Wednesday, May 20, 2009

City Life: North Beach

I had to get out of the house last Thursday and decided to wander around North Beach. I haven't been on a neighborhood walk in a long time. North Beach is considered the Little Italy neighborhood here in SF. The unofficial beginning of the neighborhood starts at the top of Columbus Ave. where the Transamerica Pyramid is located.

I've taken this picture of the Pyramid before for this blog but here's an updated one that's actually in focus.

The day was beautiful. Sunny, slightly cool, and breezy. My walk consisted of taking MUNI to Embarcadero Station and then walking to the Pyramid where I pulled out my camera and started my stroll.

North Beach is bordered by Chinatown and you can see a few Chinese restaurants along the way as well as the numerous Italian restaurants.

Here's a quick side view at the top of Grant Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Chinatown.

The first major retail landmark is City Lights Bookstore and Publishers. City Lights is the world famous bookstore and historical landmark that published Allen Ginsberg's book, Howl and Other Poems. City Lights was considered a major center, or the epicenter, of the Beat Generation.

I've always felt that City Lights is infused with a feeling of austerity and seriousness about it. This is where serious literature happens, folks. There are chairs and they encourage reading. The upstairs section is devoted to poetry, very fitting. The main part of the store is mostly fiction. Downstairs has more non-fiction books like philosophy, music, film, etc. The store has beautiful dark wood shelves and staircases. There's a rich wooden, slightly oily polished smell about the place. It also encourages a slow progression through the main part of the store because there a couple of small flights of stairs which I am always in danger of tripping over.

I sat for a bit on a long wooden bench downstairs and read parts of Bob's "Chronicles, Vol. 1." I'm practically drooling over getting it but I can't spare the $15 right now. No matter. I'll get it later.

Part of the storefront.

On Columbus Ave. looking back at the Pyramid. You can see the long City Lights storefront on the right side there.

I love seeing this sign in Italian.

Nearby at the intersection of Columbus and Broadway is a small area devoted to strip clubs. The area used to be much larger but has been gentrified. The world famous Condor Club was located on this corner and has the distinction of being America's first topless, and later bottomless, bar. The Condor was bought out and turned into a restaurant but now it's back to being a topless bar again.

Although you can't see it in this picture The Beat Museum is located right where that light yellow building is. I should have popped in for a visit.

While walking further up the street I saw the wonderfully muralled building you see below. Also, there are a bunch of plastic replicas of books hanging up above that corner. At first I thought someone had hung up a bunch of those Styrofoam take out containers (after all there's a profusion of Chinese restaurants right around the corner) but they are meant to be fluttering books. On the pavement below them are letters and words scattered around. It's made to look like the words just spilled out of the books during mid-flight. A little odd but charming nonetheless. Reminds me of Harry Potter.

You can see a couple of the white plastic books on the right there.

Fluttering, fluttering...

Some of the words that have "fallen" on the pavement.

The Stinking Rose is a famous restaurant devoted to copious quantities of garlic. I've eaten there once and the food was all right. My friend ordered chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. The chicken was cooked well but the 40 cloves of roasted garlic were so outstanding that I was popping them into my mouth and eating them straight. No one wanted to be around me after that. I had garlic coming out of my pores for at least two days afterwards.

North Beach is a prime restaurant neighborhood and the number of Italian restaurants and Italian style cafes is overwhelming. It's pretty expensive too but there are a lot of tourists who come here to visit. Parking is generally bad, but on a Friday or Saturday night it's impossible. It can take more than an hour to find parking here. Better to take MUNI or a cab.

One of the many cafes in this neighborhood.

The National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi is located here. A lovely little church, I used to come here at lunch when I was really stressed out. The church itself was closed but the former gymnasium was open. A docent welcomed me inside and told me about the lovely new chapel, the "Nuova Porzincola" which had just opened late last year. It is an exact replica of the original "Porzincola" in Assisi but built to three quarter size. Everything has been reproduced including the chips on the stones that make up the building and some graffiti carved into a fresco on the outside! The frescos inside are also properly chipped. It's a sweet little space, lovingly built.

Outside of the National Shrine.

The docent, standing there in orange, asked me not to take photos while inside.

Up the street from the church I walked past this wonderful Italian deli. Super sumptuous!

Z Cioccolato, a fudge/candy store is across the street. A very friendly and welcoming place, they give you small slivers of free fudge. I tried Tiger fudge with stripes of chocolate, vanilla, and peanut butter. Yum! They also sell fresh caramel popcorn for 25 cents for a small bag. Great for people like me on a budget!

The sign that hooked me!

Inside the store...

Next up, Washington Square Park and Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Much larger than the National Shrine, this church has a wonderful interior. The pictures are a bit dark because they didn't have the lights on and I try to be respectful about not taking pictures with a flash inside. I don't want to disturb others in meditation and prayer.

Front doors.

The rose window. I shouldn't have taken this shot at an angle but you'll still get an idea for the window colors.

Inside the church. Weddings here must be beautiful. I like the huge painting of Christ over the altar. Something comforting and majestic about it.

As I walked across the front of the church, a little old man was sitting in the front row, praying. He was stooped, with a delicately formed cheekbones, steel blue eyes, white hair, and knotted, arthritic hands. He asked me when Mass was going to start as he tottered on his cane in the pew. I told him I didn't know but it was 4:32 pm. He sat down with a sigh. "It's going to start soon, very soon," he muttered. I went around to the back of the church and a middle aged Hispanic woman with brassy red brown hair, green glasses, and a slightly faded watermelon colored tote apologetically handed me a few prayer cards. I thanked her graciously. I figured I was getting a message from somewhere when one of the cards read "You are not an accident." I had been feeling a bit worthless due to job hunt blues and it was a nice statement to see.

I sat in the last pew as is my usual custom. The only noise was the distant sounds of the street and two young boys in white polo shirts and gray shorts who came into the church a couple times and peered into several of the chapels. Clearly, they were playing a game of some kind. I heard another sound, a distant muttering, and I realized the little old man still seated in the front pew had gone back to saying his prayers.

Washington Square Park bordered by Columbus Ave., Union, Stockton, and Filbert Streets.

A view of SF landmark, Coit Tower, framed by trees in Washington Square Park.

Across the street from the park is a broken down building with a wonderful mural. I especially like the sign "Enough with the plywood." It adds a humorous touch.

A block down from the building above is our famed Lombard Street, the Crookest Street in the World. You can see the cars driving down it.

North Beach ends pretty much at Washington Square Park. If you keep walking down away from the Transamerica Pyramid you'll reach Fisherman's Wharf at the end of the street.

A shot of Columbus Ave. looking back towards the Financial District and the Transamerica Pyramid.

I walked back the way I came and encountered one of our iconic cable cars.

Also iconic is the show "Beach Blanket Babylon," a musical revue that's been running since 1974. They change the show frequently to reflect the current political climate and pop culture. A very entertaining way to spend an evening especially if you have dinner in this neighborhood first.

I walked back towards the Financial District. North Beach in the afternoon is idyllic and beautiful. North Beach at night on the weekends is crowded and exciting. I highly recommend a visit.


anne said...

thank you for the tour - it was wonderful!

Mock Turtle said...

Anne -
Glad you liked it. It's a good reminder that I need to get out and about in my city more.