AAA Editor Notes
North Beach spreads w. and s. from Telegraph Hill to Columbus Ave. It's located in one of the hilliest sections of a hilly city (stairways rather than sidewalks line some of the steeper streets). Compact, crowded and vibrant, San Francisco's version of “Little Italy” is full of delis, bakeries, cafés and restaurants.
City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue, founded by San Francisco poet laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was once a hangout for Beat Generation poets and literary figures like Jack Kerouac. Check out the murals and wall quotations from the author of "On the Road" along tiny Jack Kerouac Alley, between Grant and Columbus avenues. You've also got seedy appeal in a smattering of strip joints that include the Condor Club, where topless go-go dancer Carol Doda gyrated her way to 15 minutes of fame in the swinging '60s.
And of course you've got food. Just walking around North Beach tends to make most people start salivating. Molinari (373 Columbus Ave.) is a deli and market chock-full of specialty items—dried pastas, marinated artichokes, robust house-cured salamis hanging above the counter. The Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton St.) turns out freshly baked focaccia bread—rosemary, raisin and pizza are popular flavors—and invariably sells out before noon (get there early).
A fave hangout is Vesuvio, just up from City Lights. It's a classic bar in every sense, from the ambience (all kinds of cool stuff on the walls) to the wide drink selection and the jovial crowd of regulars. Another North Beach institution is Tosca Café (242 Columbus Ave.); it has a jukebox heavy on operatic selections, red leather booths and an open kitchen that serves dinner late. Washington Square, at Columbus Avenue and Union Street, is a tree-shaded patch of lawn sprinkled with park benches and frequented by pigeons, dog walkers, scrambling kids and early-morning practitioners of tai chi.