San Francisco/Chinatown-North Beach

Travel Guide North America USA Western United States California San Francisco San Francisco/Chinatown-North Beach

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Introduction

Chinatown-North Beach in San Francisco combines two adjoining neighbors, both of which are among the city's most popular immigrant neighborhoods. Culturally and aesthetically, they could not be more different yet their streets mesh seamlessly together. Chinatown is the oldest and largest Chinese community outside of Asia. More than just a tourist destination, it is a functioning, living, and breathing Chinese community that can offer intriguing cultural experiences even to the most jaded old China hand. Its tiny and crowded streets bustle with activity and energy. North Beach, on the other hand, is much more laid back. This "Little Italy," with its cafes and alfresco dining, has a real European charm and flavor reminiscent of the romance of Europe and Italy. The area runs from roughly Bay Street to the north, Powell Street south of Filbert Street and Columbus Avenue north of Filbert on the west, the Embarcadero on the east, and Washington Street on the south with an extension to Bush Street between Kearny and Powell Streets to encompass the rest of Chinatown.

Chinatown

With pagoda-tiled roofs, Cantonese conversations, busy live-produce markets, mahjong players, and little old Chinese ladies confidently spitting on the pavement — Chinatown is a unique part of San Francisco. Established in 1850, in the area around Portsmouth Plaza, San Francisco's Chinatown is reputed to be the oldest and one of the largest and most famous of all Chinatowns outside of Asia. Many of the Chinese who settled here were merchants or immigrant workers, working on either the transcontinental railroad or as mine workers during the Gold Rush. Today, it is home for more than 100,000 Chinese and Chinese-Americans, many of whom are low-income, elderly, and foreign born, living in dense tenements. It is also a cultural link for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Chinatown holds a prominent position in the history of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the United States, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the present day. The residual "bachelor" society one finds in San Francisco's Chinatown today cannot be understood without some knowledge of these hostile decades. The tourist section of Chinatown is mainly along Grant Avenue, from Bush to Broadway. Grant Avenue was made famous by Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song. The Chinatown market area is mainly along Stockton Street, one block above (west of) Grant Avenue, and the east-west streets crossing Stockton. Other San Francisco concentrations of Chinese shops and restaurants are located in the Inner Richmond District, mainly along Clement Street, and the Outer Sunset District, mainly along Irving Street.

North Beach

Forming part of the old Barbary Coast (an extinct neighborhood infamous for its crime, prostitution, and general unruliness), and popular with both locals and tourists alike, North Beach remains one of the most popular and beloved neighborhoods in San Francisco. Nestled between Chinatown to the south and Fisherman's Wharf to the north, North Beach is the Italian part of town and is known by the moniker "Little Italy." Telegraph poles, painted in the colors of the Italian flag (green, white, and red), delineate the boundaries between these two neighbors. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and is rich in both history and culture. The neighborhood derived its name as the bay shoreline originally reached as far as Taylor and Francisco streets, and the area was indeed a real beach until the city subsequently filled it in. The portion of Grant Avenue that runs straight through North Beach is the oldest street in San Francisco. Authentic old-world Italian cafes, restaurants, delicatessens and bakeries line the steep streets. North Beach was also the West Coast's capital for the Beatnik movement in the 1950s — you can still see many of the places where Jack Kerouac and the "Dharma Bums" hung out and wrote their dark poetry. Other literati celebrities that hung out there were; Alan Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy (Dean Moriarity in Kerouac's On The Road), and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Alan Ginsberg wrote his most famous poem 'Howl' while living at 1010 Montgomery Street. Today, the neighborhood is also very well known for its happening nightlife scene. Nightclubs and bars abound — particularly at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Grant Avenue. At its base, Broadway is a mini red-light district, made famous in the 1960s by Carol Doda with her "twin 44s." The area is still full of adult bookstores and strip clubs; despite this, strangely, like everything in San Francisco, it retains a certain charm. Washington Square (another old Beat hangout), in front of the Saints Peter and Paul Church, is a very popular hangout with locals, and a great place to relax. North Beach has also some famous residents past and present, like baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and movie director Francis Ford Coppola.

