Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

North Beach Walking Tour (Self Guided), San Francisco

North Beach is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, known as San Francisco's Little Italy. This fun area features a great mix of architecture, museums, restaurants and old shops. Take this tour to explore the beauties that North Beach has to offer.
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North Beach Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: North Beach Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » San Francisco (See other walking tours in San Francisco)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Transamerica Pyramid
  • Columbus Tower
  • City Lights Bookstore
  • Beat Museum
  • The Saloon
  • Caffe Trieste
  • National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Molinari's
  • North Beach Museum
  • Washington Square
  • Tony's Pizza Napoletana
  • Sts. Peter and Paul Church
  • Filbert Street Steps
  • Coit Tower
1
Transamerica Pyramid

1) Transamerica Pyramid

The Transamerica Pyramid stands as a monument of modern architecture and design in the almost Victorian landscape of San Francisco. Today, the building stands as a unique symbol of the city with its sharp and well-defined lines and ultra-modern architecture while demonstrating the merger of the old with the new.

Although the Transamerica Pyramid does seem to blend in with the city’s landscape, initially it did not go very well with many of its denizens. The architect of the building William L. Pereira faced much opposition, regarding the radical structure of the building which would clash with the Victorian style of surrounding architecture. However, Pereira believed that the structure would be a statement of architectural brilliance, and very much so, the Transamerica Pyramid today is one of the modern day symbols of San Francisco.

The Transamerica Pyramid was constructed in 1972 and for years held a position among the top 5 tallest buildings in the world. Measuring up to 260m, the Transamerica Pyramid is still the tallest building in the city of San Francisco. This structure was built as the headquarters of Transamerica Corporation, but no longer houses the company. Despite that, the building is still strongly linked to Transamerica since it is incorporated in the company’s logo.

Why You Should Visit:
While the views from further away (e.g. Coit Tower) are probably more interesting, up close you can easily see the curves as the building rises.
2
Columbus Tower

2) Columbus Tower

Also known as the Sentinel Building, the Columbus Tower had work on it started in 1905 with directions and money pouring in from Abe Reuf, a lawyer and politician of San Francisco. The earthquake of 1906 and the fire that followed just left the steel framing of the building. The new edifice was completed in 1907 with a copper cladding, and the top floor housing Reuf’s offices. Reuf himself, however, was convicted of bribery in 1909 and given a 14-year sentence. By the time he was released, the copper had oxidized and the building had turned green as we see it today.

Legend has it that the Caesar salad was first served at a restaurant called ‘Caesar’s’, located in this building, which was closed down in accordance with the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution in 1919. In the 1960s, ‘The Kingston Trio’ owned the building and recorded their songs in the studio they built in the basement. By the 70s, the building had started to fall apart, when Francis Ford Coppola, director of Godfather movies, came to its rescue. Coppola bought the building, renovated it and set up his American Zoetrope studio in here. Today Columbus Tower is landmark number 33 on the list of San Francisco landmarks, and also has a bistro called Zoetrope Café that sells wine from the Napa Valley.
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
City Lights Bookstore

3) City Lights Bookstore

City Lights began operations in 1953 as a small paperback bookstore and in 1955 it launched a publishing company in order to help upcoming Beat poets who had to struggle to get their work published.

The bookstore located in the Artigues Building on Columbus Avenue, near the Broadway intersection at North Beach. Initially, City Lights shared this building with many other shops. However, it gained more store space when it occupied the adjacent shops which closed down over time. The Artigues Building, with its beautiful clerestory windows and a small balcony, was a popular city landmark in the earlier days. It was built on the ruins of a previous building that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

City Lights is considered to be a literary monument that reminds of the city’s Beatnik past. However, the charm of this store lies in the poetry room located upstairs. City Lights Bookstore contains a wide collection of poetry books featuring almost all the American poets till date. It even boasts of having poems, features and write-ups that were never published.

Opening Hours: 10:00 - 24:00 Daily
4
Beat Museum

4) Beat Museum

Located on the Broadway Street, the Beat Museum is more of a cult museum. A visit to this museum is like traveling back in time to the age of the Beat movement. From personal belongings of the heroes of the movement to the perception of the society, as seen from newspaper cuttings, you can find it all under one roof at Beat Museum.

Earlier located on Californian Coast between Big Sur and the city of San Francisco, the museum was relocated to the birthplace of the Beat Movement, the North Beach area. It was here in 1955 that Allen Ginsberg first read ‘Howl’. Other Beat writers like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac made North Beach a platform for free speech. Other than the memorabilia of the movement like posters, artwork, books and Kerouac’s tweed jacket, the museum tells you about the movement's begining, its significance, the arrest of Ferlinghetti, the Howl Trial and what happened to the women who participated in the movement. To top it off, the museum also houses Ginsberg’s copy of Howl, which he had sent to other writers for review. It also shows you how the movement was influenced by events like space programs, demands for gay rights, etc.

You can also collect your own piece of San Francisco history in the form of souvenirs like T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, CDs, posters, artwork from the gift shop and make your visit truly memorable.

