Recently I headed into San Francisco to spend a lazy Sunday in North Beach, the city’s Little Italy district. Sun was out and the weather balmy. It was blissful.
North Beach is generally a wonderful place to spend the weekend. It’s centrally located to much of what’s interesting in the city: tons of great eateries, little jazz clubs, art galleries, eclectic shops, Chinatown, the wharf and Telegraph Hill, which is home to hidden gardens, rare wild parrots and the iconic Coit Tower. You’ve got everything within a ten-block square including the nudie district if you’re into that kind of thing. I think it just adds a little color to the already eclectic neighborhood.
For the literary minded, North Beach is the absolute best place to hang in the city bar none. Nothing makes me happier than to spend hours on Sunday reading a bunch of newspapers, the New York Times Review of Books and browsing through a stack of books and magazines for whatever catches my interest.
Here’s my first tip: metered parking is FREE on Sundays and I can almost always find something right on Washington Square, which makes life easy and carefree. For my purposes, Washington Square is home base.
My first stop is always City Lights Books on Columbus, only a couple blocks from Washington Square.
Oh, man. I could spend all day here and leave my entire bank account behind.
My second tip: Go upstairs to the poetry room, sit in the poetry rocking chair and read some poetry. I’m telling you, it’s communal. City Lights Books was at the heart of the Beat movement and sitting where some of the greatest poets of our generation have read their work aloud, maybe even crafted some of it, is a really peaceful experience.
Instead I usually spend at least a good hour lost in the stacks, buy ONE book and a billion newspapers. This is the book I couldn’t put down: He Usually Lived With A Female by George Garrigues. A son’s chronicling of his father’s life as portrayed in a massive series of correspondence between his father and numerous lovers and friends from the early 1920s to the 1970s. This was back in the day when people wrote letters and crafted prose. They were witty, poignant and sometimes misogynistically appalling. The letters were riveting. He talked of being an investigative journalist in Los Angeles, a music critic in San Francisco and his relationships with women, other up and coming writers and his own flaky muse.
With my booty of reading material I’ll head two blocks over to the famous, yet completely local and unpretentious Caffe Trieste for a quiet corner, a cookie and the gosh darned best cappuccino in the city.
Family-owned and operated since the 1950s, Caffe Trieste is common stop for literary types and their muses. Francis Ford Coppola worked on his screenplay for the Godfather here.
After savoring my cappuccino and making my fingers inky black from newsprint, I’ll head up towards Washington Square by way of Geary and do some window shopping along the way. Geary is filled with an eclectic mix of boutiques, art galleries and eateries that are fun to wander through. A couple blocks north on Geary is an Italian-French bakery that usually has a line trailing out the door. Stand in line and get some foccacia bread or pastries in preparation for picnicing in the park.
And then head on over to Washington Square and check out what’s happening in the park. Very early in the mornings you can watch the local Asian community practice tai chi like magpies scattered across the lawn. The morning I was there several art vendors were setting up shop showing paintings and illustrations and some pretty incredible black and white photography.
I ended up finding a spot on the grass to kick back and nibble on a pastry and read a book. I wasn’t the only one with that idea.
If you need a little more activity, then hike 3 blocks over to Coit Tower for the city’s best views of the bay. And since you’ll have worked up an appetite climbing all those steps, stop at the Cafe Divine on the way back for a bite and the best people watching (make sure you sit outside).
Lazy Sunday’s hardly get better than this.