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Sights and Activities

  • Stockton Street Produce Markets, Stockton St (runs parallel to Grant Ave, one block west — between Sacramento St and Vallejo St). The fruit, vegetable, and live produce markets on Stockton Street are a must for any adventurous traveler. The greatest concentration of Chinese shops and Chinese shoppers can be found in the three blocks from Washington to Broadway. They are notoriously busy, and not for the faint of heart as locals deftly paw over each and every piece of fruit... you have to be quick! Tangerines are important during Chinese New Years. You may need a gut check as well in the live produce markets — there are all kinds of live fauna flapping about from frogs and turtles to chickens and ducks. The best time to explore Stockton Street is on weekdays; weekends are even more crowded, when Chinese families that have moved up to the suburbs return for shopping on Stockton Street. To avoid the crowds, explore the area in the morning or late afternoon. Many of the shops close around 6PM, but the eateries will remain open into the evening hours.
  • Chinatown Alleys. Though Grant Avenue has a lot to offer, it is quite touristy; thus, it is essential that you examine the more authentic areas in the alleys, such as Waverly Place, Pagoda Place, Spofford Lane, and Ross Alley, between Grant and Stockton. Ross Alley is the oldest alley in the city and many movies have had scenes shot here including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. These alleys have got a real old-world feel and you will hear Cantonese conversations and the clicking sound of mahjong tiles being shuffled.
  • Telegraph Hill. Telegraph Hill earned its name in the days of the Gold Rush when it was used as a signaling post to relay messages about incoming ships to the bay. Coit Tower was erected at its peak in 1933 and rewards a weary traveler with some wonderful views over the city. Over time a quiet residential neighborhood built up along the hillside, and their magnificent flowing gardens have always been something to admire on your way up or down. Other neighbors include a colony of colorful feral parrots, predominantly red-masked parakeets, which grew up as descendants of escaped domesticated pets. One can drive to the top, but it's better to take one of the narrow steps leading up and down the sides of the hill (including the Greenwich and Filbert Steps), as they offer better views over the Bay.
  • Filbert Steps. The Filbert Steps are the part of Filbert Street that runs between Battery Street and Telegraph Hill Boulevard in North Beach. The steps end next to Coit Tower, and offer a scenic — though somewhat strenuous — route for visitors of the tower. In fact, following the steps is at times faster than driving to Coit Tower due to the high demand for relatively few parking spots near the site. Visitors of the steps will see public gardens, stylish homes and views of North Beach and the bay; if a path is not gated or specifically signed with "No Trespassing," then it is most likely public. Also, it pays to be adventurous: some of the best gardens and views are off the stairs. Finally, there is more than one way up and down; if you make a round trip you should find a new route for the return leg. Just avoid private property.

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Events and Festivals

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve - The US celebrates the outgoing of the old year and incoming of the New Year quite dramatically. Every state boasts its own parties to ring in the New Year, but none is more extravagant than New York’s Time Square, which sees people overflowing into the neighboring restaurants, bars, parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15. The holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.
  • St Patrick’s Day - March 17 celebrates the US’s large Irish population. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green. Be wary of the drunkenness that dominates as this is definitely a party-day.
  • Memorial Day - Memorial Day is an important holiday throughout the United States, but not for crazy festivities. Parades commemorating wartime heroes are often held and the day is also the ‘unofficial’ start of summer. Most visitors follow the crowds to parks and beaches, which are capped off with informal BBQs.
  • Independence Day - Also known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century. Barbecues, street parties, beach trips, and weekend getaways are commonplace to appreciate freedom.
  • Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor.
  • Halloween - Halloween is a fun holiday on October 31 for all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth. Children walk around the neighborhood trick-or-treating for candy, while adults attend parties. Other seasonal events include haunted houses, pumpkin farms and carving, and corn mazes.
  • Thanksgiving - On the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving is held in almost every home in the US. Tourists will have a hard time finding anything to do as the country essentially shuts down in observation. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie commemorating the original Pilgrim’s feast at Plymouth Rock.
  • Christmas - On December 25, Christians celebrate Christmas as the pinnacle of their calendar by attending church and opening gifts from Santa Claus. Almost everything shuts down to promote family togetherness. The northern regions hope to experience a “white Christmas,” with trees and festive lights blanketed by snow.

Sport

  • Super Bowl Sunday - the world’s most watched sporting event and one of the highest grossing TV days of the year, Superbowl Sunday is a spectacular extravaganza. Held the first Sunday in February, the Superbowl is the final playoff game between the NFL’s top two teams. The venue rotates every year around America, yet the local parties seem to remain. Pubs, bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy the Superbowl or locals throw their own parties with different variations of betting.
  • The World Series is the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in North America, contested since 1903 between the American League (AL) champion team and the National League (NL) champion team. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner's Trophy. As the series is played during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the Fall Classic.

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Getting There

By Cable Car

Each of the three Cable Car lines pass through Chinatown. If you exit BART or the MUNI Metro at the Powell St. Station you can catch the Powell-Mason or the Powell-Hyde cable car line at Powell and Market. Both routes will take you into Chinatown, but the Powell-Mason line is a better bet for getting to North Beach as the Powell-Hyde line turns west at Jackson and proceeds into Russian Hill. To reach Chinatown's famous Grant Avenue via the cable car, exit BART or the MUNI Metro at the Embarcadero Station and catch the California cable car line at California and Market.

