North Beach got its name because there was actually a beach on its original norther boundary (around the area where Francisco Street is today). Despite its proximity to the downtown, this neighborhood was slow to develop. It remained isolated until 1860s, when Broadway between Kearny and Montgomery streets was graded and lowered between sixty and seventy feet to its current level which opened Broadway as a direct route to North Beach from the waterfront avoiding the sordidness of the nearby Barbary Coast.
In 1870s, during a construction of a seawall near present-day Fisherman’s Warf, this area was filled and the beach disappeared. The laying out of Montgomery Avenue in 1873-74 (it was changed to Columbus avenue in 1909) brought a development that opened North Beach to greater growth. Montgomery Avenue which cut diagonally across the inflexible grid pattern of streets laid out by Jasper O’Farrell in 1847, offered a more direct route to the northern waterfront from downtown, it also provided an additional benefit as the blocks it created were ideal for new, small-scale commercial storefronts (saloons in particular liked triangular corners as they could attract customers coming from several directions).
North Beach has long had a reputation of San Francisco’s “Little Italy”. Italians, like many other nationalities, first came to the City in the wake of the gold rush but the peak of Italian immigration was around 1890s to 1910s. The earliest arrivals settled on Telegraph Hill as it reminded them of the hill towns of native Italy and, since many earned a living as fisherman, it offered an advantage of being within walking distance to the waterfront. Once Montgomery / Columbus Avenue opened, many of these inhabitants moved down the slope into the area.
After World War II, the Italians of North Beach, like many others, migrated to the suburbs or to the more prestigious neighborhoods of San Francisco (e.g. to Marina). As the Italians departed, the Chinese moved north across Broadway into the area.
Today North Beach is famous for its association with the Beats of the 1950s. The excitement lasted only a few years in the mid-to-late 1950s, when the area – primarily the few blocks centered around the intersection of Grant Avenue and Green Street – became home to coffeehouses and bars which served as a venue for poetry readings and jazz sessions (some of the remaining venues includes Caffe Trieste at 609 Vallejo Street, City Lights bookstore at 261 Columbus Avenue, Vesuvio Café at 255 Columbus Avenue. Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others formed the nucleus of the poetry renaissance. Once the active Beats scene faded (around 1960), Ferlinghetti kept the literary portion alive through is City Lights bookshop.
Starting in the 1950s and ‘60s, North Beach (particularly Broadway and Columbus), became the entertainment center of San Francisco. Jazz continued strong into the 60s but soon gave place to rock-and-roll and the topless craze, which brought North Beach headlines during the decade. Clubs such as the hungry I and the Purple Onion featured new talent – Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand, Lenny Bruce and others. The scene changed in the 70s and 80s as rock, punk rock, and heavy metal pushed most other types of performance art into the background. Today, the area (especially Broadway) is mostly bars, restaurants and strip clubs.
North Beach is a wonderful neighborhood worthy of at least a visit. The below link provides further details on this neighborhood and its attractions: http://www.sfgate.com/neighborhoods/sf/northbeach/
This neighborhood has an impressive average Walk score of 99 and Transit score of 92.
The content displayed above was partially derived from a book by Rand Richards “Historic Walks in San Francisco. 18 Trails Through the City’s Past”.