San Francisco – EverydayInsider! (TM) Trip 7

San Francisco is blessed with great architectural, cultural and ethnic diversity as well as a long history relative to other US cities. You can enjoy all of this on SF’s 49 Mile Drive. So, my Everyday Insider(TM) tips are just what you need!

11. North Beach This stop on the Drive is the traditionally Italian neighborhood in San Francisco. It always had good comedy clubs – like the famous, iconic “Hungry Eye” – and it was the home of the famed Beat Generation. The Beatniks may be gone, but there’s still a counter-culture current.

Now, along with great eating and lots of historical sites, it remains SF’s red-light, neon-studded nightlife area (which is clustered around Broadway and Columbus).

Three blocks north is Washington Square, the piazza of San Francisco’s Little Italy, and “heart” of the Italian community. Although the Chinese and yuppie professionals are taking over the neighborhood, Italian institutions and festivities prevail. The park was set aside as a public square in 1850 and it became home to displaced people after the 1906 earthquake.

This has the church where Joe Dimaggio married Marilyn Monroe and at its European beginnings, it was originally on the city’s northeast shoreline. The City extended only to Taylor and Francisco streets. The actual beach was obliterated with landfill in the late 19th century. In the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, this filled-in area liquified and sustained a lot of damage.

The 19th century residents built warehouses, fishing wharves and docks on the newly formed “land” and the southern half of the neighborhood, south of Broadway was home of the infamous Barbary Coast – where sailors were “shanghaid” (kidnapped) and woke up as forced-laborers sailing to Shanghai, for years before returning to SF, if ever!

It was fishing and the wharves which brought large groups of Italian immigrants to North Beach.

Today, various groups will give you walking tours of North Beach, some free, others for fee. It is an area to walk, as parking is tough, but inquire about how much of the tour will include hills, and about their steepness.

Due to its legacy of sailor’s bars as the Barbary Coast, Broadway east of Columbus, evolved to be the home of the city’s red light district and striptease clubs. The Condor Club, at Columbus and Broadway, opened in 1964 as America’s first topless bar; it still is today. Bimbo’s 365 is another classic club.

But, there’s much more to the neighborhood!

Grant Avenue is the oldest street in San Francisco.

During the 1950s, many of the neighborhood’s cafes and bars became the epicenter of the Beat Generation and they gave rise to the San Francisco Renaissance.

The term “beatnik” originated here and was coined in a derogatory fashion by local, famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen.

I grew up and lived in the Bay Area from 1960, as a teenager, so writing this brings back many memories for me.

Many of that generation’s most famous writers and personalities such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso and Neal Cassady lived in North Beach.

___ Another poet from this generation, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, founded the City Lights Bookstore in 1953. It is one of America’s best independent bookstores and it still is here today. Find it at the corner of Broadway and Columbus and you may actually see Mr. Ferlinghetti, there once in a while.

I remember reading his poems in college English, and he’s very talented. One of his poetry books is still the most read American poetry tome. City Light Books is an official historic landmark and serves as one of the main focal points of this generation.

City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133
ph: 415-362-8193

I will write much more about North Beach another time, but here’s a quick list of a few more things to see without much explanation, yet:

___ 916 Columbus Ave. Columbus Tower/Sentinel Building. Since 1972, it has been home to Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Studios. He has a cafe on the street level, too.

___ Beat Museum – which features a collection of books, manuscripts and ephemera from the days when poets, artists, writers and all the rest made the scene on upper Grant Avenue.
Beat Museum, San Francisco
540 Broadway (at Columbus)
San Francisco, CA 94133
10 – 7 everyday

___ Beach Blanket Babylon: This musical revue has been running so long in San Francisco that they named a street after it! Just take a cocktail to your seat and surrender yourself to the pop culture references, current events jokes and preposterous hats sported by the actors.
Club Fugazi, 678 Green St., (415) 421-4222.
Beach Blanket Babylon
There are 3 parking lots on Green St. (valet), 2 parking lots around the corner on Powell St. (valet) and 2 parking garages around the block on Vallejo St.
Powell/Mason cable car.
Bus lines 30, 20, 9X & 45.

___ The Purple Onion. This was the comedy club where Phyllis Diller, The Kingston Trio, the Smothers Brothers, Maya Angelou and more had their start.

I was a huge fan of the Kingston Trio (and met them several times) and met the Smother’s Brothers, too.

The club, at 140 Columbus Avenue, was restored and reopened in 2004 by Stephanie and Mario Ascione, who are the owners of the restaurant upstairs, Macaroni Sciue Sciue. See what the current situation is about stand-up shows (415) 956-1653 or at The Purple Onion, San Francisco

___ Free San Francisco City Walking-Tour Guides:
SF City Guides

___ Barbary Coast Trail 3 self-guided Audio Tours and Walking Times needed.

More of the 49 Mile Drive, tomorrow.

Part 1: San Francisco Everyday Insider

Part 2: San Francisco Everyday Insider Trips

Part 3: San Francisco Everyday Insider (TM) – Flax Art and Design

Part 4: San Francisco 49 Mile Drive Venues 1-5

Part 5: San Francisco 49 Mile Drive Venues 6-7

Part 6: San Francisco 49 Mile Drive Venues 8,9,10

San Francisco Archive

©2010 mystic at Travel Vacation Review

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