By Car

Driving into the area is not recommended, but if you must, the closest parking garage to Chinatown is underneath Portsmouth Plaza, on Kearny Street (which is a one-way street north) between Clay and Washington. Other Chinatown garages are the Golden Gateway at 250 Clay Street, North Beach at 755 Vallejo Street, and St. Mary's Square at 433 Kearny Street. All garages are open 24 hours a day, except for Golden Gateway. There are also a few small parking garages scattered throughout North Beach, including Imperial Parking at 425 Broadway Street. Driving to the base of Coit Tower is definitely not recommended, as there is a very limited amount of parking at the top of the hill.

By Bus

Of course, if you'd rather avoid the long lines and crowded trip that a cable car ride entails, there are several good MUNI bus lines that serve the area. To get to Chinatown from the BART/MUNI Metro, exit at the Montgomery Street Station, walk one block up Post Street, and catch the 30-Stockton or 45-Union bus line on Kearny near Post. The 30 or 45 bus will turn left onto Sutter and then right onto Stockton; after passing through the Stockton Tunnel, the bus will stop twice in Chinatown, on Stockton near Clay and on Stockton near Pacific. To get to North Beach from Market Street, the 10-Townsend, 12-Folsom/Pacific, 30, or 45 lines will do nicely. From the east, the 1-California line passes through Chinatown. The 39-Coit goes from Fisherman's Wharf up to the Coit Tower, but can be obstructed by traffic that clogs the parking lot there, but there are plans to change this.

By Foot

Chinatown is also an easy walk from Union Square (walk north on Stockton through the tunnel or north on Grant through the Chinatown Gate at Grant and Bush). Similarly, North Beach can be easily accessed by walking northbound from Market Street, straight through the Financial District. Both neighborhoods can also be easily reached from Market Street by simply walking northbound on Grant Avenue. To get to the area from Fisherman's Wharf, walk southbound straight down Columbus Avenue.

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Getting Around

There can be little doubt that once you have arrived in the Chinatown-North Beach area, by far the best way to get around is on foot. Due to the busy and cluttered nature of both neighborhoods, and also because of the lack of parking options, driving around is certainly not recommended — especially in Chinatown. Buses can also be a help, particularly when you are going in a north-south direction (or vice versa). Pedicabs also operate a route along the Embarcadero and through Chinatown and then North Beach. Stop one of them if they're empty and negotiate a price. For a bit extra many of them do walking tours of Chinatown.

There are many more parks, public seating, and cafes with curbside tables in North Beach, so why not see Chinatown first. That way, by the time you'd made it through its bustling streets you'll be ready for a coffee and a sit down in North Beach.

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Eat

The area is a veritable smörgåsbord of dining opportunities, enough for even the most discerning palette. Chinatown is famous for its cheap eats (like Dim Sum) and "family style" eating in restaurants. You can fill up for as little as $3, but there are more expensive full service restaurants here as well. North Beach is generally pricier and the focus is mainly on Italian favorites like pizza, pasta, and risotto accompanied by a nice bottle of wine. With many of its restaurants situated directly on Columbus Avenue, it's a great place for alfresco style dining. There are however more affordable options in North Beach, including several great cafes, delis, and American diner style restaurants, where you can get a good quality meal at a more reasonable price.

The localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to — it is common to hear complaints from Chinese visitors that Chinese food here is not like the food back home. There are several main types of Chinese restaurants in San Francisco: those primarily serving immigrants from Hong Kong ("Hong Kong style") which commonly have signs on the wall in Chinese characters, live fish and shellfish tanks and some exotic main ingredients, such as pig's blood or sea cucumber; those primarily serving San Franciscans who are not Asian immigrants ("California Chinese") which commonly have Westernized table service, low fat content and more emphasis on fresh vegetables; those primarily serving tourists or other people accustomed to Chinese food as it is commonly served in the United States ("Americanized Chinese"); and those primarily serving immigrants from other areas or a particular dietary need or interest (regional cuisines, vegetarian, Muslim). There may be some mixing between these various classifications and each category may influence the others, for instance, the Americanized dish known as Chop Suey is often not served even at Americanized Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, while Chinese vegetables such as bok choy and pea sprouts may turn up on your plate at California Cuisine style restaurants.

The cheapest meal you can have on the go is to partake of the numerous take-out places along Stockton Street in Chinatown. The most dense parts of the Stockton Street Market stretch from Washington Street north to Broadway Street, filled with BBQ shops, dim sum shops, and other stores. Consider the Stockton Street Market as a progressive meal. Be patient, it is very crowded during the lunch hour. If you don't like crowds, try some of the restaurants off Stockton Street.

Although the many restaurants in Chinatown advertise themselves as Hong Kong or Guangzhou style, their offerings are by chefs from provincial towns in Guangdong, the quality of which is generally considered by Hong Kong or Guangzhou diners to be subpar to authentic Hong Kong or Guangzhou food.