Opening Hours: Monday - Sunday: 10:00-19:00
5
The Saloon

5) The Saloon

The Saloon, located on Grant Avenue in North Beach, is currently the oldest saloon of San Francisco that offering dancing and live music. The Saloon first opened in 1861, and has been in continuous operation ever since. This drinking establishment was originally owned by Ferdinand E. Wagner, the son of a liquor merchant in Studweiller (Bas Rhin, France), who named it Wagner's Beer Hall.

The building looks very much the same as it does in photographs from the 1870s. The elaborate wooden bar which is currently in use was installed in the 1860s, and was constructed outside of America and later shipped to San Francisco.

In the late 1960s and 1970s Grant Avenue had numerous blues clubs like The Saloon, which supplied live bands playing music every night. Though many of those blues clubs have disappeared, The Saloon continues to provide a dance floor and daily performances by locally acclaimed musicians. Despite its small size, throughout time The Saloon has attracted the performances of many talented and occasionally famous musicians.

Opening Hours: 12 pm - 1:30 am Daily
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Caffe Trieste

6) Caffe Trieste

Caffè Trieste is an internationally known chain of four Italian-themed coffeehouses plus one retail store in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas of California. Caffè Trieste was opened in 1956 by Giovanni Giotta (aka "Papa Gianni"), who in 1951 had emigrated to the United States from the small fishing town of Rovigno D'Istria, Croatia (before the World War II the region was part of Italy). Missing the espresso houses of Trieste, Italy, Giotta opened his own cafe. Caffè Trieste is said to be the first espresso house on the West Coast.

The original Caffè Trieste in San Francisco's North Beach quickly became popular among the neighborhood's primarily Italian residents. "It was all Italian people," Giotta said of the neighborhood, "But I got the American people to like cappuccino."

The Caffè Trieste also becomes a convenient meeting place for Beat movement writers like Lawrence Ferlinghetti (still a regular), Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Brautigan, Bob Kaufman, Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth and Neeli Cherkovski, who lived in North Beach in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Caffe has been featured in several movies, on television, radio, in magazines, and in dozens of photography, tourism and other books, ranging from local to national and international in scope. Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay for The Godfather while sitting in the Caffè Trieste.

Opening Hours: 6:30 - 23:00 Daily
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi

7) National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi

San Francisco, earlier known as Yerba Buena, was a sparsely populated place in California. With less than 500 residents, the area was far from any importance or popularity until the year 1849. That year saw the beginning of the Gold Rush and the news spread like wild fire attracting people from far and wide.

People started pouring into the city to grab a bite of gold and within no time the population of San Francisco quadrupled. However, with the growing population there was no place of worship in the newly habitat areas. The Catholics had to walk over three miles to the docks just to attend their daily mass at church.

A new committee was then formed to tackle the issue and the first church that was built in the honor of Saint Francis of Assisi after whom the city was christened San Francisco. Built on the North Beach adjoining San Francisco, it was commissioned on the 12th of June 1849. The first mass took place here five days later on 17th of June. The Church was later officially declared the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi. It now contains the relics of Saint Francis, Saint Clare and Saint Anthony of Padua and is no longer under the parish.
8
Molinari's

8) Molinari's

Molinari's is a delicatessen in San Francisco's North Beach District, established in 1896, making it one of the oldest delis in the United States. They make their own brand of salami, as P.G. Molinari and Sons, Inc, which is sold nationwide, and which won a gold medal award in Italy.

Molinari's was founded by P.G. Molinari, who moved to San Francisco in 1884 from the Piedmont region of Italy. In 1895, one year after getting married, Molinari went into business for himself on Broadway. However, after the 1906 earthquake, he moved his business to the current location on Columbus Avenue in North Beach District.

Molinari Delicatessen has been one of most popular delis in San Francisco. Customers are often lined up waiting to order one of the 35 loaded Italian sandwiches served on eight different kinds of bread.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
North Beach Museum

9) North Beach Museum

North Beach Museum is a free-of-charge history museum. It features historical artifacts that tell the story of North Beach, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf. The museum also displays an amazing collection of photos of the 1906 earthquake and fire, of some of the first Chinese and Italian immigrants and child-sized shoes made for a Chinese woman's bound feet.

Operation hours: Monday - Thursday: 9:00 am - 4:00 pm; Friday: 9:00 am - 6:00 pm
10
Washington Square

10) Washington Square

Filled with the chitter chatter in Italian, children playing about, people basking lazily in the sun and families enjoying a sunny morning, the Washington Square is a typical town square. Being one of the most accessible places in the city, the Washington Square is a popular place for community gatherings, festivals and picnics.

Having been laid out half a century ago, the Washington Square is located in the midst of a North Beach neighbourhood, which is predominantly Italian. Overlooking the Washington Square is the church of Saints Peter and Paul, which is known as the Italian Cathedral of the West.

In the centre of the park is a small bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin which was donated in 1879 by the first millionaire of San Francisco, Henry Cogswell to honour the fire fighters of the city of San Francisco. An interesting fact is that when the statue was erected at the site, a time capsule with Henry Cogswell’s belongings was also buried. It was excavated a century later in 1979 and was replaced by a new time capsule will be opened in 2079.

