In “5 Things,” I’ll ask some of my favorite bloggers in cities all over the country to share insider travel tips on where to eat, shop, stay, and play in their neighborhoods (plus, what to pack to make the adventure complete). This week, Garrick Ramirez of Weekend del Sol guides us through North Beach, San Francisco.
5 Things: North Beach, San Francisco
Garrick Ramirez of Weekend del Sol
I love my North Beach neighborhood for its European feel and atmospheric patina. Like most older cities, it encourages aimless strolling and sight-seeing—tree-lined streets sport historic, human-scale buildings with ornate facades and vintage neon signage. Cafes and bars spill out onto the sidewalks fostering a vibrant street life. In the 50s, North Beach was a refuge for the finger-snapping generation of Beats and bohemians. Today, a new crop of eateries, cocktail bars, third-wave coffee shops, and hip boutiques keeps the village vibe humming.
Tosca Cafe, 242 Columbus Avenue, (415) 986-9651
It’s tough to single out a favorite restaurant in food-obsessed San Francisco, but Tosca makes it easier with great food, expert cocktails, and ambience for days. Romantic, century-old interiors glow with flickering amber-hued chandeliers, red votives, and a vintage jukebox warbling old jazz and opera 45s.
Start with a pitch-perfect Negroni or a Polo Cup cocktail, which is a bright fragrant mix of gin, elderflower, cucumber, mint and basil. For dinner, I always order a shareable meal of guanciale-spiked Bucatini (Bon Appétit likes it, too), a better-than-it-should-be vegetable side, and two “secret” off-menu items: spicy meatballs and a thick, salt-crusted slab of aromatic rosemary focaccia. After dinner, sip a famous House “Cappuccino” made with local Dandelion chocolate.
A kid-conscious note: Tosca welcomes children, but the vibe doesn’t exactly speak to crayons rolling off the table all night. Instead, treat your little ones to Tacolicious where a kids’ menu doubles as a cut-out food truck with tips on how to run your own successful truck (apparently, Twitter accounts and tattoos help). Or get in line at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, where kids shape raw dough, parents nurse craft beer, and everyone enjoys one of the better pizzas in the city.
With strands of colored lights strung overhead, Grant Avenue—the oldest street in the city—boasts three blocks of storefronts. The neighborhood shuns chains, so you’ll only find local, independent shops like AB Fits which stocks an informed selection of small-label denim and matching apparel, with expert sizing assistance and complimentary tailoring. Sip Bicycle Coffee and nab a sweet treat at artisan food shop Little Vine before hopping over to Public Barber Salon for an affordable cut and styling. Also: Aria is a virtual trip to a Parisian flea market; Al’s Attire designs custom apparel with a vintage sensibility; Paparazzi features smart womenswear; and Mashka adorns its light-filled studio with handmade jewelry. Off Grant, check out the design-savvy boutique Eden & Eden and the ruggedly hip Iron & Resin for the lumbersexuals in your life.
Hotel Bohéme, 444 Columbus Avenue, (415) 433-9111
The sweet, intimate Hotel Bohéme is an homage to 50s-era North Beach with 15 charming rooms that exude the warmth of a mid-century oil painting. Feeling more new economy? Check out the The Battery, a private social club with Dwell-worthy design and rich interiors. It hides 14 luxe hotel rooms that are open to the public, including a died-and-gone-to-IPO-heaven penthouse for $10K a night (yes, K still means thousand).
If you relish living like a local while abroad, reserve a date at this stylish Airbnb dressed in a sunny, California style by its interior designer owner. Lastly, hip kidniks should dig this pad in the heart of North Beach.
Washington Square is one the city’s great parks. It’s fronted by the towering edifice of Saints Peter and Paul church (with an eyebrow-raising address of 666 Filbert St) whose regular chimes keep locals timely. Throw a blanket down and plug into the rhythms of the neighborhood — groups of Chinese women sway with qigong in the morning and dog owners run their playful pups in the evening. Young couples sunbathe and play lawn sports on weekends while elderly folks observe from the benches that ring the lawn. Across the street, a brunch crowd sips Bloody Marys on the sidewalk tables at Park Tavern. It’s enough to make an urbanist giddy.
Sunset Jacket from Mollusk Surf Shop, $120
Disregard the forecast and bring layers. Even on the warmest days, I grab a light jacket on my way out. Once the fog blows in, temperatures—and moods—change quickly. Bright sunny days can become foggy white-outs in the space between breakfast and lunch. Mollusk Surf Shop in the Outer Sunset has a great lightweight coat that’s made in Oakland—but with SF wind in mind.