Dol Ho (多好茶室), 808 Pacific Ave (up from Stockton St), ☏ +1-415-392-2828. Th-Tu 7AM-5PM. For excellent dim sum at a price that's a bargain compared to the touristy joints on Grant, this is a great place to eat. Most, if not all, of the clientele are Chinese, and this is a good thing. $1.75-6.
Bow Hon (寶漢), 850 Grant Ave (between Clay St and Washington St), ☏ +1-415-362-0601. 11AM-10:30PM daily. This small restaurant serves traditional clay pot dishes. Cash only. $3.95-10.
Chung King Restaurant, 606 Jackson St (down near Kearney), ☏ +1-415-986-3899. 11:30AM-3PM, 5PM-9:30PM daily. Inexpensive but good Chinese food served in a comfortable setting for Chinatown. Not too many small tables; ample large tables for family and friends. $5-10.
4 Hong Kong Clay Pot Restaurant, 960 Grant Ave (between Jackson St and Washington St), ☏ +1-415-989-2638. Th-Tu 11:30AM-3PM, 5:30PM-9PM, W closed. Formerly "Hong Kong Dim Sum," this restaurant serves great dim sum and traditional noodle dishes and is frequented by Chinatown locals. $5-8.
Vietnam Restaurant, 620 Broadway St (near Grant and Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-788-7034. 9AM-3AM daily. Situated right next-door to Sam's (and another Vietnamese restaurant), this is a healthier late night option to the burger and fries. The place is tiny (the open grill is right behind the cash-register), the decor dated, and the three Vietnamese ladies who run it are about as friendly as a poke in the eye, but the food is excellent, fresh, well seasoned, and very cheap. The crab soup is a favorite as is the inimitable $3.50 pork sandwich. $3.50-10.
Sam's Pizza, 618 Broadway St (near Grant and Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-391-1539. M-F 5PM-9PM. If you like greasy but very tasty fast food then you've come to the right place. Sam's is a small dingy late night diner; the sign says pizza, but they do a mean burger and fries. It's very popular with locals from the busy Broadway area. $5-10.
Taqueria Zorro, 308 Columbus Ave (near Broadway St and Grant Ave), ☏ +1-415-392-9677, fax: +1-415-392-1299, ✉ contactus@taqueriazorro.com. 10AM-10PM daily. Excellent little budget taqueria with good quality food at a very reasonable price. It's clean, the portions are generous and the service is excellent. They can sometimes put together a large burrito in less than a minute from time of order to time of eating. Juke box and large screen TV in the back. $6-10.
Buster's, 366 Columbus Ave (corner of Columbus Ave and Vallejo St), ☏ +1-415-392-2800. Su-Th 11AM-midnight, F-Sa 11AM-2AM. Another classic late-night spot for the inebriated and starving. The sign outside says that they have the best Philly-cheese steaks in the city... almost certainly not true, but with its fresh ingredients, it's pretty good nonetheless. They also do a very good burger at a reasonable price. Friendly staff and open late to cater to the party crowd. $5-10.
9 Pat's Cafe, 2330 Taylor St (at Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-776-8735. Breakfast and Lunch: 7:30AM-3PM daily, Dinner: Th-M 5:30PM-9PM. Charming little cafe serving traditional American fare, with friendly staff and very reasonable prices. $5-10.
Cafe Zoetrope, 916 Kearny St (at Columbus), ☏ +1-415-291-1700. M-F 11AM-10PM, Sa noon-10PM, Su noon-9PM. Owned by the film director Francis Ford Coppola, Zoetrope is an elegant Italian restaurant located in a historic landmark, the Sentinel Building, in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid.
Caffè Puccini, 411 Columbus Ave (at Vallejo St), ☏ +1-415-989-7033. 6AM-midnight daily. Puccini serves a mean cappuccino and a delicious homemade lasagna. The walls are adorned with opera posters, and the sounds of Verdi and spoken Italian are in the air. Excellent tiramisù, the Italian layered custard and chocolate dessert. $9-15.
Calzone's Pizza Cucina, 430 Columbus Ave (between Green St and Valejo St), ☏ +1-415-397-3600. 11AM-1AM daily. You can't miss this restaurant — it's the one with the large awning and all the curbside tables that overlook Columbus Street. They make great fresh mojitos here and the pizza is pretty good too. $13-20.
House of Nanking, 919 Kearny St (Cross Street — Jackson St), ☏ +1-415-421-1429. M-Sa 11AM-10PM, Su noon-9:30PM. The most famous Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and justifiably so. Let the waiter order for you. The Moo Shu Pork is sublime. $6-12.
L'Osteria del Forno, 519 Columbus Ave (at Green St), ☏ +1-415-982-1124. Su, M, W, Th 11:30AM-10PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-10:30PM. No reservations. A charming, crowded, locally known date restaurant, L'Osteria has a line out the door after 5PM, so arrive early. The small semi-surly staff cooks up wonderful, affordably-priced dishes in the kitchen's one oven, so things can take a little while... specials on the menu: the roast pork, baked penne, and salmon carpaccio are favorites. Excellent Italian wine selection by the glass and bottle. Cannot seat more than 4 in a party. Entrees $10-18.
