This photo essay aims to present in living color the two celebrated thoroughfares of San Francisco’s Chinatown district and Little Italy (North Beach). Considered the main arteries to the heart of the city, Grant Avenue and Columbus Avenue entice millions of tourists each year.
After China’s defeat to the British in the first Opium War in the mid 1840’s, a string of disasters ensued throughout China leading to famine, peasant uprisings, and rebellions. Naturally, when the stories of gold and big opportunity in distant Gum San, (meaning Golden Mountain — the Chinese name for America) reached China, hundreds, if not thousands of Chinese packed their bags for California to take advantage of this opportunity and to seek their fortune.
GRANT AVENUE in Chinatown ranks as one of the most-traveled tourist routes as it provides an entertaining pedestrian route from Union Square to North Beach. Visitors from around the world come here to shop and sample its Asian offerings.
In the 1880’s, there was a massive influx of Italians coming from the East Coast, resulting in having more Italian immigrants on the Pacific Coast than on the east. In the late 19th century, North Beach was an actual beach that consisted of landfill. After the 1906 earthquake accompanied by massive fires, North Beach was reconstructed and the majority of the Italian immigrants created the Italian atmosphere of the area that is still very much felt to this day.
COLUMBUS AVENUE is the gateway to San Francisco’s Little Italy. Here, one will find a cornucopia of Italian caffès, bakeries, delicatessens, and restaurants. The famed City Lights Bookstore is located on Columbus Avenue as well as the Jack Kerouac alley, an alleyway dedicated to Beat Generation writer, Jack Kerouac. Caffè Trieste provided Francis Ford Coppola a creative haven as he wrote a big chunk of the screenplay for “The Godfather” while sipping his espresso at this renowned coffee house.
È Tutto Qua Ristorante on Columbus Avenue serves traditional Roman dishes. This is where San Francisco, the city by the bay, meets Rome, the eternal city. All roads lead to Rome indeed!
Chinatown and North Beach have both risen from the ashes in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire but have never lost their place in California’s history.