North Beach Walk

By Kate Riley January 31, 2012

I mentioned we’re having an unusually mild winter so far and when the sun shines in January, we get the itch to go exploring.  So Sunday the family and I headed to the Big City to chase those rare blue skies and spent a splendid afternoon in North Beach. It was one of those weekends where even the locals were surprised by the fair weather and took to the streets to walk their dogs and dine in the cafes.

North Beach (or Little Italy) is a fantastic collection of shops, cafes, delicatessens, and cool landmarks in north eastern San Francisco, bordered by Fisherman’s Wharf to the north, Chinatown and the Financial District to the south, Telegraph Hill to the east, and Russian Hill to the west. 

north beach san francisco map

map from here

We started in Washington Square Park at the famous landmark Saints Peter and Paul Church. The twin spires of this church (originally a parish for Italian fisherman) can be seen from blocks away, and the intricate detail inside the church’s interior with its altar, ceiling, and painted dome will transport you to Europe.

saints peter and paul church


Up the street are the Filbert Steps and Coit Tower, but be sure you’re wearing your walking shoes if you venture over there, it’s a climb!

coit tower telegraph hill


Take a stroll around Washington Square Park and you’ll see locals walking their dogs, or artists displaying their paintings, then cross the Square to Columbus Avenue. 

artists in washington square park


Take your pick of the many Italian restaurants with outdoor cafe seating, which is what we did. This is such a great place to linger over lunch and watch people stroll by.  Don’t you love this checkerboard sidewalk?

calzones north beach


We decided on Calzone’s for our shared luncheon of artichokes, mussels, pizza margherita, and butter lettuce salad, divine! 

calzone lunch in north beach


Of course you never know what you might see on a given day in SF, just over lunch this funky car drove by blasting Queen’s ‘Somebody to Love’ and the very next minute this gentleman came by to serenade us with the late Etta James ‘At Last’.  Be prepared people.

crazy car and singing dude


Walk off your tasty lunch in the few blocks that surround Columbus Avenue, you’ll spy a lot of very cute shops and cafes and iconic San Francisco style architecture.

haberdashery hat shop

pizza joints north beach

molinari delicatessen north beach

north beach delicatessen

streets of north beach

north beach building


There are lots of cafes along this Columbus Avenue route where both tourists and locals hang out. 

caffe greco


This dapper Italian gentleman was my favorite, I loved the twinkle in his eye.

daper italian


There is a second beautiful church and porziuncola in this neighborhood, the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, beautiful inside too.

st francis of assisi church


Continue walking south and you’ll see quite a sight.  This was my favorite shot of the day, the Sentinel building and home of Cafe Zoetrope owned by Francis Coppola, you can find some his movie memorabilia inside.  This copper green building sits right on the edge of North Beach and the Financial District and just beyond is the magnificent Transamerica Pyramid.  Quite a stunning contrast in architecture, don’t you think?

transamerica building copolla building


A little fog started to roll in so we headed back to the Square while the sun started to set.  It was that moment on a Sunday afternoon when you can sense everyone around you soaking up the last few moments of a blissful day before heading home, and we were too.  Here’s a view of the bay on the drive out of the City with Ghirardelli Square below and Alcatraz Island in the distance. 

alcatraz view

Next time you come to the City by the Bay, be sure to take a stroll through North Beach, especially  during lunch or dinnertime, I just know you’ll love it.

More San Francisco tours:

Cliffs and Cable Cars

Union Square and Chinatown

Fisherman’s Wharf and Fleet Week





  1. Kate you live close to SF? I live just 15 min away. ..We should meettttttttttt:) btw your pictures are amazing like usual can you plz tell what camera r.u using and what lens? Thx but omg you were in SF i wish you told me i could’ve joined u :))

  2. This post makes me remember that there is soooooooooo much to see in this country. I visited SF about 20 years ago for a convention, but I didn’t see any of those beautiful places. (I did visit Alcatraz.)

  3. Ah….. We live in South Florida, yet…. we have been to San Francisco several times. Love it there. Have stayed at a b and b on the square. Was back in Cali two summers ago. Stayed at the Argonaut (highly recommend) and loved every moment. We spent one full afternoon and evening lounging around Washington Square. Just lovely. I always tell people, if they are going to San Fran to make sure and go see Alcatraz. They have the most amazing audio tour. Makes one feel they are there back in the day. This past time we didn’t pre-buy our passes before leaving on vaca. Mistake. The scalpers have taken over that gig. Anyhoo. Thanks for sharing these wonderful pics. They really capture the area well….

  4. I looove your travel posts! I haven’t been quite as far west as California, so it’s fun for me to explore through your pictures. San Francisco is such a beautiful city. It doesn’t seem to have such a frantic, rushed feel as NYC….Great post, Kate. :)

  5. Kate,
    I always enjoy our visits to San Francisco. It’s such an amazing city and you’ve given me a new area to check out the next time we’re up there.

  6. What a fun day! I love all of the pictures – the architecture is really neat. I love old, historic places. I have visited Anaheim, but we didn’t have time to get to San Fran (my hubby was there for a conference). It was really gorgeous there – we went for a walk along Newport Beach and I was so jealous of the people who live there! Lots of folks walking and riding bikes. Hopefully I’ll get to go back with my kids some day.

  7. Wow, Saints Peter and Paul church is beautiful. You have a lot of beautiful buildings where you live. I am jealous of the nice weather you seem to have. You have a beautiful home, I read your blog every day! ^.^,

  8. Thank you for taking us on your Sunday afternoon stroll. North Beach looks beautiful and full of character. Sunny days like that make it too hard to stay inside. I would love to visit San Francisco some day. I’ll have to remember to check out all the neighborhoods if I do.

  9. Fun day in a beautiful city!!! My husband’s family is from North Beach, and we visit from the East Bay often. You must try Mama’s on Washington Square for breakfast, and while someone with you is in line (which wraps around the corner, but moves quickly), run across the street to Liguria Bakery for focaccia. Go early however, when it’s gone for the day (usually by noon at the latest), that’s it, they close!

  10. Kate, I LOVE posts like this… keep ’em coming! I’ve never visited San Francisco, but it’s at the top of my list of must-sees.

  11. Wow, looks like a very nice place indeed. Makes me want to jump up, pack a bag and head
    on out to visit.
    My daughter is in a Wedding this year out near there. I am sure she will want to head over and check this sightseeing adventure out while she is there.

  12. Lovely post. Made me want to go hang out there this weekend. I live here in the east bay and forget what is so close by. Me and my camera will be hanging out in North Beach this weekend. :)

  13. Being a Bay Area Girl…I love visiting North Beach too! We usually drive in to the city for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary…and one of our fav restaurants is the North Beach Cafe…yum! My boys love spending the day walking China Town which is right next door to Little Italy…gotta love San Francisco!

  14. I may live in Southern California, but I will always be a Northern California girl! Everytime I go to SF I get all giddy inside . . . so many memories.

  15. Oh! It makes me homesick! North beach was one of our favorite walking destinations for the three years we lived in San Francisco. I would walk up the stairs from where I worked near by the Fog City Diner right off of the Embarcadero, up through people’s yards on that awesome stairway, and be in North Beach in time for a lovely little lunch or a quick browse in a few of the shops. Did you hear the parrots while you were there? I can’t believe how quickly those pictures take me back.

  16. My favorite city!! But I have never done the North Beach walk. Sooo looking forward to it next time I’m there!

  17. My mom and I spent 5 days in SF this summer, our first vacation alone EVER. It was such an amazing trip, the highlight of my year. We walked everywhere. One day we logged 12 miles! For lovers of architecture and homes, we were in paradise. Such a lovely city.
    Your pictures are a reminder of this special time spent with my mom. Thank you, Kate.

  18. When we were stationed in Monterey, my husband and I were able to leave the kids and take a train up to SF from Gilroy. We stayed at the Marines Memorial and had a blast exploring the city!

  19. Oh what memories this post brings to me. I love San Fran and your tours are great. Thanks

  20. Great post. I love visiting “The City”- We’ve seen that crazy car the last time we were there too!

  21. I love San Francisco. I grew up in Fresno and that was our go-to place. Now that I’m further south, Bakersfield and my kids are in Newport and LaJolla I go south. I still have in my mind to hop the train and spend a weekend there. I need to decide where the best place to get off, however, and how to get from train station to downtown. Is that what you call it? Where the cable cars start down there. Market Street? Anyway… great pics.

