fbpx

Best Things to Do in North Beach (Approx Top 10)


This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to a day of the best things to do in North Beach, San Francisco. North Beach is famous for Italian food, Francis Ford Coppola, and dope hats, plus a few other attractions. And I promise to be your trusty guide and share all of my favorite tips and tricks.

In the afternoon, we’re going to wander just outside North Beach and see the spookiest-prettiest place in San Francisco, get our Beat on, and hop on a San Francisco icon. Let’s hurry out right away!

best things to do in North Beach

Best Things to Do in North Beach

Where to Stay?

Location is so important in San Francisco. That’s why I recommend spending your nights at the Cartwright Hotel. It’s located right by Union Square so it’s in a convenient location where it’s easy to take the bus or walk to get to the Best Things to Do in North Beach, it has free wifi, coffee makers, and an airport shuttle, and it might be haunted! What more could you want?

If you’d like to join me at the Cartwright, just click here. If you want to find deals on hundreds of hotel rooms in San Francisco, just click here. This search engine will help you find the best hotel for your taste and budget.

best things to do in North Beach

Best Things to Do in North Beach

Shopping List

  • An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures of the best things to do in North Beach
  • My favorite guidebook to San Francisco, including North Beach
  • My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
  • Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
  • I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by the fog monster during your day of the best things to do in North Beach
best things to do in north beach

Best Things to Do in North Beach

Morning: Little Italy and North Beach Walking Tour

Now, before we start our day of the best things to do in North Beach, we’re going to have to learn what North Beach is. It’s not really a beach at all. You see, North Beach is San Francisco’s own Little Italy. And like any proper Little Italy, it’s home to amazing things to eat.

That’s why I suggest that you start your day with this fantastic food tour of North Beach. You’ll get to learn tons of fun facts about the neighborhood, eat some of the best food, and get to experience more sights and bites than you’d get to see on your own.

You can book this tour of deliciousness by clicking here. Then get ready for…

Approximately Top 5: North Beach Food

best things to do in north beach
1) Cappuccino

Of course, any day in an Italian neighborhood needs to start with an Italian coffee, like a cappuccino. Cappuccino arrived in San Francisco here in North Beach in the 1950s. That seems pretty recent to me because I’m from New York City, and we got our first cappuccinos over 100 years ago. But it does take less time to get from Rome to NYC than it does to get from Rome to San Francisco, so maybe that explains it.

On the food tour, we got our cappuccinos at the charming Caffe Greco. You actually get to order any of their coffee drinks, so if you prefer a latte or something without caffeine in it, go right ahead!

best things to do in north beach
2) Salami Sandwich

Of course, one of the best things to do in North Beach is chow down on some amazing Italian meats. That’s why, after we got our coffee, we sampled some fine salami sandwiches from the nearby Molinari Delicatessen. The salami was so pungent that I felt myself transported back to Rome with every bite.

But don’t worry, vegetarians! The veggies on the tour also had some tasty meat-free Italian options. You’ll be well taken care of.

best things to do in north beach
3) Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe

OK, this place, Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe, had one of the oddest names I had ever heard of. Were we stopping here to get some cigars? Would we be having them with coffee? And just what was so bohemian about it all?

But it turns out that Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe serves a mean meatball sandwich on the famous focaccia bread from Liguria Bakery. Liguria only sells focaccia, it’s so famous that they don’t need to sell anything else, and once they’ve sold all their focaccia for the day, they close. So coming here is worth it just so you don’t have to stand on that line for Liguria’s focaccia.

best things to do in north beach
4) Z Cioccolato

There’s so much food on this tour that it honestly didn’t seem possible to finish it all in one day of the best things to do in North Beach. That’s why I was grateful we stopped at Z Cioccolato. This candy shop, which is famous for its decadent seven-layer fudge, gave us treats that we could take home with us. (In my case, this would mean a very exciting All Candy Breakfast the next day.)

You get to take one piece of their famous fudge and one salt water taffy. I got the seven-layer kind because it’s what they are known for, but you can get whatever flavor you wish. As for the taffy, I chose key lime, which tasted exactly like the sea. In fact, it’s as close as we’re going to get to the beach in North Beach.

best things to do in north beach
5) Palermo Deli

Our next stop at the Palermo II Deli is for one of the most authentically Italian treats you can find: suppli. These rice balls are stuffed with tomato sauce and peas and meat and everything that is good. (Again, there are veggie options here too.) These rice balls are crunchy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside–basically the world’s greatest Hot Pocket. I could eat them all day.

best things to do in north beach
6) Mona Lisa

Our final savory stop was for pizza at the appropriately named Italian restaurant Mona Lisa. You might be worried that at this point, our stomachs are going to explode from all this food. But the nice thing about this tour is that because the food was shared with a group of about 12 people, the portions were small. This way we could try all the different Italian foods in North Beach without spontaneously combusting.

