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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
We decided on Calzone’s for our shared luncheon of artichokes, mussels, pizza margherita, and butter lettuce salad, divine!
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.
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.
There are lots of cafes along this Columbus Avenue route where both tourists and locals hang out.
This dapper Italian gentleman was my favorite, I loved the twinkle in his eye.
There is a second beautiful church and porziuncola in this neighborhood, the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, beautiful inside too.
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?
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.
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: