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Finding La Bella Vita Stateside: San Francisco’s Little Italy

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I remember the first time I tasted gelato—I was a study abroad student living in Rome, and it was a sweltering August day. I don’t recall what I tasted first—the dark chocolate, the rich hazelnut, the overall creamy cold sweetness—but I’m pretty sure my knees buckled. Now this was how ice cream should be done—an explosion of sweet flavor teasing each tastebud; a lighter density than American ice cream (but still decadently creamy); and a perfect miniature spoon, all the better to savor each bite.

I think I knew that day, early in my semester abroad, it was going to be difficult to come home.

Luckily for me, Italian enclaves in U.S. metropolises have brought a little slice (or a whole pie) of the old country to American shores. If an Italy vacation (or relocation!) isn’t in the budget this year, consider seeking out an Italian stronghold right here at home …

North Beach—San Francisco

Not just the city’s Italian enclave, North Beach has long been one of San Francisco’s cultural centers. This neighborhood, the former stomping ground of the Beats, features outstanding restaurants and sidewalk cafes, clubs with live music each night (especially jazz and cabaret acts), art galleries, and the famous City Lights bookstore. One of my favorite San Francisco experiences was sampling a latte at Café Grecco, then heading up to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill for sweeping views of the city.

Easily traversed on foot, North Beach is great for wandering (and snacking along the way, of course); the neighborhood runs from Bay Street to Montgomery and Jackson avenues. Many restaurants and other hotspots can be found on Columbus, the main drag that diagonally bisects the neighborhood. Try the homemade pasta at Bocce Café, a pizza at Calzone’s, or cannoli at Stella Pasticceria.

For a mix of traditions that reflect both Italian and local San Francisco history, plan to visit over Columbus Day weekend—North Beach has hosted a rollicking Italian Heritage Parade since 1868. The festival features wine and food discounts at many area restaurants, elaborate parade floats, marching bands, and even a Christopher Columbus impersonator.

Plan your trip: Take an afternoon and explore with the San Francisco CVB’s North Beach walking tour.


Dinner: Firenze by Night

Dessert: Caffe Roma

Note: Find ongoing events, tours, and more information on San Francisco’s North Beach at

Related Story: Finding La Bella Vita Stateside: New York City’s Little Italy



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