This pizza was not at all like the pizza we get in my hometown NYC because the crust was fluffier and it was served with a creamy vodka sauce on top. But the pizza was still yummy, and I don’t think it makes sense to travel and then whine that everything isn’t just the way it is back home.

best things to do north beach
7) Cannoli Time

My favorite thing about the food tour is that the dessert, as opposed to the Future Candy Breakfast we got at the fudge store, was my all-time favorite: the cannoli. This Sicilian treat is a crispy pastry shell filled with a sweet ricotta creamy goodness.

These cannoli came from a bakery called Stella, which made me even happier because Stella is my first name! Don’t worry that you won’t be able to finish because the cannoli are mini-sized. Everyone got to take one.

That’s it for the best things to do in North Beach food tour, but believe me that I didn’t share even half of the fun tips and treats you find on the tour, like getting to try on fancy hats or learning about San Francisco’s secret time capsule. You’ll have to book the tour for yourself by clicking here to see what they are!

best things to do in north beach

Best Things to Do in North Beach

Afternoon: Icons of San Francisco

After all that food, we’re certainly not going to need lunch! So instead, let’s head to some of the most famous icons of San Francisco: Coit Tower, which you can see in my photo above, City Lights Bookstore, and the cable car. These aren’t all exactly within North Beach, but they’re definitely within walking distance of North Beach, so I say they count. If you have a problem with it, you can email me at [email protected]

And now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let me introduce you to…

Three Fun Facts: Icons of San Francisco

best things to do in north beach
1) What is Coit Tower Famous For?

Coit Tower is really famous for two things: great views of San Francisco and gorgeous, politically left-wing murals. You can see the murals all along the ground floor when you enter Coit Tower. They were painted in the 1930s, so they have a real Art Deco vibe, and they depict various workers in fields that are important to the California economy, like farming, slaughtering meat, and shopping.

Once you pay for your ticket inside the building, you head up in the teeny tiny, historic elevator and then get to see the views of the Bay Area. Behold:

best things to do in north beach

Yes, it’s beautiful. But is it as beautiful as this mural of ships polluting the ocean?

best things to do in north beach

Who can really say?

best things to do in north beach
2) What is City Lights Famous For?

City Lights is the most iconic bookstore in San Francisco and possibly the entire United States. This bookstore was founded in the 1950s by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He then published Howl by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg when it was banned for obscenity and containing gay themes. Ever since, it’s been a legendary sort of outlaw, independent publisher and bookstore.

My favorite thing to do in City Lights is just go around and see what the staff recommends in different areas. That’s how I bought a book called The Barbary Coast because it’s about San Francisco and pirates, which seems super appropriate for an outlaw, SF bookstore. City Lights also has great sections on books about marginalized groups, and the knowledgeable staff will point you anywhere you want to go.

best things to do in north beach
3) What is the Cable Car Famous For?

So first of all, good job calling it the cable car and not the streetcar. We’re not in New Orleans, after all! The cable car system in San Francisco is the last manually operated cable car in the world, so that’s why it’s become legendary. And you need something like this to get up and down those famous San Francisco hills!

For the purposes of this day of the best things to do in North Beach, take the Powell/Hyde Cable Car. I walked down to Market Street and just hopped on. It was easy! When I was in SF, the cable car was free, but that won’t be the case for long. Just keep in mind that if you pay for a one-way trip, you can only take the cable car down to the end point in Ghirardelli Square.

best things to do in north beach

Best Things to Do in North Beach

Evening: Dinner at Nightbird

San Francisco has one of the best fine dining scenes in the country, and none are finer than the female-chef driven restaurant Nightbird. If I lived in San Francisco, I would come here several times a year to try the creative and delicious tasting menu. And even though it’s not in North Beach, it’s where we’re going to end our day of the best things to do in North Beach.

