Little Italy and North Beach walking tour [self guided with 10 stops]
This is probably the most popular and touristic area of San Francisco, and for a good reason, there are so many things to do and places to see.
I have designed this Little Italy and North Beach walking tour based on 10 stops, including both famous attractions and hidden local gems, like the Liguria Bakery.
It is self-guided, which means you can follow the handy shared map below and do it on your own.
For more of an inside to the area, you can always join an organised tour
Let’s have a start from the first stop, the Sea Lion Viewing Area.
Table of Contents
- 1 A – Sea Lion Viewing Area
- 2 B – Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze
- 3 C – Aquarium of the Bay
- 4 D – Museum of 3D Illusions
- 5 E – Musée Mécanique
- 6 A walk in Fisherman’s Wharf
- 7 Fior d’Italia for a historical lunch
- 8 Piccolo Forno for a modern Italian restaurant
- 9 Liguria Bakery for a picnic
- 10 F – Coit Tower & Pioneer Park
- 11 Greenwich Steps
- 12 G – Exploratorium
- 13 Organised tour with local guide
You can read also
- Best districts to stay in San Francisco for families, couples, art or nightlife
- Best self-guided walking tours of San Francisco
- Mission District walking tour [self-guided with 11 stops]
- San Francisco – Chinatown walking tour [self-guided with 10 stops]
- Treasure Island – 7 unmissable things to do [2 hidden gems]
- 14 Best places to visit in San Francisco Bay Area [Unique, Outdoor, Couples, Families]
Here below a map of the walk that you can also see and download from my shared Google drive
Fun fact: California sea lions are well known for their intelligence and playfulness and a majority of those at Pier 39 are male.
You get to know so much more about sea lions at Pier 39.
This became an iconic viewing area back in 1989 when a group of sea lions began ‘hauling out’ after an earthquake.
Soon enough, it became a sea lion zone protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
By 1990, the number of sea lions at the pier stood at 1,701.
A visit to Pier 39 Sea Lion Viewing Area will have you enjoying interactive displays, videos and other types of presentations that will fascinate you about the life of California Sea Lions.
Hungry? You can enjoy some fresh seafood at one of the 12 restaurants along the dock. Once you are warm and full, take a walk and shop at one of the 50 shops at the Pier.
Mirror, mirror on the wall! Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze is a mirror maze at Pier 39.
This is a unique experience that both kids and adults can enjoy – just be careful not to hit your head against your reflection.
Walk through the dungeon of mirrors, which are lit up with black lights, and the music is the type of EDM rave music you would find at a wild festival.
Remember, this is perfect for everyone who wants to enjoy a combination of science and fun.
You are not done with Pier 39 on this North Beach walking tour, and this is because the Aquarium of the Bay is a home to 20,000 animals at the San Francisco Bay.
You can experience the beauty of aquatic life through touch pools and walk through tunnels.
Come and check out the otters, hypnotic jellyfish, sleek sharks, rays, and many other animals of the sea.
What is great about this place is that there are 300 feet of acrylic tunnels like the Near Shore Tunnel and Sharks of Alcatraz Tunnel
If you want to get close to the rays and other animals, there are touchpools and bay labs for you to check out.
Still not ready to leave? Enjoy the Moon Jellies in a large cylinder tank at the centre of the aquarium or the wall mounted tank of Pacific Sea Nettles.
This is a popular attraction, as you can imagine. It is highly suggested to book your tickets in advance on weekends and school holidays.
The world of illusions lets our imagination run wild and the Museum of 3D Illusions will let you experience that.
The museum has over 40 3D illusions that you can take pictures and create stories with your family and friends during the tour.
If you feel like King Kong hanging off a skyscraper, or want to survive a floor of lava, or even live your dream of becoming a surfer, there are 3D illusions to suit your fantasies.
Musée Mécanique is a family owned museum that has been around since 1933.
You know that when it is operated by a family, you are bound to find some unique exhibitions that tell a story.
According to the owner, the late Edward Zelinsky, the museum holds over 300 items that include coin-operated pianos, animations, various bird boxes and unique slot machines.
He had been collecting pieces and kept the most fragile ones in his home.
Go to the Musée Mécanique and experience the old school carnival ambience – Susie the Can-Can Dancer promises you will not be disappointed (she is an exhibition at the museum).
