Over spring break, we rented an apartment in North Beach, San Francisco. We were a few blocks up the hill from Washington Square Park (pictured below). On nice days, the park is often filled with locals hanging out, practicing tai chai or displaying their artwork. We even saw a guy flipping pizza dough! The Saints Peter and Paul Church is located at the square. This is the church where Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio had their wedding photos taken. (They weren’t permitted to wed in the church because Marilyn was divorced).
All over North Beach (and SF for that matter), you see beautiful old Victorian buildings. But you can always tell that you’re in North Beach because the telephone poles are painted in the colors of the Italian flag (red, green & white). These painted poles delineate the boundaries of North Beach.
North Beach is one of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco. I now know why … they have the best cafes, bakeries, delis, and boutiques! I want to go back and live there for a month or so!!
Here are our favorite picks of North Beach ….
North Beach Restaurants:
Best Italian Restaurant: Tony’s Pizza
Tony’s Pizza is located on Stockton Street at the corner of Washington Square Park. It was our favorite pizza joint. As you can tell by the crowds, it’s many others’ favorite, too. Be prepared to wait a while for a table. The nice thing is that they take down your cell phone and give you a call when your table is ready – great for those that like to browse in the nearby boutiques.
Tony’s offers 9 different styles of pizza — ranging from Napolean wood-fired pizza at 900 degrees to Classic American at 550 degree gas ovens to Coal Fired pizza at 1000 degrees.
We ended up getting a coal fired pizza called the New Yorker with natural casing pepperoni, sliced Italian fennel sausage, ricotta and fresh garlic and oregano. It was one of the BEST pizzas we’ve ever had. You may recall, my husband LOVES pizza. He believes it’s a food group all on it’s own — so we have tried many a pizza!
I loved how they served bread slices in tomato cans along with a tray of dipping sauces: a garlic honey sauce, olive oil and a roasted red pepper sauce. Great idea for our home pizza parties!
Best Italian Restaurant: Sotto Mare
Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood at 552 Green Street was my favorite restaurant. They have daily seafood specials that are listed on the board outside. The evening we were there, they had sand dabs – which I love! But, Sotto Mare’s claim to fame is “the best damn Cioppino.”
There is always a wait at Sotto Mare. The man that greeted us was a feisty, older gentleman. He asked us if we wanted lobster and handed us this lobster. He told us to go two doors down for a drink while we waited for a table.
My sister-in-law introduced our family to cioppino a few years ago. Since, it’s been a family favorite – so we all ordered cioppino. Sotto Mare’s Cioppino is enough for two — with crab, shrimp, mussels, calamari and clams. The broth is a thick, flavorful, tomato base … that is so delicious you want to soak every inch of it up with the crusty bread.
It’s a messy dish, but everyone gets a red and white bib and they bring you a roll of paper towels. Can’t wait to enjoy Sotto Mare’s again!
Best Coffee Shop: Caffe Greco
Caffe Greco was our favorite spot for coffee in the mornings. It’s located on Columbus Avenue and they only take cash. They serve the best cappucino and espresso! It’s the place the locals go — as so many of the customers knew each other.
We tried several other places … Cafe Roma and Cafe Trieste, which had great coffee, but our preference is Greco.
Best Pastries: Stella Pastry & Cafe
Across the street from Caffe Greco is Stella Pastry & Cafe. We bought fresh pastries most mornings to take back to the kids. They have a wonderful assortment. They also have great coffee.
Our home was located a few blocks up from Grant Avenue. Grant Avenue has many cute boutiques — offering unique items. The hours vary by store — and you often need to ring or knock, as store owners can be in the back. Here are my favorite finds on Grant …
1) Mashka Jewelry was a great find (at the corner of Grant and Green Street). Natalie and I spent quite a bit of time browsing and talking to the owner (who is the designer of the jewelry). We purchased some beautiful jewelry. It’s worth browsing the store just to see how creatively the jewelry is displayed (on old books, in glass domes, in bird cages).
2) Schein & Schein at 1435 Grant Avenue is another lovely find. They sell antique maps, prints and books. The store hours are a bit sketchy – it’s best to call and confirm hours.
3) Paparazzi at 1424 Grant had beautiful, unique clothes in the window. I never got to go in the store, as it was always closed when we walked by. It’s definitely a must on the next visit. They also have stores in Cow Hollow and Tiburon.
4) City Lights Booksellers and Publishers is located on Columbus at Broadway (not Grant Avenue, but worth a mention). City Lights is one of the few remaining large independent book stores — and has become a world-famous experience for book lovers.
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