San Francisco: North Beach and Chinatown

We had planned from the beginning to explore San Francisco’s Chinatown and had saved it for our last afternoon. During the day, I found a cool instagram of someone who lived in SF. She posted about North Beach, which is SF’s Little Italy. Her description of it made it sound like such a great part of the city, and I was bummed that we wouldn’t have time to go to it.

We both wanted to go to City Lights Bookstore, which is known as the home of the Beat Generation. We knew that was near the top of Chinatown so we figured we’d start there and work our way down through Chinatown. On our Lyft ride there, we found out that City Lights Bookstore is actually in North Beach. I was so excited that we were able to explore it, even just a little bit. We walked around City Lights for a while - my favorite was the tiny poetry room on the top floor, which is still used for events each week. After, we went out on the streets of North Beach to try to find some good coffee.

There were Italian bakeries and cafes on literally every corner so I let Nick choose. He chose one called Cavalli Cafe. We had the best cappuccinos and cookies as we planned our walking tour of Chinatown. We were tempted to bring back the espresso that they used, but we were worried about how it would travel. I regret that we didn’t!

We went to Washington Square, a park located right in front of St. Peter and Paul church. The trash cans were literally overflowing with pizza boxes. I guess everyone gets a pizza to go at one of the many pizzerias in the neighborhood and picnics in the park. From the park, you also get a view of Coit Tower. This tower is dedicated to all of the firemen who died in San Francisco’s major fires throughout the years. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Coit Tower close up!

We took a walking tour through Chinatown. I had found it online and it seemed to be a hidden self-guided tour. I was so excited to show Nick the ins and outs of Chinatown, and I played it up that I was his tour guide. One of the first stops was Chinatown’s fortune cookie factory. When we turned the corner to get to the front door, we were shocked by the line of tourists. My first thought was How could they know about this secret spot? And then I realized they probably found the same walking tour that I did, since it was on the internet for all to see. We ended up not going in because of the line. It did smell fantastic as the fortune cookies were being baked right inside! The Tin How Temple and St. Mary’s Church were both closed, maybe because it was late in the afternoon on a Sunday. I was a little bummed that I hadn’t planned better, but it was still fun to walk through all the different streets of Chinatown. We loved all the details on the light posts, the displays in all of the crystal stores, and the fruit stands lining the streets.

Our time in North Beach and Chinatown made us appreciate the history and culture of SF so much more. I love learning about every city we visit, and I felt like we only scratched the surface.