North Beach

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North Beach North Beach has been San Francisco's official Little Italy for over a century, but its history extends back to the days of the Barbary Coast, when hustlers and gold miners trekked in nightly to cut loose with cheap wine and... San Francisco United States 37.7988656450378 -122.40602016449
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North Beach - Nightlife Area in San Francisco.
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Party Earth Review North Beach has been San Francisco’s official Little Italy for over a century, but its history extends back to the days of the Barbary Coast, when hustlers and gold miners trekked in nightly to cut loose with cheap wine... ... read full review

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    • Night Spot

Party Earth North Beach Review

The Scene

North Beach has been San Francisco's official Little Italy for over a century, but its history extends back to the days of the Barbary Coast, when hustlers and gold miners trekked in nightly to cut loose with cheap wine and...

North Beach has been San Francisco’s official Little Italy for over a century, but its history extends back to the days of the Barbary Coast, when hustlers and gold miners trekked in nightly to cut loose with cheap wine and cheaper women.

The intersection of Broadway Street and Columbus Avenue marks the beginning of the vibrant nightlife that still thrives here, anchored by the famed City Lights Bookstore, where Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac used to hang.

Heading north on Columbus or neighboring Grant Street unveils blocks lined with ristoranti and caffé bars – many of which cater to tourists – though anyone in need of a more authentic dining experience can hit up a plethora of traditional joints like Capp's Corner or Molinari Delicatessen.

The area’s bar and club scene draws huge crowds on the weekends, whether its old-time barflies and sports hounds mixing with boisterous pre-clubbers at Gino and Carlo, live music lovers packing into Bimbo's 365 Club , or out-of-towners and European tourists tanking up at The Saloon, the oldest bar in the city.

Things heat up down Broadway, where pedestrians pass long-standing sex shops on their way to classy lounges like Monroe, all the while navigating the rows of men lingering outside the city’s highest concentration of strip clubs. Hipster mixology buffs are duly in attendance at 15 Romolo, while college students flood the Bamboo Hut for punchbowls that could drop a buffalo.

Yet even Bamboo’s tiki kitsch can’t hold a candle to Beach Blanket Babylon, a musical revue of SF’s history that’s been running so long a street was named after it.

Whether it’s the topless ta-tas, classy lounges, master cocktails, or sizzling calzones that bring the raucous crowds to North Beach, one thing is clear – they show up to celebrate and party just as hard as their Gold Rush predecessors did.

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Tip from Emma:

Head back to this area during the day for a totally different vibe and a chance to window shop at the tons of eclectic boutiques on Grant Street. Then make your way up to the famous Coit Tower landmark on Telegraph Hill.

  • Crowd

    Artsy hipsters, throwback beatniks, aging hippies, leather-clad bikers, frat boys, sorority girls, quiet readers, noisy drinkers, cigar smokers, families, and the wizened Italian men who’ve watched it all come together over the years. All ages, but mostly 21+.

  • Entertainment / Music

    City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Avenue) is the center of the Beat Generation.

    Live Music:
    Live music spills from venues like Bimbo’s 365 Club, while many bars along Columbus Avenue feature jazz bands on weekends. Nightspots include the classic SF satirical musical revue Beach Blanket Babylon (at Club Fugazi, 678 Green Street), which pokes fun at pop culture with songs and absurdly large hats.

    Monroe (473 Broadway Avenue) for its popular upscale lounge scene; and strip clubs of various quality (along Broadway Avenue). Other bars include sports bar Gino and Carlo (548 Green Street), Bamboo Hut (479 Broadway) for a wild crowd of young revelers, and the hip 15 Romolo (15 Romolo Street) for mixology and old-timey cocktails.

  • Food / Miscellaneous

    Italian Food:
    Notable eateries include: L’Osteria del Forno (519 Columbus Avenue), É Tutto Qua (270 Columbus Avenue), The Stinking Rose (325 Columbus Avenue), and casual eats from Capp’s Corner (1600 Powell Street) and Caffè Roma (526 Columbus Avenue).

    Other Food:
    King of Thai Noodle (1268 Grant Avenue) and dim sum at many hole-in-the-wall Chinese joints on Broadway’s 600 block.

