Rich in Italian-American heritage and located in close proximity to the waterfront, North Beach, San Francisco, is a destination to keep your eye on if there’s a trip to Sunset City on your horizon. Despite having so much to see & do, this stunning central San Francisco neighborhood still manages to fly a little under the radar.
San Francisco’s North Beach is packed with iconic attractions like the Vallejo Steps and a few niche-specific gems. Whether you’re a bibliophile who can’t wait to shop the shelves of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers or a class clown looking for a good laugh at Cobb’s Comedy Club, you’re sure to satisfy your special interests—and maybe even leave with some new ones.
Ready to learn about some of San Fransisco’s most well-kept secrets? This complete San Francisco North Beach guide will introduce you to what to see & do, where to eat, drink & stay in this eclectic neighborhood.
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What to see & do in San Francisco’s North Beach
The Beat Museum
Ever heard of San Francisco’s original “Beatniks”? The Beat Museum can’t wait to teach you all about the 1950s collective of free thinkers. North Beach was the heart of this movement of writers and artists, and this museum is dedicated to maintaining its legacy.
During your visit to The Beat Museum, you’ll be able to browse priceless Beatnik memorabilia such as original manuscripts and pop art, plus watch a free screening of their feature documentary. Among the most popular exhibits are Allen Ginsberg’s Organ and the Banned Books Gallery, in collaboration with City Lights Booksellers & Publishers.
Spanning three acres of prime North Beach real estate, Washington Square is recognized as one of San Francisco’s first parks, established in 1847. The square makes a beautiful backdrop for a leisurely afternoon and is bordered by several sidewalk cafes for lunch overlooking the lawn or picnic-ready takeout.
Besides hanging out and playing lawn games, Washington Square has a few other landmarks to explore. Sitting at the foot of Sts. Peter and Paul Church and home to Benjamin Franklin and Fireman Memorial statues, there’s plenty to see & do here. The square even hosts regular events like local festivals and free movie nights!
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers
Book lovers looking to add to their neverending to-be-read list will not be able to resist a trip to City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Not only is this iconic San Francisco bookstore known for its incredible selection (particularly in the poetry and nonfiction genres), but it has a rich history, too. Famous poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded this landmark in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1953 and encouraged community-building amongst readers, artists, and activists.
Besides book shopping, there’s plenty to do at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. To honor the legacy of the gathering space Lawrence Ferlinghetti strived to create, the shop still hosts weekly readings and author events.
San Francisco is known for its many beautiful staircases, and the Vallejo Steps on the edge of North Beach is a fan favorite. Located on Telegraph Hill between Montgomery Street and Kearny Street, this trio of staircases is adored for its beauty. You can take the central stairway through the middle of terraced gardens or take one of the flanking staircases for a more direct route to the top.
Skip the hotel gym and get your exercise with a visit to this exciting landmark. The Vallejo Steps promises a brilliant sightseeing experience with unrestricted views of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, and even Oakland across the way, and is a great backdrop for vacation photos.
The thigh-burning trek to the top might feel neverending, but it’s a beautiful journey with plenty of places to (literally) stop and smell the roses.
Cobb’s Comedy Club
Looking for a good laugh? An evening at Cobb’s Comedy Club will leave you in stitches. Located in Russian Hill, this stand-up comedy venue is the neighborhood’s top destination for dinner and a show, giving you a taste of “Old San Fran” nightlife.
Since 1982, top comedians have taken the stage at Cobb’s Comedy Club, some of which owe their jumpstart to fame to their performances here. Who knows: You may even discover the nation’s next great comedian on a night out here!
Cobb’s Comedy Club serves more than just belly laughs, offering a full food and bar menu. A quick head’s up: The club has a well-enforced two-drink minimum per person; arrive ready to have a good time!
Colt Tower has been a staple of the SF skyline since its construction in 1934, making it one of San Francisco’s must-see places to visit. This 212-foot historic tower, perched at the top of Telegraph Hill, offers 360-degree views of the city from its observation platform, making it a sight to see from above—and below.
Before heading up, take photos of Coit Tower hovering above the city, and then, from your perch on the observation deck, snap some postcard-perfect shots you’ll adore for years to come. (Be sure to keep your eye out for the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge!)
Want to learn more about Coit Tower? Sign up for one of the docent-led tours. Art lovers should be sure to request the add-on tour of the tower’s murals, a hidden gem that’s not included in the standard experience.
Where to eat & drink
Mama’s on Washington Square is North Beach’s iconic brunch spot. When it first opened its doors in 1951, this mom and pop- style establishment was just an ice cream shop. Over time, the restaurant began serving plates of ultra-fluffy M’omelettes, eggs benedict, and buttermilk pancakes, building a local empire in the process.
Looking for the tastiest cioppino in the city? Locals and tourists alike agree that Sotto Mare is a seafood lover’s dream. Located in a historic building that was once a prohibition-era cigar and winery shop, this Italian osteria is packed full of eclectic nautical decor—and a whole lot of delicious food!
When you find yourself craving some Mexican food on your North Beach adventure, seek out Don Pistos. The restaurant has every taste covered, serving tacos, burritos, and specialty entrees.
Don’t forget to add the 90-minute mix & match package to your table’s bill, where you can sip unlimited sangria, Modelo beer, and mimosas until the end of your reservation. With the restaurant’s lovely interior, you’ll likely want to stay awhile. But they also have a special takeout menu if you want to have a spicy harborfront picnic.
Transport yourself to the middle of the gold-rush era at The Devil’s Acre. This historic tavern serves up apothecary-themed cocktails from a sprawling, antique wooden bar to the tune of live music. Traveling with a group? Take over the Remedie Room for some basement speakeasy vibes.
As a fixture of the San Francisco nightlife scene for over 22 years, 15 Romolo knows all the secrets to a good time. This cocktail and tapas bar boasts good food, expert mixologists, and a jukebox for setting the mood. The trendy atmosphere at this sleek speakeasy will have you staying late into the night. Don’t forget to order a few of their bottled cocktails to-go so you can keep the party going back at the hotel!
For a night of spirited entertainment, head on down to The Saloon. Typically packed from wall to wall, this circa-1861 blues bar has a round-the-clock live music schedule. Between these soulful tunes and cheap beers (cash only!), you’ll be dancing to the sax all night long.
Where to stay
Thanks to its central location, North Beach is one of the most popular areas to stay in San Francisco. The selection of accommodations is limited here, though, with only a small handful of hotels and vacation rentals available.
Looking for motor-inn accommodations and a stay that’s easy on the wallet? Check out the Columbus Inn. They’ve got all your basics covered, with rooms ranging from single queens to multi-room family suites and a prime location. Clean and comfortable, the motel also offers complimentary covered parking and extensive accessibility features.
For an affordable stay around North Beach with an extra dose of personality, choose Hotel Boheme. With a historic facade and eclectic vintage decor, this charming boutique hotel has just 15 rooms, promising personal attention to detail and friendly customer service.
If you’re willing to splurge on accommodations, the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, San Francisco, is the way to go. With an energetic, contemporary vibe, this high-design hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf comes with all the extra amenities.
uest rooms stun with concrete walls, Edison bulb lighting, and leather accent furniture. Before clocking out for the night, chill out in the trendy patio space, replete with gas fireplaces and a giant mural. Is snacking one of your top priorities? Visit the hotel’s grab-and-go market to stock up before a busy day of touring the city.