The park is a favourite spot for the locals who come here to do tai-chi, walk their dog or just relax.
11
Tony's Pizza Napoletana

11) Tony's Pizza Napoletana

It does not feel right to visit North Beach without trying out an Italian pizza. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is a pizzeria which serves Neapolitan styled pizza located on Stockton Street in the North Beach District. In a 2015 TripAdvisor survey, it was the 5th highest rated pizzeria in the United States. Tony's has three different types of oven used for various forms of pizza.

Tony Gemignani has been making pizza since 1991. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is ranked among the top 20 essential San Francisco pizzas by San Francisco Eater.
12
Sts. Peter and Paul Church

12) Sts. Peter and Paul Church

The Sts. Peter and Paul Church is one of the many structures in San Francisco that has a rich history to blend in with its brilliant architecture. Located opposite the Washington Square Park in the city, the Church has a dedicated following of many pocket communities in San Francisco like the Chinese, Italian, Hispanic, Japanese and Indian. The St. Peter and Paul Church is a Roman Catholic Church and administered by the Salesians of Don Bosco.

The original foundation of the Church was laid in 1884 at the corner of Filbert Street and Grand Avenue. However, the structure couldn’t survive the earthquake and fire in 1906 and was razed to the ground. The present structure was built in 1924 and unlike the previous one, was built with two high raised spires measuring about 191 feet. These spires have made the Church a landmark structure in the city of San Francisco.

Not only is the Church a beautiful sight from the outside, its interiors are equally breath taking. The high altar, made up of different kinds of marble and stone is quite a spectacle and is adorned with beautiful fresco in the background. The Sts. Peter and Paul Church is a place you cannot afford to miss when visiting North Beach.
Sight description based on wikipedia
13
Filbert Street Steps

13) Filbert Street Steps (must see)

Filbert Street Steps is a stairway extension of Filbert Street which starts at Lyon Street and goes all the way to Telegraph Hill at Kearny Street. With a gradient of 17.5o, Filbert Street is one of the steepest streets in the western hemisphere. The acclivity of the Telegraph Hill would have rendered the street non-motor-able, which is why the Filbert Street Steps were made.

The Steps rise in three sections and are seemingly never-ending if you take a small trek. However, as you climb you can see sculpted gardens with flowers all year round, some neatly tucked away hidden cottages and a breathtaking view of the Bay Bridge. Art deco buildings adorn the view of these steps and the immaculate parking of cars on this steep hillside is sure to amaze you. A picture perfect hideaway in a city like San Francisco, most homes here can only be accessed via the steps. The wild parrots of the hill, which featured in the 2005 documentary, are good company as you walk along these steps towards Coit Tower.

A steep but brief climb, you must take the Filbert Street Steps at least once when you are in San Francisco and leave the concrete jungle for a while. Even if you hate walking up the stairs, you can surely walk them down!

Why You Should Visit:
Pretty garden views and an exhilarating hike off the beaten path!
If you're still on your feet at the top, all of SF lies at your feet: North Beach (with another climb to Coit Tower), Russian Hill with its charming bistros, and Polk Street Gulch/Aquatic Park beyond.

Tip:
Bring water for sure.
14
Coit Tower

14) Coit Tower (must see)

Standing tall in the neighborhood of the Telegraph Hill, in San Francisco is The Coit Memorial Tower. This 64 m tall tower was built in honor of the firefighters of San Francisco Bay area. Built with respect to the art-deco style in architecture, The Coit Tower is quite noticeable and instantly attracts one's attention in the serene landscape of the San Francisco sky. The Coit Memorial Tower receives a lot of visitors around the year and mainly due to the breathtaking view of the city the Tower offers.

Not only does it stand for a noble cause, the reason for the erection of the Tower is also worth notice. The Coit Tower was built in 1933 upon request from a devoted patron of the firefighters of San Francisco- Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1842-1929). So much was her love for her city and its inhabitants that she donated one-third of her wealth to San Francisco city. She shared a special bond with the firefighters and on many occasions had volunteered to shoulder the responsibility of putting off a fire. She was also reported to chase fires around the city and it was this eccentric and brave nature that made her the mascot of the Engine Co. and now is the Matron Saint of the San Francisco firefighters.

Tip:
The views are just as good from the base as they are from the tower itself so if the elevator queue is too long then you can skip it and enjoy the free views and walks around the neighborhood.
Also note the tower closes at 5pm and is cash only.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat: 9am-6pm

Walking Tours in San Francisco, California

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
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Iconic bridges, splendid hotels, and steep streets that slowly slope down to the waterfront. Vibrant ethnic neighborhoods, each contributing a unique flavor to the city. Major museums, amazing architecture, shopping and dining, barking sea lions, and teeth-rattling cable cars. Whatever your dream trip to San Francisco includes, this self-guided walk is the perfect companion. Don't be afraid...  view more

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
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Famous Architecture Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Union Square Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles

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