A walk in Fisherman’s Wharf
On this Little Italy and North Beach walking tour, take your time to explore more of the Fisherman’s Wharf area before heading south for lunch, direction Little Italy, of course
Fisherman’s Wharf is probably the most touristic area of San Francisco where you will find also all sorts of small gifts and even the old-fashioned post cards.
Another attraction you may be interested, and I haven’t listed in this post, is the Madame Tussauds Museum, with the excellent wax replicas of the famous American icons, Arnold Schwarzenegger included, of course.
Pass the Pier 45 and keep walking till Jones Street where you will turn left direction Fior d’Italia.
Fior d’Italia for a historical lunch
Time for lunch. There are a few options as the walk enters the Little Italy area, mainly along the Columbus Avenue.
The first possibility is the Fior d’Italia Restaurant, the oldest Italian restaurant in the USA, opened in 1886.
This is more of a formal restaurant, with good old style Italian food.
The interior is a bit dated. You almost feel like entering a time machine.
All said, a good experience for an iconic lunch (not as many people can claim they were in the oldest Italian restaurant in the USA and probably the Americas)
If you do not feel like having a long and/or formal lunch, then keep walking into Little Italy to the Piccolo Forno, right on Columbus Avenue.
This is more of a casual and informal restaurant with modern Italian cuisine made of pasta and pizza and a few options of antipasti like the yummy Caprese Salad (fresh mozzarella and tomatoes).
There are a few tables, both inside and outside the restaurant.
It’s going to be a quicker lunch time, obviously with an espresso coffee at the end.
This is the option for a picnic in the park, which works great on a sunny warm day, of course.
Buy a drink on the way and stop by the Liguria Bakery, an institution in Little Italy.
Liguria is the name of the region of Italy renowned for the best focaccia in Italy and the world (they say).
The focaccia is like a pizza bread without tomatoes sauce, basically a white pizza or pizza bianca, as it is called in Rome.
Besides the basic version with only a bit of salt and oil, the focaccia may have mushrooms, fresh tomatoes slices or onions on top.
This bakery does not disappoint with a simple, but very tasty menu, which is basically limited to the 4 types of focaccia I have just listed.
They do have also a pizza version with tomato sauce, but no topping, not even the cheese.
You can enjoy your meal in the Washington Square, on the opposite corner of the shop, or have a walk, maybe better say hike, to the Pioneer Park where you will enjoy your focaccia with a view of San Francisco.
Are you interested in exploring more of the Golden City? Here are 3 unique self-guided walks and an e-ride of San Francisco, including maps and little gems like the Liguria Bakery.
F – Coit Tower & Pioneer Park
You have not been to San Francisco if you have not been to or at least seen Coit Tower at Pioneer Park.
This is because it is a staple part of the bay skyline.
You will know it by its slender white concrete column.
Simply take the elevator to the top (get tickets for the visit first!) and you can enjoy 360-degree views of San Francisco on the observation deck.
At the base of the tower is a collection of murals carefully painted by independent artists.
You can enjoy walks and views at Pioneer Park before or after your tower climb. It sits beautifully on top of Telegraph Hill.
Once finished with the Pioneer Park, follow the map and take the Greenwich Steps back into the Pier area, for the last stop at the Exploratorium
Most of the visitors take these steps on the way up, and it can get busy, especially on weekends.
On the way down, you will have more space and time to enjoy the view and the surrounding area, very green and with plenty of vegetation and birds, totally surprising in a city, but not in San Francisco.
The steps can actually be quite steep in a few points, but not dangerous, surely slippery in the rain.
There are many famous steps in the hilly San Francisco. The Greenwich Steps are still a bit of a hidden gem.
G – Exploratorium
You can never go wrong with a visit to a place where you can learn and have some fun at the same time, and that is what the Exploratorium is.
It is a museum of science and technology as well as a place to physically experience the arts.
There are plenty of DIY exhibits, evening art, carefully curated science exhibitions and films that you can enjoy by yourself, with a partner or with family.
Organised tour with local guide
For more of an inside into the two areas you can decide to join this Little Italy and North Beach food tour.
You will have the possibility not only to experience the area with a local guide but also to stop by a few shops and stores to taste cappuccinos, fresh bread and of course Italian food with the chef.
This tour has been ranked as one of the best in San Francisco.