    The annual North Beach Festival in June features over a hundred arts and crafts booths, nearly two-dozen gourmet food booths, three stages of live entertainment, Italian street painting, and beverage gardens.

  • Prices

    Food and drink prices range from dirt-cheap dive bars, pizza and Indian takeout, and barebones Chinese grub to upscale wine bars, mixology hotspots, and high-concept cuisine.

  • What to Wear / Dress Code

    Anything goes: high-end club wear to t-shirts and sandals.

  • Hot Nights / When to Go

    Thursdays through Sundays for streets full of revelers, travelers, and (thankfully) taxicabs.

  • Close By

    The largest Chinatown in North America begins just a few blocks west of City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Avenue).

North Beach User Reviews

Average rating:
Not just for tourists!
Alison B. Apr 11, 2013
I love North Beach. It has everything - great food, fun bars, interesting people, and it's in a really convenient location. Lots of people might try to write off North Beach as a tourist trap filled with overpriced, mediocre Italian food, but it has a lot to offer. For example, Golden Boy Pizza is probably the best I've ever had, and it's super cheap. There's great, divey bars like The Boardroom, Northstar Cafe, and Columbus Cafe. If you prefer cocktail bars, there's 15 Romolo and Comstock Saloon. If you're a fan of literature, you have to visit City Lights Books and the bar next door, Vesuvio. You can even read Kerouac at one of the many sidewalk cafes. It's hard to express all that I love about North Beach in one review. Whether you live in SF or you're just visiting, North Beach is not to be missed.
How do you have a page about North Beach and not mention Golden Boy?
Iain F. Feb 20, 2013
No doubt about it, the best pizza in San Francisco is the North Beach standard, Golden Boy. This isn’t to say that there are no other phenomenal pizza joints; both Little Star and Tony’s Nepolitana Pizza boast some excellent pies. But if judged on price, convenience, and taste, Golden Boy wins hands down. There are no frills at their North Beach location, simply some counter space, some beer taps and steaming slices of thick, Sicilian style square pizza. That’s all you need. For over 30 years, Golden Boy has been serving San Franciscans a pizza that lives up to the saying: “It’s hip to be square. “ Peter Sodini opened the shop at the ripe old age of 19, envisioning a place producing premier pizza. His vision was validated as Golden Boy quickly became popular with locals and eventually expanded its operations into seven locations throughout the city and Berkeley. Scaling down operations in the recent years, Golden Boy has still maintained its flagship North Beach location. On most days, a line will form under the giant, red neon finger that points to the best pizza in the city. The large, storefront window offers a glimpse of the delectability contained within the shop to every passerby. Don’t bother with specifics when ordering, Golden Boy only offers six pizza choices but they do them better than anybody else. Cheese, vegetarian pesto, combination, pepperoni or sausage and garlic clam; there is no wrong choice though I am partial to the combination and vegetarian pesto. Many may chalk up Golden Boy’s deliciousness to the divine tomato sauce, or the doughy crust, perfectly risen. But the true secret is the ancient looking oven that must have seen a million slices pass through its doors. Each square leaves the oven with its edges perfectly singed and the cheese bubbly melting all over the fresh toppings. Available in large sheets or single slices, dine in or take-out. With this I argue that Golden Boy is an unrivaled San Francisco classic that has never gone out of style.
Food and comedy
Jackie D. Dec 4, 2012
North Beach is such an odd mix of venues that it's hard to really identify it strictly as an Italian neighborhood. Of course, there's the restaurants and Italian bakeries, but there's also some hipster shops and an infamous comedy club, the Purple Onion. I highly recommend visiting the Purple Onion for some stand up - one of their alums is Robin Williams and he stops by pretty frequently! The neighborhood is pretty charming when you get to the center of it and there are some great family owned restaurants here that are perfect for a special night.
pasta and strippers
Rachel G. Nov 13, 2012
I love going to North Beach for the amazing nightlife lights and the amazing Italian food, not the strip clubs. Though a lot of my friends have gone into those strip clubs and have actually had a fun time there. That’s off topic though. I love going here for dinner dates because it has amazing Italian food and a very romantic environment, if your on the opposite side of the strip clubs. This is also very close to downtown so you can go and grab your dinner, snack on some coffee or gelato and then walk your way back to downtown and grab a drink at a bar or something.
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