North Beach is a lovely section of San Francisco. Not only is it considered the 'little Italy' of the city, it also was the home of the Beatnik generation. It is located midway between Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf. It is one of those areas that feel like a small community neighborhood smack in the center of a big city. It was named for a beach from the 1800s that eventually became landfill.
Italian immigration slowed after the early 1800s, but the neighborhood still retains its Italian zest.
Lots of fun SF landmarks reside in North Beach ... the 'crookedest' street (Lombard), cable cars, some of the most steep SF hill streets (on Telegraph & Russian Hill), wonderful coffee shops, restaurants and book stores ... not to mention the nightlife of Broadway's landmark strip clubs and hawkers (remember Carol Doda?!)...and the city's oldest parish church, St. Francis of Assisi (established during the gold rush).
We got off at the first BART stop (Embarcadero) and walked along the piers lining the bay towards Fisherman's Wharf, soaking in the lovely bay views and the breathtaking angles of the bay bridge from this vantage point. We hung a left at Bay and made our way using Coit Tower as our landmark guide. We were headed there to visit ... to see the Diego Rivera and other murals, take the rickety elevator to the top and relish the circular views of the city from the top of the tower. It was built in 1933 to help 'beautify' the city.
From there, stroll back towards Columbus Avenue and her amazing city views including the Transamerica Pyramid building. Columbus is lined with shops, restaurants and tiny garden pockets which make the walk very enjoyable.
Lunch was at L'Osteria ... a tiny yet delicious restaurant with a decidedly European feel. It is so small, you wait at the half door to be seated by the servier. If you can, score a window table like us, more private and you can people watch to your heart's content.
L'Osteria del Forno has more than its share of rave reviews for deliciously authentic Italian cuisine. I would add my endorsement to the list.
They are known for making many of their dishes in the oven. An octopus carpaccio as a starter (small squid sliced paper thin and grilled ... drizzled with a fruity olive oil)...their famous pork braised in milk and served with roasted rosemary potatoes (it appears to be accompanied with some sort of polenta or such, but no that is just a reflection of the milk which forms some sort of a custardy-type sauce) and a plate of light as air gnocchi was shared as the main course. Helpful guidance in selecting a very nice bottle of their red ... desserts were affogatto (fresh vanilla bean ice cream served with a shot of espress and dollop of real whipped cream) and a berry something or other (not my gig, can you tell?!). Their focaccia is warm and delicious (we had to wait for our refill to finish baking, it is just that fresh).
We were well tended and never rushed ... we arrived to a nearly empty restaurant that was packed 30 minutes later and still were allowed to loiter to our heart's content.
More strolling was required after the gastronomic indulgences ... just continue on to the nearby architect/designer blocks to window shop as you make your way back to the Embarcadero.
The city seemed nearly deserted! Walking through the financial district and reflecting on my years there, the only conclusion I could reach is that the financial crisis and resulting layoffs/unemployment have removed scores of folks from the city blocks? anyone who has another theory, please share.
In any event, this made a lovely half-day itinerary with San Francisco...maybe best for those who have just arrived and don't want too push their jet lag too much...but don't want to sit around waiting to feel normal again!