North Beach is a neighborhood in the northeast of San Francisco adjacent to Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf and Russian Hill. The neighborhood is San Francisco's Little Italy, and has historically been home to a large Italian American population. It is still home to many Italian restaurants today, though many other ethnic groups currently live in the neighborhood. It was also the historic center of the beatnik subculture. Today, North Beach is one of San Francisco's main red light and nightlife districts as well as a residential neighborhood populated by a mix of young urban professionals, families and Chinese immigrants connected to the adjacent Chinatown.
The American Planning Association (APA) has named North Beach as one of ten 'Great Neighborhoods in America'.
Originally, the city's northeast shoreline extended only to what is today Taylor and Francisco streets. The area largely known today as North Beach was an actual beach, filled in with landfill around the late 19th century. Warehouses, fishing wharves, and docks were then built on the newly formed shoreline. Due to the proximity of the docks, the southern half of the neighborhood south of Broadway was home of the infamous Barbary Coast.
Following its reconstruction after the 1906 Earthquake, the proximity of the nearby docks and fishing wharves attracted a large amount of Italian immigrants that would create the Italian character of the neighborhood that exists to this day. Prominent Italian Americans that came from the neighborhood include Baseball legend Joe Dimaggio who grew up in the neighborhood and briefly returned to live there with his wife Marilyn Monroe during the 1950s, as well as former San Francisco mayor and politician Joseph Alioto as well as others from the prominent Alioto family.
Due to its past legacy as the Barbary Coast, Broadway east of Columbus, grew to be the home of the city's red light district and striptease clubs. The Condor Club, on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, was opened in 1964 as America's first topless bar which it still is today. The Lusty Lady, a peep-show establishment, is notable as the world's only worker cooperative strip club. The Broadway strip was also home to the Mabuhay Gardens, The Stone and On Broadway nightclubs, which were important venues in the punk rock scene of the late 1970s to mid-1980s. Another notable night spot was The Committee, an Improvisational theatre group founded by alums of The Second City in Chicago. The Committee opened April 10, 1963 at 622 Broadway in a 300 seat Cabaret theater.
During the 1950s, many of the neighborhood's cafes and bars became the home and epicenter of the Beat Generation and gave rise to the San Francisco Renaissance. The term "beatnik" originated from the scene here and was coined in a derogatory fashion by local and famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. Many of that generation's most famous writers and personalities such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Neal Cassady lived in the neighborhood. Another poet from this generation, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, founded the City Lights Bookstore that still exists today on the corner of Broadway and Columbus as an official historic landmark and serves as one of the main focal points of this generation.
Since the 1980s, and much like Manhattan's Little Italy, due to a decrease in immigration from Italy and gentrification, the neighborhood has seen its native Italian American population rapidly shrink, while neighboring Chinatown has been rapidly expanding north into the neighborhood east of Broadway and along Stockton Street causing a major demographic shift to a mix of mostly Chinese and young professional population, although some, albeit very few, Italian Americans remain.