I. My Home Base: North Beach and Chinatown
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Where I stayed
What I did
Took lots of photographs.
When I first began visiting San Francisco, I'd stay at the YMCA at the Civic Center or the Chinatown branch. But recently, the YMCA began phasing out its hotel business, city by city. The nearest branch, which still offers accommodations, is in Berkeley. In The Underground Guide to San Francisco, I found the hotels Europa (310 Columbus & Broadway; (415) 391-5779) and Golden Eagle (420 Broadway, near Montgomery; (415) 781-6859). These appear seedy and dilapidated but provide a clean, safe place to sleep, shower, and secure your belongings for prices far lower than most other hotels. (The Europa is above a nightclub, which is very noisy at night, so I pack earplugs to get some sleep.) And they are in a very good area; along the boundary between North Beach and Chinatown, surrounded by many good restaurants, pubs, and shops. So I make this area my home base when in San Francisco
An alternative is a hostel. There are many to be found in the city on www.hostels.com .
Several bus lines run thru the area. (Leave your car at home. Parking, in this city, is murder.) I get acquainted with the bus services on www.stmta.com/ . There are all-day passes, called Passports, which can cover one day, three days, or seven days. For your convenience, you can purchase one at an information booth at SFO Baggage Claim.
Before coming to the city, I do a lot of research. I mainly consult The Underground Guide to San Francisco by Jennifer Joseph (available at www.amazon.com) and Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply in San Francisco (available at www.brokeassstuart.com). Lists of news, activities, trends, and interests can be found online at www.zpub.com/sf/sf-visit.html . The local underground newspaper, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, is on-line at www.sfbg.com , where you can find nightclub information and local eventswww.virtualtourist.com/ and www.travelpod.com . And tourists’ maps are free all over the city.
PLACES TO SEE
The first place to see, when you arrive, is Coit Tower, on top of Telegraph Hill. From its top, you get a bird’s-eye view of Northeast San Francisco and get yourself oriented. From its Pioneer Park and Telegraph Hill Park are more panoramic views of the area. You might hear or catch a glimpse of one of the flocks of feral parrots, which are local legends. The whole area is a photographer’s delight.
Another spectacular view is from the intersection of Kearny & Vallejo. The segment of Kearny Street, between Broadway and Vallejo, is so steep the sidewalks are stairs. Facing south, you can get a wide view of the Financial District.
The Beat Museum (540 Broadway, near Columbus) holds mementos of the Beat Movement of the 1950s, which took root in this area. You can see how their ideas shaped the history and direction of this city.
Washington Square (at Columbus & Union) is a park, where you can relax among the locals and other visitors. From nearby restaurants, you can purchase a take-out meal and have a picnic. Several monuments give tidbits on the city’s history and heritage. On the northwest side is a playground for children.
PLACES TO SHOP
City Lights Books (261 Columbus & Broadway) is a well-known, long-time institution in this city. It has been the rallying point for the Beat, Hippie, and several other movements. It was the hang-out for several famous writers and poets; such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. (Next door, the Vesuvio Café is well known for the same reason.) It is still an outlet for literary works away from the mainstream.
Chinatown is full of shops and markets, offering Chinese and local products. You can spend all day here and still not see all of them.
PLACES TO EAT
Bow Hon Restaurant (850 Grant, between Washington & Clay) offers a wide variety of inexpensive Chinese dishes. I enjoyed the duck. (No one does duck like the Chinese.)
Café Greco (423 Columbus, between Green & Vallejo) is a very popular Italian restaurant
Café Trieste (609 Vallejo & Grant) is a very long-time popular coffeehouse, so is always crowded with many locals and tourists alike. Here’s where you go for espresso, latte, cappuccino, etc. along with a variety of Italian pastries.
Dick Lee Pastry (716 Jackson, near Grant) is a bakery which also offers all-you-can-eat Chinese BBQ and dim sum.
Floating Sushi Boat Restaurant (on Grant & Sacramento) serves sushi on wooden boats, floating along a stream around the chefs’ station. Customers can pick what they like from what floats by. When finished, the waitress counts the color-coded plates and calculates the bill from them.
Happy Donut (145 Columbus & Kearny) serves a wide variety donuts and other pastries. I go, in the mornings, for a basic bacon-and-eggs breakfast.
Joy Hing BBQ Noodle House (on Stockton, between Washington & Clay) serves simple and inexpensive Chinese food
King of Thai Noodles & Bar (1268 Grant & Vallejo) offers Thai dishes, mostly in the $5 range, and beers on tap for $2.
Mo’s (1322 Grant, near Green) is well-known for its grilled hamburgers but, for me, this is another place for a bacon-and-eggs breakfast.
My Cahn (626 Broadway, between Grant & Stockton) offers inexpensive Vietnamese meals, prepared and served by a Vietnamese family. The duck, seafood, and pork dishes are unforgettable.
Sushi Hunter (1701 Powell & Union) is an affordable sushi bar. Here, I can enjoy my favorite food at a low price.
Viva (1224 Grant & Columbus) serves very good Italian meals at low cost. Being close to my hotel, I always drop in, after I arrive in town, for a plate of pasta and a glass of wine.
Yokohama Restaurant (229 Columbus, between Kearny & Broadway) has a sushi bar but offers other Japanese dishes at affordable prices.
Yummy BBQ (683 Broadway & Stockton) serves Chinese lunches as low as $3.92.
El Zorro Taqueria (308 Columbus, at Broadway & Grant) serves filling Mexican meals at low prices. Beer and wine are available.
PLACES TO DRINK
Hawaii West (on Powell, between Pacific & Jackson) is a hang-out for many locals. You can hear a lot of joking and laughs between the customers and bartenders. And if you’re hungry enough, the cheap fried foods taste really good with the beer.
MELT (Columbus & Filbert) is a bar that specializes in fondues. They also display various works of art on the walls.
La Pantere (on Grant, next to King Thai) also serves $2 beers. They also have TVs, showing sports events, but emphatically insist that they are not a sports bar.
O’Reilly’s (622 Green, between Powell & Stockton) celebrates being Irish. Figures of Irish history deck the walls, as well as various sporting events. To get into the Irishness, I had a sheppard’s pie with my Guinness.
The Saloon (1232 Grant & Romolo) is a historical site, having served as a saloon for over a century. Every evening, it’s packed with a rough-looking crowd, listening to live rockabilly bands.
Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Café (12 Adler & Columbus) is a mellow place to settle in for the evening. The walls and ceiling are decorated with many photos and articles, collected from all over the world by "Specs" Simmons, the bar’s founder. Locals, of many age groups & eccentricities, fill the place each evening. Some nights, a piano player plays and sings a few jazz numbers.
When I want to check my e-mail and do some on-line research, I go to the North Beach Copy Center (523 Green, near Grant) to use one of their computers.