Michelangelo Cafe, 579 Columbus Ave (between Green St and Union St), ☏ +1-415-986-4058. M-Th 5PM-11PM, F-Sa noon-11PM, Su noon-10PM. Small, cozy and ornately decorated Italian restaurant in the heart of North Beach. Great service! Entrees $15-25.
Mo's Gourmet Hamburgers, 1322 Grant Ave (between Vallejo St and Green St), ☏ +1-415-788-3779. Su-Th 9AM-10:30PM, F-Sa 9AM-11:30PM. American style diner that definitely has one of the best burgers in San Francisco. Mo's has a unique rotary-style grill in the front window to lure unsuspecting hungry people in. When you leave though, you will not be hungry — Mo's burgers are HUGE, and are best complimented with a frosted cold glass of beer! Burgers, fries and a coke around $12.
Mama's, 1701 Stockton St (On Washington Sq), ☏ +1-415-362-6421. Tu-Su 8AM-3PM. Unbelievably popular place with locals, you only need to see how long the lines are outside at breakfast to understand the popularity of Mama's — it has become a North Beach institution. In 2007, it won Zagat's "Best Breakfast in San Francisco." Breakfast and lunch go for about $9-11.
North Beach Pizza, 1462 Grant Ave (at Union St), ☏ +1-415-433-2444. 9AM-1AM daily. One of the best pizzas in the city, and right in the heart of North Beach. $8-25.
Old Ship Saloon, 298 Pacific Ave (at Battery St), ☏ +1-415-788-2222. M-F 11:30AM-3PM, 4:30PM-midnight; closed Sa & Su. Great sandwiches in the reincarnation of an old saloon built atop the buried remains of a merchant ship that was blown ashore by a storm in 1849. $9-14.
Yuet Lee, 1300 Stockton St (at Broadway St), ☏ +1-415-982-6020. W-M 11AM-3AM. No-nonsense Chinese restaurant with an eclectic but authentic menu, with offerings like stir-fried Watercress and Fresh Frog Rice Soup. $8-25.
Fog City Diner, 1300 Battery St (at the Embarcadero), ☏ +1-415-982-2000, fax: +1-415-982-3711. M-Th 11:30AM-10PM, F 11:30AM-11PM, Sa 10:30AM-11PM, Su 10:30AM-10PM. Looking like a long shiny aluminum trailer from the outside, the famous Fog City Diner (it's the one from the old Visa ad) serves high-end all-American food. As it's so close to Fisherman's Wharf but still somewhat removed from the chaotic scene there, it is popular with both tourists and locals. $10-20.
Great Eastern, 649 Jackson St (at Kearny St), ☏ +1-415-986-2500. 10AM-2:45PM, 3:30PM-1AM daily. This Chinese restaurant has a HUGE menu that focuses primarily on the fruits of the sea like Dungeness crab, oysters and giant prawns. They are also known for doing a pretty good duck. $12-258.
R & G Lounge, 631 Kearny St (at Commercial St), ☏ +1-415-982-7877, ✉ info@rnlounge.com. 11:30AM-9:30PM daily. An authentic upscale Cantonese Restaurant and Lounge. All types of seafood including Salt and Pepper Crab. Entrees $10-35.
The House, 1230 Grant Ave (at Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-986-8612. M-Th 11AM-3PM, 5:30PM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-3PM, 5:30PM-11PM, Su 5PM-10PM. Reservations recommended. The home of Asian fusion cuisine. The dining space is tiny, but the possible ensuing wait is worth it. Don't miss the scallop-topped Caesar salad or the often-imitated seared Ahi tuna. $17-30.
Caffe Sport, 574 Green St (off Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-981-1251. Tu-Sa noon-2PM, 5PM-10:30PM. Italian food meets hippie bus. Plates of pasta served family style. Some very nice seafood pastas. They may bring what you order, or perhaps what the chef thinks would go together better. They have house wine, served in water tumblers. Small, a little noisy, and a lot of fun. Opens special hours for World Cup faithful. Cash only. Entrees $15-24.
The Stinking Rose, 325 Columbus Ave (between Vallejo St and Broadway), ☏ +1-415-781-7673, ✉ sfcomments@thestinkingrose.com. Su-Th 11:30AM-10PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-11PM. This is the place if you love garlic, and only if you really love garlic. The original in what has become a chain of garlic restaurants offering sumptuous, contemporary California-Italian cuisine prepared and adorned with garlic. Motto: "We Season Our Garlic With Food!" Be warned, people might be reluctant to be near you the next day. Entrees $19-30.
North Beach Restaurant, 1512 Stockton St (at Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-392-1700, fax: +1-415-392-1587, ✉ NorthBeachRestaurant@yahoo.com. 11:30AM-11:45PM daily. Fine dining from the Tuscany region of Italy. This restaurant has a lavish interior with cherry wood walls, high ceilings and Florentine tiled floors. There are four dining rooms in total and there is a cigar room and wine cellar in the basement. $30-60.
Fior D'Italia, 2237 Mason St (between Chesnut St and Francisco St), ☏ +1-415-986-1886, fax: +1-415-441-8774, ✉ fior@fior.com. 11:30AM-10:30PM daily. Set a few blocks back from the Wharf area, this is one of the nation's oldest Italian restaurants, and it has been open since 1886. A favorite among locals and visitors alike, it serves authentic Northern Italian cuisine. Entrees from $16-36.

