If you want a taste of Italy while meandering the downtown San Francisco Streets, Columbus Avenue is where you’ll want to be. It runs from the southeast at Washington Street and heads northwest. Starting in the Financial District, it makes it’s way past Washington Square Park, Saint Peter and Paul Church, Lombard Street, and ends at Beach Street in between Ghiradelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.
At its northernmost point, you’ll be able to stroll down Hyde Street Pier to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Here, you can board (for a small fee) the 1890 Ferryboat Eureka, or the 1895 Schooner, the C. A. Thayer. You can also catch a cable car at the Powell-Hyde Cable Car Turntable for a short ride up the steep hills to the top of the famous and twisty Lombard Street
Grab lunch at Molinari Delicatessen. Be sure to pick out your bread for your sandwich first, and then go to the counter to order. Or just grab some cheese, meat, and a bottle of wine to take back to your hotel room. Extra points if you eat it on your balcony as the sun sets over the bay, Alcatraz, and Coit Tower. (Pro tip: you can do this at our favorite SF hotel, the Hilton San Francisco Financial District)
There are lots of Italian restaurants along Columbus Avenue. We’ve dined at the Mona Lisa and loved the experience, although there were several spots that look delicious. Many of these restaurants are extremely authentic. You can often find the owners standing outside, yelling at each other in Italian.
Columbus Avenue is also home to the famous City Lights Bookstore. For the bibliophiles out there, this store is like Mecca. It gave birth to many well-known San Francisco authors and continues to sell local and independently published works.
Once you’ve had time to fully explore the sights in Little Italy and Columbus Avenue, it’s easy to change cultures and head a few blocks over to Chinatown, for another totally immersive experience.
Staying near Columbus? Get our tips on getting around downtown San Francisco without a rental car.