The Real North Beach: In San Francisco's Neighborhood of Poets, Thinkers, and Coffee Drinkers, Two Locals Show Us the Beat

Article excerpt

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Where's the heart of North Beach?

JERRY CIMINO: I do walking tours, and the first place we go is City Lights bookstore. In my mind, it's the best bookstore on the planet. There's a good chance you'll see owner-poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti there; he's in his 90s now and keeps a low profile. And even though he's grown the store in size over the years, the spirit is the same. It still feels radical. You want progressive, out-there books and magazines, you'll find them in City Lights.

A great coffee shop?

ANNA WEINBERG: I'm a fan of Caffe Roma. There are groups of Italian guys who have been meeting there every morning for coffee for decades. North Beach is kind of classic that way. You're not going to find any Blue Bottle here. Places like Roma, they still roast their own beans. Always have.

JC: And you can't forget Caffe Trieste. On any given day, you'll see writers and artists drinking coffee and working intently. The legend is that Francis Ford Coppola wrote a good chunk of the screenplay to The Godfather in Trieste. I'm not a fancy coffee person. I usually get a latte. They'll see me in line and have it ready for me. They might not know your full name, but that's the way North Beach is. You'll know someone as "that guy who always wears the funny shoes." Or the "lady in the big hat." 601 Vallejo St.; caffetrieste.com.

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Neighborhood park?

JC: Right in the heart of North Beach is Washington Square Park. It's the community gathering place. You're guaranteed to see someone you know. You'll see the local cop, kids playing a beanbag game, elderly Chinese people doing tai chi. There's also a statue of Benjamin Franklin. No one seems to know why that's there.

AW: The park is in front of our restaurant, and I always think of it as an anchor for North Beach. It's small and usually crawling with people. There's an art festival in the park on Sundays where you can sometimes find eclectic stuff.

Your favorite neighborhood walk?

JC: You've got to climb the Filbert Steps, which lead all the way up to Coit Tower. There's a famous shot from the movie Dark Passage of Humphrey Bogart climbing those steps. So many movies have been shot in this area. But the views from the steps are what's really special. They look out over the bay, Treasure Island, and the Bay Bridge.

AW: I'll start from Washington Square Park, then head up to Coit Tower, and walk down the Filbert Steps on the other side. Beautiful views and homes to see, and you get some exercise along the way. …