I Left My Heart in North Beach

According to my sweetie, the best hostel in San Francisco is the Green Tortoise, so that’s where my best friend Ray and I stayed for the second day of our vacation. It is in the North Beach district, which is S.F.’s version of Little Italy. The Hostel is in the most famous part of North Beach, Columbus Ave., where it borders and blends with Chinatown. From a block away you can see the majesty of the Sentinel building and the Transamerica Pyramid. You can also see the Citylights Bookstore and the Vesuvio. The Sentinel building is a green flat-iron that was constructed in 1907. The frame was actually built in 1906 and survived the great earthquake to be finished the following year. Supposedly you can sometimes see Francis Ford Coppola upstairs in his office, he also owns the cafe on the bottom floor.

Citylights is about as famous as a bookstore can get. It is where Lawrence Ferlinghetti first published Ginsberg’s “Howl” though it had been declared obscene. Ferlinghetti went to jail and it started the court case that is still the precedent for whether a document is considered obscene (whether or not it has artisitc merit). Aside from all that, it is a damn good bookstore. On the same block are the Vesuvio bar and the Stinking Rose, (named because all the recipes are made with garlic) both well-known beatnik hang-outs.

Ray and I spent the morning at the Beat Museum. The museum is not glamorous. It occupies an office space, old doors are used as makeshift dividers to define the space. There was plenty of info but they could use more artifacts. It seemed like the kind of place that exists not as a tourist trap but because a small group of dedicated folks think it should be there.

Rather than eating at the typical North Beach hang-outs, we brunched at Juicy Lucy’s, a mostly vegan, organic juice bar. The atmosphere is just my style: vaguely (Eastern) Indian and very brightly colored. Instead of benches, I sat on a bale of hay. They serve juice in bowls. The owner commented that the strawberries were particularly fresh and tasty that day, I love that the ingredients list is seasonal. Everything is made right there from scratch so it took a long time for our food to come.

After brunch, Ray and I walked to Chinatown. In my mind, Chinatown is the best place in the city for shopping. You can’t beat the prices or the atmosphere. I bought a girlie hair pin in the shape of a spider. I had regretted not getting it the last time I was in Chinatown and I was determined to find the shop that sold it. I love spiders and there is something delightful about wearing a pretty ornament made to look like something that most think of as ugly. I also fell in love with these bracelet/necklaces that are held together with magnets. Ray was shopping for a digital camera and I was very happy to buy a memory card from one of the little shops (rather than a corporate chain).
That night Ray and I went to the famous Castro theater in the Castro district. In the tradition of guady, early theaters it is not the prettiest I have seen but it won big points for the organ player. Before the show, a pipe organ rolls up from a trap door, played by a formally-dressed gentleman. The sound fills the entire auditorium in a way that no paltry speakers can. The sound is so full it is like hearing an entire orchestra. Truthfully, I enjoyed the pipe organ more than the movie. The movie was a Japanese film entitled Vengeance is Mine. After the movie, Ray and I went home, vowing to continue our celebration at Booty later in the week.