North Beach food tour in San Francisco
I’ve been spotting this quirky and eccentric looking person hanging out at our meeting location place for the North Beach food tour in San Francisco and wondering if she is going to be our guide for the afternoon or is she just one of the colorful locals hanging out in this artsy and bohemian area that was the center of beatniks and the beat generation during the 50’s. Her name is Blandina, and yes she fits right in to that strange and cool beatnik era with her flower power dress, blonde pony tale, over the top hat and round glasses – is this a gimmick or is she the real thing I wonder? (Not a bad way to start a food tour chatting with other foodies and gossiping about her). By the way, she is the real deal – a throwback from the 50’s/60’s era. Blandina has been connected to the North Beach neighborhood and scene for decades and a real artist to boot! She herds the four of us to give us an overview of the days foodie delights.
The main artery of our tour covers Columbus street, through artsy Grant Avenue and the landmarks around Washington Square, more well-known as Little Italy in San Francisco. Blandina gives us some background of the Italians coming into this neighborhood, along with Chinese and other immigrants that are drawn to the cheap rents and central location in San Francisco. First stop along our tour is coffee institution Café Roma on Columbus which creates mixed roast blends from coffee beans sourced around the world and a café/coffee shop to enjoy a relaxed visit. Blandina shows us the huge red roaster and gives a quick overview of the bean to blending process. We each get served coffee drinks like their popular espressos, café lattes and cappuccino which is all good and the heart swirl cream top is the perfect finish which I just had to take a picture of.
Grant Avenue Funk
During its heyday with the beat generation and into the 80’s many famous artists, writers and celebrities loved to hang out all around North Beach which was a creative mecca in the city. We check out some of the few spots left of the music bars , cafes and hang out joints of popular icons including Alan Ginsberg, Bob Kaufman, Wayne Miller, George Tsongas and Jack Corso, personalities from the early 50’s to 60’s time frame. With the increase cost of real estate and gentrification of the area, many of these haunts have been converted into nice restaurants, clothing stores and galleries, any type of establishment willing to pay premium rent to attract this active tourist destination.
Passing a cool library, slash salon on Grant
No worries, Blandina offers us an animated history of the cool and divey spots during the days attracting stars to hang and shop in the area including John Waters, Santana, John Waits, John Lee Hooker even Bette Midler and Barry Manilow performing at the Boarding House night club. We check out some cool custom tailored shops, a jewelry maker and then duck into a red and green awning shop advertising the North Beach Bakery, we follow the wonderful smells of fresh bake breads in the back where the bakers work in quiet production to create those delicious sourdough, French breads, Italian biscotti, and these gigantic hand-sized coconut macaroons. Blandina serves up trays of fresh bread, biscotti and macaroons for us to sample as much as we want …. they are all so yummy.
” Did you know that this is the church that Joe Di Maggio married his first wife?” Blandina states as we enter St. Peter and Paul church – a very dark interior light up mostly by the white cararra marble and stain glass in the interior. Ominous looking confessionals and candle offerings on the side reflect heavy Catholic character along with ornate statues and almost gaudy carvings and intricate carved details that we see everywhere while touring the church. Upon exiting, we hear that Francis Ford Coppola has started up a soup kitchen and has a yearly event here, bringing out his friend Stephen Speilburg and other buddies to work the lines for their annual fund-raising event.
Afterwards, we walk around Washington square and down Columbus street, entering a shop specializing in artisanal balsamic vinegars and local food products (lots of food to sample again), then we visit a fudge/chocolate shop and afterwards pop into iconic pastry shop, Stella pastry to check some of the enticing Italian baked pastries on display. Following these sampling tours, we get to try some fresh pasta penne pasta in a fresh and light marinara sauce at Pinocchio Pasta, a devine and almost heavenly inspired few bites. Finally we finish with anti pasta and flat bread pizza at Cinecitta and capped off with over the top creamy cannolis – oh its sooo good!
Who wants fresh cannoli from Stella’s pastry?
It was a fun three-hour tour and Blandina shared so many fascinating stories and humorous stories about the people, foods and stars hanging out in the neighborhood. Taking this tour really brings out to life the North beach district more so than just a casual walk through the area and not knowing the back stories to each attraction.
Molinari deli – a North Beach institution
A colorful interior at Café Sport, Little Italy
Hope you enjoyed reading about the North Beach food tour in San Francisco, please do share this post with any of the social media buttons located on the post and thank you for reading it. To find out more about this tour and others offered with Local Tastes of the city tours, check out their official website here. My friend Cassie and I took this tour together, you can check out her review her.
For more pictures of the North Beach area, come and check out my Flickr website here. If you enjoyed the tour, please do share it with the social media buttons around the post, thank you.
Thank you Local Taste of the City for hosting me, all opinions and thoughts are my own and I thoroughly enjoyed this tour and highly recommend it.