To Catch a Criminal: A North Beach Movie Walk

by Katie Cook

North Beach is a popular filming location. From classics to bad 90s comedies a variety of movies have been filmed in the streets of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. This self-guided walking tour focuses on the criminals and the famous crime-fighters who have spent time on the North Beach strip. The walk is fairly easy; it is mostly flat, with only one hill. This self-guided walking tour takes about an hour to complete.

The Walk begins at 17 Columbus Ave, near the intersection of Columbus Avenue, Washington, and Montgomery Streets

Take the Money and Run was filmed in front of 17 and 19 Columbus Ave. This 1969 film was Woody Allen’s second movie and the first movie that he wrote, directed, and starred in. In a documentary about Allen’s life his ex-wife, Louise Lasser, said that on the first day of filming Take the Money and Run Allen was seen reading a book titled “How to Direct.” In this scene bungling criminal Virgil Starkwell (played by Woody Allen) attempts to steal a bag of money during an armored truck delivery. Watch and see what happens.


Follow Virgil’s escape route and walk half way up the block (towards Jackson Street) and have a peek down Gibb Street.

From the outside it looks like an ordinary walkway between two buildings, but when you turn the corner it is as if you are transported onto the set. This alleyway is where the shootout between Virgil and the police was filmed. Here’s the shootout scene again.


Go back to Columbus Ave. and walk to the intersection of Columbus and Kearny. Cross the street and walk up Kearny to Broadway. Cross Broadway and walk half way up the Kearny Street stairs.

After being almost run over by a mysterious black car, Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) pursues the suspect in a car chase that leads all over the city. This clip from Basic Instinct shows what I think is the best part of the chase scene. Curran chases the suspect up the Kearny Street stairs, you’ll see his mustang pass Dunnes Alley as it goes up the stairs. The car then passes a truck and moves from the left to the right-side of the stairs before sneaking through the break between the traffic barrier and the home at the top of the hill and making a left onto Vallejo. Check out the clip and then walk up the stairs and make a left onto Vallejo complete the chase.


At the top of the Kearny Street stairs make a left onto Vallejo and then your first right onto Romolo Place.  

Walk down Romolo Place and check out Part Two of the Basic Instinct chase scene. Notice the cobblestone gutter of Romolo Place. In the clip you can see the same cobblestone as the car gets airborne at the top of the hill. As you continue walking down the alley you will pass the parking lot that is shown in the clip. At the bottom of the alley Detective Curran makes a left onto Broadway and the chase continues throughout the city until it finally ends in fiery blaze off of 3rd Street.

At the bottom of the hill make a right onto Broadway and walk to the corner of Broadway and Columbus.

In Dirty Harry, Police Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) and his partner, Chico, are patrolling the streets of North Beach looking for the Scorpio killer. Clint Eastwood wasn’t the original pick to play Dirty Harry. Before Eastwood accepted the part Paul Newman, John Wayne, Steve McQueen, and Jack Nicholson had all turned the part down.

Cross Columbus and Broadway and walk to Jack Kerouac Alley (off of Columbus Street) near City Lights bookstore and Vesuvio.

In Metro Hostage Negotiator Scott Roper (Eddie Murphy) pursues a criminal  who had broken into his girlfriend’s apartment and tried to kill her. Murphy chases the criminal from the apartment (located on Green Street), across Broadway, and through Jack Kerouac alley where they finally get into a fight at the end of the alley (Grant Street). The first part of this scene was filmed through Vesuvio’s second story window. Vesuvio can be seen in several movies and was used as the coffeeshop in So I Married An Axe Murderer.


Go back to the intersection of Columbus and Broadway. Cross Broadway and walk up Columbus Street towards the last stop on the walk- Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park appears several times in the movie Dirty Harry. In Dirty Harry the Scorpio Killer uses the rooftop of Café Divine to hunt his prey in the park below.  The scene opens on a view of Saints Peter and Paul Church and the park. The shot then pans over to Café Divine, the tan building located at the corner of Stockton and Union Streets. If you look to the top of the building you can see the shed-like structure that appears in the movie. In this scene Scorpio is standing on the rooftop reading a classified ad from the police.

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