Empower for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), kickboxing, and weight training.
Don’t forget that you can always use the city as your gym, too. There are two major parks in North Beach that we recommend taking advantage of. The Joe DiMaggio Playground, named after the famous baseball player and San Francisco resident, offers tennis courts, a basketball court, and even an indoor pool. It’s also next to the North Beach library. A few blocks away is Washington Square Park, which is often the site of many city events throughout the year. While there’s a small playground, the big draw here is the green open space — perfect for outdoor yoga or bodyweight exercises.
Where to get medical help
We hope you never find yourself in a medical emergency, but things happen. If you do find yourself needing medical assistance, the Dignity Health Urgent Care center is located at the south end of North Beach. It’s open every day during regular business hours. If you need medical attention outside of those hours, the closest hospitals to North Beach are the Chinese Hospital in Chinatown and Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in Nob Hill.
How to get in and out of North Beach
North Beach is served by multiple MUNI lines. This includes the Powell-Mason cable car and the E and F lines, which run along the Embarcadero. To get to downtown San Francisco, you can take the 8, 30, or 41. Walking is also a great option, as it’s a downhill stroll from North Beach to Market Street. If you’re looking to get elsewhere, the 30 and 41 also run west to the Presidio, while the 47 will bring you down Van Ness Street, helping you access Japantown, Pac Heights, and Hayes Valley, before ending in SOMA.