  22. Looks like a blast! I was just in the city yesterday – the Mission District, then the Financial District, then down on Chestnut for dinner – we drove through North Beach though, such a fun part of town. SF is such a fun, diverse place to visit. My kids are always in such awe of the “big city”.

  23. I love, love, LOVE your travelogues Kate! I live in So. Cal but I am going to plan a trip to S. F. soon. This city is gorgeous and so different from L.A. Your photo’s are perfect and are professional quality. Keep these posts coming! Have you and the fam been to Alcatraz? That’s on my list of must-see’s.

  24. North Beach is so fun to explore, especially with the kids. My kids can REALLY walk the whole of SF for some reason. From the wharf to Coit Tower and back for Sundae at the square. We ate at Calzones last time we were in the city with the kids too!!!! How funny is that!

  25. I visted San Fran last May … we walked soooooooo much! It was a total body WORK-OUT :) Thanks for posting ur pics. I love the black+white tiled floors outside the restaurant!

  26. Oh, this post makes me ache for San Francisco!! My husband and I visited for the first time back in November and I loved it so much. And the longer I’m away the more I want to go back. I just keep thinking we can retire there lol We went to most of the places you mentioned and many more.

  27. Kate, I’m so new to blogging that I just realized you are here…I mean here in the bay area! Wow that means I could run into you at the store….I would freak! I’m in Hayward, but I work in SF off of California. I see by the comments that there are more of us too….Wouldn’t a meet n’ greet be fun? If I were a super event organizer I would plan it all out, but alas I’m not! If you ever do anything like this, count me in….it would be so great to meet some blog friends face to face. Now I’m rambling…love the pics.

  28. Love love LOVE North Beach! The only problem with it (besides all the strip clubs if you go down far enough) is no main MUNI lines head out there. I would have eaten at Steps of Rome much more often when I lived in the city if there were. (SoR is awesome, and my North Beach ick for dinner. Great food, GREAT bruschetta, and the waiters are so boisterously Italian that it’s almost dinner and a show.)

  29. Kate! I love this post, just because I was in SF a week ago for the first time and saw everything in your post-makes me want to go back… :) When I was there it rained the whole time, but I still loved the city and North Beach was my favorite part (mostly because we ate the most amazing Italian lunch!). Love your blog, BTW…

  30. Kate, you have taken the absolutely best pictures of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. North Beach is so much fun. OMG – the mussels – what a perfect meal. Thanks so much for the tour. It makes my heart jump seeing the views from the hills, and great shots of the architecture. My husband and I have stayed at the Dunes at Monterey Bay, and it was wonderful hearing the waves on the shore, then taking day trips to SF and Carmel and the Redwoods. I hope to get back there some day. Have you ever been to the Garlic Festival in Castro? it’s funny. Garlic wine. You are lucky to be able to live there. Just had an aha moment. What if the thing that makes a place infinitely inviting is that you can’t get there every day? HMmmmm.

    Great walking tour. Thank you


  31. PERFECT timing!!! We are headed to SFO next weekend … and I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I needed to search your blog of tips. Thanks for reading my mind!

  32. Thanks for a great post! I am headed to SF in April and will definitely use your tours as a guide! Any other must dos?

    • Yes lots Val, there is so much to see! I’ll try to do more SF posts this spring!

  33. I was in North Beach on Sunday too! We had some scrumptious Seafood Cioppino at Sotto Mare just around the corner on Green Street. Afterward we got some goodies from Stella’s Bakery. It was a lovely day in San Francisco!

  34. OMG – i was born and raised in SF. Have lived out of state for a few years with my husbands job and we are always dying to move back. Those photos really make me homesick!!!!!

  35. My grandfather grew up in North Beach and went to Sts. Peter and Paul as a kid. Apparently he was eventually kicked out of the church for marrying a Methodist woman, but I’m glad he did. ;)

  36. Kate, where oh where did you get the mirror over your mantel? I know you’d posted about it before but I have been searching EVERYWHERE in vain for a similar mirror!

  37. The Oblong Anchor Pillow in yellow would be the perfect compliment to the P Ir At Es pillow I made for my son for his birthday.

  38. Thank you so much for a quick trip “home”. Takes the edge off homesickness a bit (I’ve only been gone 24 years but I still miss it so much). Love your blog.

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