Nǐ hǎo and Ciao: A Tale of Two Towns

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.  

1. Grant Street.jpg
Tourists abound on Grant Avenue
2.Grant Street early morning
A quiet Grant Avenue in the early morning
3. Street Musicians
 Chinatown street musicians entertain both the locals and tourists
4. Chinatown store
 A Chinatown store selling an assortment of items
5. Chinese street lamps
 Chinese street lamps, Sushi Boat Restaurant, Kan’s Restaurant, and Tung Lee jewelry store on Grant Avenue
6. Eastern Bakery
The busy owner of Eastern Bakery balancing the books
7. What_s left of a Sweet and Sour Pork dish
 What’s left of a mouth-watering Sweet and Sour Pork dish at Snow Garden Restaurant
8. Snow Garden Restaurant
 Ah, Snow Garden Restaurant! One of the restaurants on Grant Avenue that serves quick, hot, cheap, and delectable dishes.
9. Restaurant kitchen worker
A Chinatown restaurant worker accompanied by his feathered friend as they discard unwanted meat parts
10. Chinatown locals
Chinese locals hanging out in the park to play cards
Chinese herbal medicines.  The Chinese people have always believed in ancient medical practices, utilizing what is found in nature.
The famous Golden Gate Bakery on Grant Avenue in Chinatown. Home to the best egg custard tarts & wide range of other homemade treats.  Expect a long line at this pastry joint!
Don’t forget to buy a souvenir or two before you leave your heart in San Francisco’s Chinatown!


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.

11. Columbus Avenue North Beach
 Columbus Avenue leading to North Beach Little Italy. Benvenuti!
12. Transamerica and Coppola's Bldgs
The iconic Transamerica Pyramid and Francis Ford Coppola’s Sentinel Building in the heart of Little Italy
13. Italian deli
 Cheese, salami, and other Italian food products at Molinari Delicatessen on Columbus Avenue. Mangia! Mangia! Mangia!
14. Mr. Bing's Cocktail bar
  Bing’s Cocktail Bar’s tribute to celebrity chef and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain after his passing on June 8, 2018
15. A waiter on his break
 An Italian restaurant waiter leaning on a parking meter while having that much-awaited cigarette break
16. Caffe Trieste - North Beach.JPG
Caffè Trieste, North Beach — where Francis Ford Coppola went almost every day to write the screenplay for The Godfather

17. Desserts at Mara_s Pastry and Caffè on Columbus Avenue
A paradise of freshly-baked Italian pastries at Mara’s Pastries. Buon appetito!

18. Kerouac Alley.jpg
 The Jack Kerouac Alley as seen from Columbus Avenue. This alley is named after Jack Kerouac, the father of the Beat Generation and who was said to have frequented the adjacent City Lights bookstore.
19. City Lights Bookstore
 The City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue is known as a literary gathering place since 1953. It is also an independent bookstore and publisher specializing in politics, arts, and world literature.
20. The North Beach Jazz Mural
 Painted by Bay Area artist Bill Weber in 1987, the iconic North Beach Jazz Mural is a mesmerizing sight to behold. Seen on the mural are Benny Goodman playing his clarinet, Gene Krupa on the drums, and Teddy Wilson on the piano.
Piccolo Forno
Piccolo Forno is probably the best pizzeria in North Beach! Serving a vast array of le pizze such as the Salsiccia (homemade sausage), Tonno and Cipolla (tuna & onions), Pizza al Diavola (red sauce and salame), Monte Bianco (scarmoza cheese, ham, white truffle, arugula), to name a few.  They also serve authentic Italian pasta dishes particularly the Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Tortellini Ai 3 Formaggi, and Rigatoni Amatriciana.  Si mangia bene qui!
Friendly and prompt service at Piccolo Forno!
Mona Lisa Fiat
Parked in front of the Mona Lisa Restaurant is this 1951 Fiat Cinquecento (500) with wooden interiors that convert into a table.  Patrons may choose to dine inside this Fiat car upon request.
Mona Lisa
A table for two outside the Mona Lisa Restaurant on Columbus Avenue
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.

**All photos taken by piatravelissimoblog.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Marcel Luna says:

    I love this P😘💃🏻 Keep on writing and inspiring all of us ❤️😍😘🙏🏻 I am so proud of you girl!


  2. Thank you, Marcel. Your kind words make me feel more inspired to keep writing!


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