Looking for the perfect tour for a little history and a LOT of food in San Francisco? Found at Local Tastes of the City Tour through Little Italy for an overload of Italian dishes and tasty treats with a North Beach local to give you an authentic experience.
San Francisco’s – North Beach / Little Italy Food Tour
Local Tastes of the City Tour
Arriving in San Francisco, we hit the ground running to fill our stomachs with the tastes of Italian food in North Beach.
The area was actually a beach back in the late 1800’s. As the the population and the shipping industry grew in San Francisco, the beach was filled in by landfill. Docks and warehouses were built to support the industry and you still find some rustic sailor bars in the area. Much of the area dates back before the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires thanks to residents jumping into action to save their homes and neighborhood.
Post the 1906 earthquake, there was a large influx of Italian immigrants in this neighborhood which has defined the character of the neighborhood and specifically the restaurants still here today.
Famous residents of this area were Joe DiMaggio, many Beatnik generation writers including as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, & Neal Cassady, and Paul Kanter of 1980’s rock band Jefferson Starship. North Beach has layers of Italian history, beatnik hipness, with bookstores, bar, clubs and good eats everywhere. How often to you see a Haberdashery (a very fun word to say) or a wood-paneled Fiat?
Now back to the FOOD. My mouth is watering remembering each of these delicious dishes on our walking food tour with North Beach / Little Italy Walking Tour.
Why I loved this food tour? Tom, our guide, has a passion and love of his neighborhood that emanated in all the stories he told about North Beach and the history behind each of the restaurants we visited. Guided to these locations, we were treated like locals. A unique experience to visit these places & interact with the locals with a special serving of food, history and culture.
“Be in love with your life – every minute of it.“ – Jack Kerouac
At Caffe Roma, we were treated to our choice of coffee (cappuccino for me) and our guide, Tom, showed us the old coffee grinder explaining the coffee blending and grinding process. The Azzolini family has been perfecting their coffee expertise for three generations immigrating to San Francisco thirty years ago from Italy.
I just love the smell of coffee walking into coffee shops. Tony, the owner, had just roasted a new batch of coffee beans, so the shop had a wonderfully awakening smell in the best way.
After we finished our coffee, we went on our way with a bag of fresh roasted beans. This bag of beans has singularly ruined by coffee game as now grocery store coffee beans won’t suffice. My bag lasted the 5 days, the recommended amount of time that beans maintain their freshness as detailed by Caffe Roma, and the coffee was on another level. Now… I want the fresh roasted beans.
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
No cigars here! This corner store used to be a cigar bar, but now it is a quaint cafe with people-watching views of Washington Park.
The specialty here is the oven-baked focaccia sandwiches, which are to die for. The bread is locally sourced from Liguria Bakery who uses the same recipe dating back to its opening in 1911 faithfully recreated by the grandson of the founder. The bread is so good, the bakery usually sells out in the morning.
And this is why you go to Mario’s in the afternoon as they still have a supply of that foccacia bread for the grilled chicken sandwiches with dijon mustard, pepper jack cheese, & onions. The sandwiches are made and toasted in the oven to perfection. We also tasted a breaded eggplant sandwich with swiss cheese, red bell pepper, marinara and also a caprese salad with the freshest mozzarella I have tasted in the USA.
Victoria Pastry Company
Coffee, food, and now dessert. We walked across Washington Park to the Victoria Pastry Company. Tom called as we were walking and the pastry shop only then filled our cannoli’s for maximum freshness. The cannoli’s were perfection with a crisp shell and the sweet filling.
Victoria Pastry has been in business since 1914 and is another North Beach landmark and also one of San Francisco’s oldest bakeries. We also tried some cross-buns which were a fruit bread made only at this time of year as a pre-Easter dessert.
Saints Peter and Paul Church
For a little digestive break, we stopped at Saints Peter and Paul Church also bordering Washington Square Park. The church was consecrated in 1924 and was originally a parish for Italian Fisherman. The church has Italian touches inside and out to make you feel like you are in Italy. Look for the inscription from Dante’s “Paradiso” on the facade: “The glory of Him who moves all things penetrates and glows throughout the universe.
Today, the church reflects the diverse community in North Beach and mass is said in many languages. It retains its historical traditions as there is still a procession from the church to Fisherman’s Wharf every October to bless the fleet.
Around town, you may see this church also in photos. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were famously photographed here on the front steps after their City Hall wedding.
Next up… more dessert. We stopped in at Z. Cioccolato which was just finishing up its remodel. But they still had all the sweets to sample including over-sized barrels of taffy of every flavor and 37 different varieties of award-winning fudge.
My favorite Cougar Fudge – This famous 5 layer fudge has Milk Chocolate, Caramel Cream (Dolce) & Caffé Latte fudge, Caramel, and Peanut Butter. DONE!
Acquolina is an Italian word that translates to “mouth watering” and is a perfect description of this restaurant. The restaurant location is new but the recipes and feel of the restaurant is old Italian. The owner Dario is from Livorno Italy and recruited an Italian chef to make the authentic dishes. We tried the Bruschetta al Pomodora which was…. “mouth-watering”. Fresh tomatoes and the right amount of garlic.
The restaurant also has a wonderful feel to it as it is located in an old pharmacy building. The tile floor is original and check out the safe in the bathroom. In the evenings after the sun goes down, they pull down a large screen over the bar and play old movies on it. Romantico!
Opened in the 1890’s, U.S. Restaurant has a long history in North Beach. U.S. does not actually stand for United States but instead for Unione Sportiva as the restaurant hosted the city’s Italian American athletic clubs in the early 1900’s.
This is not the original location, but they have preserved the name and dishes for another fantastic Italian meal in a beautiful setting. I could not get enough of that beautiful painted ceiling. We tried the meatballs which had the perfect amount of spices and sauce along with Panelle (garbanzo bean fritters).
Are you full yet? We were but just kept on eating when we arrived a Molinari. This deli dates back over 100 years also and is run by the 4th generation of Molinaris.
Walk around to find every variation of pastas, canned goods, wine, olive oil and any other Italian specialty food. Then take a number to get your spot in line to buy the salami, handmade by the Molinari’s and some of the best I have had. If I lived here I would be in daily, but they also ship… I am in trouble!
Our last stop was Viva. This restaurant also has that great Italian feel with murals and dried herbs hanging from the ceiling. Their specialty – Pizza.
A large margherita pizza was served to our group and even though we all thought we were stuffed, we immediately found room upon seeing the bubbly cheese and thick crust.
… And that ends the 3 hour “food extravaganza” tour.
Grazie Mille North Beach and Tom at Little Italy Walking Food Tour for your hospitality. What a treat to find a historical and close-knit neighborhood in one of America’s largest cities.
BlueSkyTraveler was welcomed as a guest of Visit California, however all opinions are my own.
- Website: North Beach / Little Italy Walking Food Tour Book directly on site or phone (+1-888 358-8687)
- Cost: $59 – All food and drink included. Trust me – you will not walk away hungry!!)
- Walk-ability: This is an easy 7-8 block walk through North Beach which is relatively flat. Easy for all!
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