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Drink

Chinatown has less drinking establishments, but North Beach with its abundance of bars and clubs is one of the major nightlife hotspots in the San Francisco. It attracts revelers from all over the city who are looking for a good time and somewhere to party into the wee hours of the morning... so put your drinking cap on!

North Beach in particular is famous its "caffe culture." It has an excellent variety of cafes, many of which serve award winning coffee, sometimes imported all the way from Italy.

Caffe Trieste, 601 Vallejo St (Vallejo St and Grant Ave), ☏ +1-415-392-6739. Su-Th 6:30AM-11PM, F-Sa 6:30AM-midnight. Has become a North Beach landmark. Although a little bit scruffy, it has excellent coffee — certainly one of the best cups of coffee in North Beach, and it's very popular with the locals. One famous local patron was Jack Kerouac and reportedly Francis Ford Copolla wrote part of the Godfather here.
Stella Pastry & Cafe, 446 Columbus Ave (between Green St and Vallejo St), ☏ +1-415-986-2914, fax: +1-415-397-9140. M-Th 7:30AM-7PM, F-Sa 7:30AM-midnight, Su 8:30AM-7PM. Small elegant cafe/bakery that serves fresh affordable coffee with delicious treats like cannoli and tiramisù available on the side. edit
Caffe Greco, 423 Columbus Ave (between Green St and Vallejo St), ☏ +1-415-397-6261. Su-Th 7AM-11:30PM, F-Sa 7AM-midnight. Probably North Beach's most popular cafe, especially with locals. It has a real European atmosphere and imports its coffee from Italy. Curbside tables add to the ambiance.
Caffe Roma, 526 Columbus Ave (at Union St), ☏ +1-415-296-7942. M-Th 6AM-7PM, F 6AM-8PM, Sa 6AM-10PM, Su 7AM-7:30PM. Excellent coffee but a little bit pricey by comparison.
Bohemian Cigar Store, 566 Columbus Ave (at Washington Sq), ☏ +1-415-362-0536. M-Sa 10AM-midnight, Su 10AM-11PM. Excellent espresso and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere with curbside tables that overlook Washington Square. Its cappuccino is prize-winning.
Melt, 700 Columbus Ave (at Filbert St), ☏ +1-415-392-9290. Su-Th 9AM-10PM, F-Sa 9AM-midnight. Excellent bohemian corner cafe/eatery that is right on the edge of Washington Square. It has a relaxed coffee-house atmosphere and is a great place to refuel with a panini, a salad or one of their excellent cheese platters. Often features live entertainment and old movies on a big screen.
XoX Truffles, 754 Columbus Ave (between Filbert St and Greenwich St), ☏ +1-415-421-4814. M-Sa 9AM-6PM. Run by local Chef Jean-Marc Gorce, this teeny-tiny place is more of an award-winning truffle vendor than coffee shop. However, the coffee is fresh and even if you just order a small house-blend for just $1 you'll get a free truffle (worth 75 cents).
Li Po's, 916 Grant Ave (at Washington St), ☏ +1-415-982-0072. 2PM-2AM daily. This dive bar is great to pop into while in Chinatown. Although it has nothing on tap, bottled beer is available. Check out the seedy booths in the back lit by a single red bulb. Or catch a live act in the dimly-lit basement on the weekends. edit
Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge (寶寶), 1155 Grant Ave (near the intersection of Kearney St and Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-421-6730. 3PM-2AM daily. Little hole in the wall dive bar, run by the irrepressible hostess/owner Candy Mama, a 50-something woman originally from Taiwan. She's a spitfire and a complete rock star. She'll end up doing shots with you, sneaking shots into your drinks, force-feeding you endless peanuts and making adorable and incessant conversation. The crowd's an eclectic mix, which makes for great people-watching, especially when the karaoke is broken out.
Buddha Lounge, 901 Grant Ave (at Washington St), ☏ +1-415-362-1792. Noon-2AM daily. Another favorite dive bar in Chinatown, this is a cramped yet lively place that's great for people watching.
Red's Place, 672 Jackson St (at Beckett St), ☏ +1-415-956-4490. 11AM-2AM daily. It is the oldest operating bar in Chinatown. It's a quiet place, ideal for conversations.
15 Romolo, 15 Romolo Pl (at Broadway St, half block in from Columbus Ave intersection), ☏ +1-415-398-1359. 5:30PM-2AM daily. The hidden bar has a lovely dark red decor. Formerly the "Basque Hotel" this historic hotel and bar becomes quite crowded on one of the busiest blocks during a Friday and Saturday night in North Beach. It's also positioned on a steep street, with a side entrance that seems furtive and secret.
