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Jack Kerouac Alley- A Unique, Underrated Part of San Francisco

Jack Kerouac Alley- A Unique, Underrated Part of San Francisco

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Formerly known as Adler Alley or Adler Place, Jack Kerouac Alley is a one-way alleyway and one of our favorite hidden gems in San Francisco. This small, hidden alley is living proof of the multiculturalism of San Francisco and a place where “the East” and “the West” meet, both figuratively and literally. This historic alley is the spot where Chinatown fuses into Little Italy. The street wears the name of Jack Kerouac; a beat generation writer who was a frequent visitor of the Vesuvio and the bookstore adjacent to the alley. If you’re looking for a great place to experience San Francisco’s legendary bohemian spirit, this is the place for you.

History

history

Back in the days, this alley was known as Adler Place and the aspiring young poet, Jack Kerouac was one of the most frequent visitors to Vesuvio, one of the oldest cafes in the area and the City Lights Bookstore, a charming local bookstore that was opened in 1953 until he moved to Florida in the late-1950s. Thirty years later, this street that was once the hub for beat poetry pioneers has become a garbage dumping shortcut for local trucks.

However, fellow poet and founder of the legendary City Lights Bookstore, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, lead an initiative to rename the alley in the late-1980s. This was accepted by the local authorities and soon after, the alley was widened and repaved, turned into a pedestrian walkway, and poetry verses were engraved on the street including both, Western and Chinese writing.

According to Ferlinghetti, “at the street’s front side, we faced the western world. At the back, we faced the eastern world.” This unique description of the alley was embodied in its present form as Jack Kerouac alley became a bridge that connects the two most important and culturally rich parts of San Francisco (North Beach and Chinatown).

The alley with its new appearance and new name was open to the public in April 2007.

Enjoying this post? Then you should also check out our list of hiking trails in San Francisco.

Jack Kerouac Attractions

If you’re looking for some unique experiences in San Francisco, this touching memorial that came out from a dumpster alley is a great starting point. The tiny alley connects Grant Avenue (one of Chinatown’s biggest streets) and Columbus Avenue that leads to Little Italy. From beautiful murals and poetry readings to iconic cafes and bookstores, you’ll find a lot of interesting things to do.

Intriguing Wall Murals

wll mural

The intriguing art murals near the old bookstore are one of the most recent additions to the alley. And as such, they add a special charm to this area. The murals range from creative drawings to beat generation thematic and portraits of famous people from San Francisco that make the alley more colorful and even more charming.

City Lights Bookstore

city light bookstore

City Lights Bookstore has been one of the most popular literary meeting places in San Francisco. The library is internationally famous for its wide selection of books and passionate commitment to free intellectual inquiry. Even today, almost 70 years after its creation, the bookstore has amazing energy and spirit that one can feel as soon as stepping inside.

If there’s a city that deserves the title “Cradle of the Beat Generation”, that would definitely be San Francisco and this library has a lot to do with it. Some of the most influential Beat generation writers, including Jack Kerouac himself, were visiting this bookstore in the 1950s and the 1960s. If you want to take a glimpse of this part of San Francisco’s history, visiting this part of the alley and the iconic bookstore is a must!

Vesuvio

bar san fransiico

Vesuvio is one of the most famous historic bars in San Francisco. The bar is located opposite of the City Lights Bookstore in a beautiful, old building that dates back to 1916. Vesuvio started working in 1948 when it was founded by Henri Lenoi. From the beginnings, a lot of Beat Generation celebrities, such as Jack Kerouac himself, City Lights Bookstore founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dylan Thomas, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and Francis Ford Coppola were frequent visitors.

In the 1970s, Ron Fein bought the bar, and even though he’s not alive anymore, his family still runs the bar today. Even if you’re not a fan of the Beat Generation, it’s hard to resist visiting such a charming café that remains a historical monument to poetry, jazz, and the Beat Generation even in the modern era.

Beat Museum

chess floor

As its name suggests, the Beat Museum on Jack Kerouac Alley is a living monument of the Beat Generation; a generation of compassion, tolerance, and courage to live one’s individual truth. The famous “Beats” was a group of writers, thinkers, and artists of all kinds that appeared in the 1950s in San Francisco, and only in this museum, you’ll find a unique collection of Beat memorabilia. This includes rare photographs, personal journals, manuscripts, and much more.

The Museum is operational since 2003. Initially, this was a “museum on wheels” before finding its permanent home near North Beach and one of the strongholds of the Beat Generation. After all, there’s no better place for a Beat Generation museum than this!

Finally, if you want to experience more of the area, check out this Northbeach-Chinatown food tour.

Hotels Near Jack Kerouac Alley

hotles near

Europa Hotel

If you’re looking for great budget accommodation, the best option in the area is the Europa Hotel. Don’t expect a lot, but at $45 per night, it’s one of the cheapest hotels in the area. And if $45 still seems like a lot, don’t forget that this is San Francisco.

Hotel North Beach

Hotel North Beach is 200 yards away from Jack Kerouac Alley. It’s another great budget option if you’re looking for a decent and budget-friendly hotel in Chinatown. The price per night is between $80 and $90.

Hotel Boheme

Located in North Beach, Hotel Boheme is one of the best value-for-money accommodation options in North Baech and Chinatown. The rooms are clean and tidy with a vintage interior that will make you feel like you’re in the golden era of the Beat Generation.

Hilton San Francisco Financial District

Finally, if you’re looking for some luxury, the best place in the area is The Hilton. The hotel isn’t on Jack Kerouac but it’s only 500 yards away, making it a perfect option for luxury travelers looking to explore the area.

Restaurants Near Jack Kerouac Alley

Restaurants near jack kerouac alley

Technically, there isn’t a single restaurant on Jack Kerouac Alley. However, there are a lot of great restaurants behind the corner or on the intersection with Columbus and Pacific Avenue. If you’re looking for some good Italian food, you’ll find E Tuto Quo on Columbus Ave just opposite of Jack Kerouac Alley.

Alternatively, if you’re a fan of Chinese food, opposite the other side of the alley, you’ll find Yee’s Restaurant. For the best noodles in the area, check out Yin Do Wonton Noodle on Pacific Ave.

Finally, if you want to try something different, check out Brandy Ho’s for some fabulous Hunanese dishes. The restaurant is located near the corner of Columbus and Pacific 2 minutes away from Jack Kerouac Alley.

Did you ever visit this alley? Would you like to visit after reading our article or maybe you think we didn’t mention something important? 

Let us know in the comments! 

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Danial (Dan On The Road)

Sunday 19th of July 2020

Such a great and thoughtful homage to one of the most important cultural contributions to the US and the world.

passport symphony

Tuesday 21st of July 2020

Thank you, Dan, I really appreciate it.

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