There aren't too many people who would say that San Francisco isn't a beautiful place. While in the past ten years the Mission District has been the cultural center of the city, before that it was the Haight, and before that – it was North Beach. These days, North Beach (and its neighbor Telegraph Hill) are known more for the tourists that fuel the Italian restaurants and businesses along Columbus Avenue. That and for City Lights Bookstore (don't forget about Vesuvio next door; stop in and grab a Fernet and a ginger ale, a perfect combination).
Last summer we sublet a place on Mason Street and although almost every day we left the area to spend time in the Mission, Hayes Valley, and Lower Haight, we got to know Columbus Avenue and environs pretty well. As with any neighborhood that has a strong tourist presence, there are real gems a little off the beaten path.
There's plenty to do and see in this area, but he are our picks for a nice afternoon stroll, gathered on this Googlemap.
1. Freddie’s Sandwiches
Dutch crunch. If you don't know about it, prepare for a memorable sandwich experience. Freddie's is a small deli with a big menu, and several bread options. Prior to ordering I read up on Dutch crunch and Freddie's came highly recommended. Dutch crunch is known for its crackled texture, made by brushing rice paste onto the top of the dough before baking. It's a distinctive looking bread, slightly sweet, and unforgettable. Anything you get at Freddie's is great, but just make sure you get the Dutch crunch.
Freddie's doesn't have any seating, but en route to the next destination you'll arrive to a public park with benches and plenty of sun. Also, I highly recommend ordering in advance on their web site – why wait?
2. Levi Strauss & Co. Plaza Store
Levi's is a household name, and they make pretty good jeans. Levi's has always had sub-brands and in recent years has expanded their brand lineup with Levi's Vintage Clothing (reproductions of styles from their historical archives) and Levi's Made & Crafted (more modern takes on Levi's styling) alongside Dockers (cf. 'Beau pantalon' ads from the '90s) and their main Levi's line.
The Levi's Plaza Store is located in the corporate headquarters of Levi Strauss & Co. and offers an impressive display of the brand's history in its lobby and stores inside. The brand has a lengthy history and relationship with American workers and it all hits you at once when you see the Vault, the public side of the Levi Strauss & Co. archives. You'll be impressed.
3. A-B Fits
San Francisco is lucky to have two so-called denim meccas – Self Edge, in the Mission, is one, but today's walk takes us to A-B Fits in North Beach. This store is a low-key place with lots of men's and women's denim with other clothes mixed in. They've got a wide range of brands, something for everyone. It's convenient because most every day in San Francisco is a jeans day, so you're bound to find something that will come in handy while you amble up and down the city hills.
4. Schein & Schein
If you're into maps, you won't ever be done at Schein & Schein. They specialize in antique maps and prints, and have an impressive collection, and you may encounter a few from as far back as the 14th century. As you walk through San Francisco, you'll be struck by the vistas but also the quick change in the landscape on account of interplay between the topography and architecture, and it's amazing to see where you've been on a map. At Schein & Schein, the world is at your fingertips and the history is exciting to reflect on. Unless you don't really like maps.
5. Ina Coolbrith Park
The vistas in San Francisco can sneak up on you (the hills, too), and Ina Coolbrith Park has a memorable one. Its namesake was the first California poet laureate (and the first poet laureate of any of the United States), whose pre-1906 earthquake home was around the corner, on Taylor Street.
The park is set on the side of Russian Hill, offering a beautiful view to the east of Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, San Francisco Bay, and the urban jungle you've just been navigating. Treat yourself to a seat and maybe a drink or snack you picked up along the way, and enjoy it, because San Francisco is a pretty magical place.