NorthStar Cafe, 1560 Powell St (at Green St), ☏ +1-415-397-0577. 1PM-2AM daily. The North Star is a standard bar that you will find almost everywhere in the U.S. It has pool tables, a bar, and as the evening goes on becomes standing room only. This is a good bar for hanging out with friends and making new ones. edit
Specs, 12 William Saroyan Pl (down a small alley off of Columbus Ave, around the corner from Tosca), ☏ +1-415-421-4112. Su-Th 4:30PM-2AM, F-Sa 5PM-2AM. Mariner's hangout and general dive bar in North Beach, this is a hidden gem.
Tosca, 242 Columbus Ave (between Broadway St and Pacific Ave), ☏ +1-415-391-1244. Tu-Su 5PM-2AM. Another landmark North Beach Cafe/Bar, Tosca is dark but atmospheric interior complete with some cool red-leather booths. The bar is named after the opera Tosca and has an intense list of operas on the jukebox. Willie Brown, former mayor, hangout. It's known for its specialty "Coffeeless Cappuccino" — steamed milk with brandy and chocolate. There are about 15 cappuccinos lined up on the bar ready to serve since they are so popular.
Vesuvio's, 255 Columbus Ave (next door to the famous City Lights Bookstore). 6AM-2AM daily. This quirky and historic bar was founded in 1948, and is famous for its association with jazz, poetry, and the Beat Generation. Neal Cassidy first made a pit stop here in the mid-1950s, and ever since it became a favorite hangout for literati celebrities, including Jack Kerouac. While you're there, why not order "The Jack Kerouac" — a healthy dose of tequila, rum, and cranberry juice. The bar is located next-door to the iconic City Lights Book store and what is now known as "Jack Kerouac Alley".
1The Saloon, 1232 Grant Ave (between Columbus Ave and Vallejo St), ☏ +1-415-989-7666. Noon-2AM daily. Old Blues/Jazz bar that has survived the raucous Barbary Coast and the 1906 earthquake. This is the oldest bar in San Francisco and it certainly looks like it too — it's grotty and rough looking inside and out, and it's extremely loud, but it can also be great fun and a must if you love the Blues. Weekends — $5 cover charge.
Savoy-Tivoli, 1434 Grant Ave (between Green St and Union St), ☏ +1-415-362-7023. Tu-F 5PM-1:30AM, Sa 3PM-1:30AM. Roomy, fun open-air bar on Grant Avenue, this bar is a favorite with tourists and locals. It has been around since 1906 and attracts an eclectic yet discerning crowd.
Columbus Cafe, 562 Green St (Columbus Ave and Green St), ☏ +1-415-274-2599. M-F 2PM-2AM, Sa-Su noon-2AM. Great bar in a huddle of bars around the intersection of Grant Avenue and Green Street. It draws a lively and predominantly young crowd. It does a two-for-one happy hour on beers and also $3 Fernets. Watch out though, it can get crowded.
Grant and Green Saloon, 1371 Grant Ave (at Grant Ave and Green St), ☏ +1-415-693-9565. M-Th 4PM-2AM, F noon-2AM, Sa-Su 10AM-2AM. Named after the intersection it resides on is this popular if slightly dingy bar. They have live bands playing every night.
Amante, 570 Green St (Columbus Ave and Green St), ☏ +1-415-362-4400, ✉ info@amante.com. 5PM-2AM daily. Trendy bar with sumptuous decor, high ceilings and lots of open spaces. It's a little bit pricier than other bars in the area and attracts a younger well dressed crowd.
Gino & Carlo Cocktail Lounge, 548 Green St (Columbus Ave and Green St), ☏ +1-415-421-0896. 6AM-2AM daily. One of a trilogy of bars that line up on Green Street, it's a classic North Beach neighborhood bar. It's colorful, has a great juke box, and attracts lots of locals looking to socialize.
Kells Irish Restaurant & Bar, 530 Jackson St (at Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-955-1916. M-Th 11:30AM-midnight, F 11:30AM-2AM, Sa 5PM-2AM. On a secluded narrow street, this is more of an upscale Irish bar and attracts twenty and young thirty-something workers from the nearby Financial District who are looking to unwind. It has another bar upstairs which tends to be quieter.
International Sports Club, 1000 Columbus St (at Columbus Ave and Chestnut St), ☏ +1-415-775-6036. Noon-2AM daily, Happy Hour: 4PM-8PM daily. Nice little bar with a well worn-in interior, moderately loud jukebox and friendly bar staff. They have cheap prices, a pool table and a couple seats by the door for the smokers. Nice mix of locals and tourists, very low key and down to earth. A very good place to make new friends and gets a good young crowd after about nine. edit
Red Jack Saloon, 131 Bay St (at Midway St), ☏ +1-415-989-0700. 11AM-2AM daily. Dive Bar, set back a few blocks from the Wharf, it's popular with Eastcoasters and Red Sox fans. Cheap drinks and a decent juke box.