I’m sure you won’t get exactly what I ordered, but I’m equally sure your meal will be equally delicious.

best things to do in north beach

The meal started with a few snacks: a beignet with tart green strawberry, served in a dish with a hidden compartment that turned out to be filled with caviar. I do always love a surprise caviar! Next came a quail egg with hollandaise, which was as rich and decadent as the beignet had been tart and fluffy.

best things to do in north beach

And here we just get punched in the face with the flavors of the sea: oyster, uni, and brown butter dashi. The only way this could have reminded me more of the ocean would have been if I could have eaten my key lime salt water taffy with it, but that seemed tacky.

best things to do in north beach

The amuse bouche are gone, so we move on to the first appetizers. Part one is raw shima-aji fish served with radish salad and plum vinaigrette. The flavors of the three main ingredients really shone through, but the emphasis was on the fish.

best things to do in north beach

But here we have the second half of this appetizer: plum with shima-aji bottarga. Now the plum was front and center and the fish was in the background adding a bit of salty flavor. Delightful and intellectually engaging!

best things to do in north beach

Our next pairing involves two different lobster dishes, which is one of the most exquisite types of pairing. Up first: lobster prepared in a vadouvan curry with russet potatoes. I honestly had never considered curried lobster, and I would have thought the lobster would be too delicate for the curry–but no! The lobster retained its texture and character, just took on a whole bunch of flavor.

best things to do in north beach

And for the second lobster dish, we have lobster knuckle in vadouvan curry, with creme fraiche. The creme fraiche made this dish richer than the first lobster preparation, but not too much. And I didn’t even know that lobsters had knuckles before! I thought they just had claws. This dish brings a much more delicious meaning to the term “knuckle sandwich”.

best things to do in north beach

For our poultry course, we have squab rillettes with zucchini and baby corn. It was interesting how the shima-aji dishes felt Japanese, the lobster was more Indian because of the curry, and now we’ve moved on to French flavors. This dish tasted like being in Provence in the summer, which is one of the best places to be.

best things to do in north beach

And if you enjoyed the squab rillettes, you’ll still love it served in broth with a black rice chip. The squab was just condensed to its pure flavor essence here.

best things to do in north beach

And here we have our main course: filet with shiitake mushroom and truffles. The mushrooms and meat paired together beautifully, each element enhancing the umami flavors in the other. And nothing goes better with steak than fungi, and I include truffles in that category.

best things to do in north beach

Here you can see the beautiful Nightbird cheese course. It’s technically optional, but ordering cheese is never an option for me. It’s always obligatory! Especially since this was served with some local urban honeycomb. I had never gotten honey from a honeycomb in the restaurant before, and it was about the purest honey flavor I had ever tried.

Plus the restaurant gave me a glass of orange wine to enjoy with my cheese, and the only thing I like better than wine is free wine.

best things to do in north beach

Our first dessert course was a blackberry sorbet with honey lavender, which was a treat to try right after the honeycomb. And after all that rich food in the main tasting menu, it was soothing to start dessert with something light and cold like this.

best things to do in north beach

Many tasting menu restaurants will have one fruit dessert and one chocolate dessert, but we’re lucky because this amazing dessert is packed with both chocolate and strawberries. Plus it looks like a whole chocolate strawberry forest.

Or perhaps a bird with vanilla ice cream for a beak and chocolate strawberry wings. It’s as much a Rorschach test as it is a dessert. And it’s the perfect way to end our day of the best things to do in North Beach.

best things to do in north beach

Best Things to Do in North Beach

How to Get There?

By Car: This is an easy way to get to your day of the best things to do in North Beach, if you are coming from somewhere else in Northern California. However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber is widely available in San Francisco. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.

best things to do in North Beach

By Plane: Fortunately, there is an airport in San Francisco! Since I live in New York City and don’t know how to drive, I found that flying was one of the easiest ways to get to the best things to do in North Beach. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)

best things to do in North Beach

By Bus or Train: You can use Flixbus to get to San Francisco from nearby cities like Las Vegas. It’s a pretty cheap ride–if you are car-free and coming from a fairly nearby destination, this might be the way for you.

Amtrak also has a train that goes to San Francisco from Chicago, which sounds like it might be fun! Check it out if you’re up for a train adventure.

best things to do in north beach

That’s the Best Things to Do in North Beach

What do you think are the best things to do in North Beach? Have you ever eaten a Rorschach test? And would you like to see an Art Deco mural of people slaughtering cows? Email me at [email protected] and let me know.

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in SF. Once you have finished seeing all the best things to do in North Beach, there’s still so much to explore.

Recent Posts