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Sleep

Many of the hotel accommodations in the area are of the S.R.O (Single Room Occcupancy) variety, especially in Chinatown. These are of less interest to tourists as they usually rent them out by the month ($600-800 p.m.).

Grant Plaza Hotel, 465 Grant Ave (at Pine St), ☏ +1-415-434-3883, fax: +1-415-434-3886, ✉ info@grantplaza.com. Check-in: 2:30PM, check-out: noon. Good for 1 or 2 night stay. Rates are reasonable. Make sure you ask for one of the outside rooms that overlook Grant Avenue, the inside rooms are small, dark and dingy. Close to parking garages and walking distance to many restaurants, bars and attractions. Staff is friendly. $70-95.
The Green Tortoise Hostel, 494 Broadway St (at Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-834-1000, toll-free: +1-800-867-8647, fax: +1-415-956-4900, ✉ hostel@greentortoise.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. A favorite of backpackers world-wide, price includes free internet and wi-fi, free breakfast every morning and dinner 3 nights a week, a 24-hour sauna, pool table, common room, free beer at the Beer Olympics on Tuesday nights and free live music on Sundays. An ideal location, right between Chinatown and North Beach and a short walk from downtown. dorms from $25, private from $59.
San Remo Hotel, 2237 Mason St (near Lombard St and Columbus Ave, three blocks south of the main tourist area and near the other cable car line), ☏ +1-415-776-8688, ✉ info@sanremohotel.com. Check-in: 2PM-10PM and 11PM F-Sa, check-out: 11AM. At the other end of the spectrum is the San Remo Hotel, All rooms except a rooftop suite are under $100. It was built right after the 1906 earthquake, became apartments later, and has been nicely reconverted to a hotel. It appears to be a favorite place for European tourists. It is quiet, all non-smoking, has no room phones nor TVs, and shared baths. A nice and large Italian restaurant, Fior d`Italia, self-proclaimed "The oldest Italian restaurant in the United States," has moved into its street floor. $75-85.
Castro Hotel, 705 Vallejo St (between Emery Ln and Stockton St), ☏ +1-415-788-9709. Fancy a short stay at an S.R.O., well here's one that rents by the week. The rooms are clean, it's in the heart of North Beach, it's safe — being directly opposite the police station, and it gets good reviews. $165 per week.
SW Hotel, 615 Broadway St (near Columbus Ave), ☏ +1-415-362-2999, fax: +1-415-362-1808, ✉ swhotel@swhotel.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Named after its owner Sam Wong, this budget hotel is decorated with everything Asian. The rooms are a bit smaller than standard but it is situated in a very central location in Chinatown and the price is reasonable. $140-160.
Hotel Boheme, 444 Columbus Ave (between Vallejo St and Green St), ☏ +1-415-433-9111, fax: +1-415-362-6292, ✉ info@hotelboheme.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. Hotel Boheme is located in a popular Italian neighborhood with decorations that pay tribute to San Francisco's Beat Generation. The building may be hard to find, with only a single innocuous doorway covered by a small awning. You have to buzz at the door to enter but you get a key for this door on check in. Past the door is a steep and narrow staircase leading up to the next floor. On the second floor to the right of the landing is the hotel office. A bottle of Sherry surrounded by cordial glasses is set out for guests on the landing sideboard each night. Hotel staff are always friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about everything San Francisco. $174-194.
The Orchard Garden Hotel, 466 Bush St (between Grant Ave and Kearny St), ☏ +1-415-399-9807, fax: +1-415-393-9917. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. A stylish eco-friendly hotel, claiming to be San Francisco's "greenest" hotel, this lodging gets almost universally good reviews. $200-309.
Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, 600 Stockton St (at Pine St), ☏ +1-415-296-7465, fax: +1-415-291-0288. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. This hotel has a spacious lounge, fitness center, pool, and 4 star dining room in a Beaux-Arts building. It has 336 guestrooms, including 60 suites. $449-500.
Washington Square Inn, 1660 Stockton St (at Washington Sq), ☏ +1-415-981-4220, toll-free: +1-800-388-0220, fax: +1-415-397-7242, ✉ info@wsisf.com. Check-in: 3PM-9PM, check-out: 11AM. Modeled after boutique European hotels it offers many services including a complimentary breakfast, and evening hors d'oeuvres. Rooms are well appointed with European antiques, cable TV, private baths, and free wi-fi. Centrally located in North Beach, it has views over Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, and Washington Square Park. $179-395.

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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This is version 4. Last edited at 9:52 on Sep 18, 19 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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