The closest you can get to the complete Beat experience without breaking a law. The 1000-plus artifacts in this museum's literary-ephemera collection include the sublime (the banned edition of Ginsberg's Howl, with the author's own annotations) and the ridiculous (those Kerouac bobblehead dolls are definite head-shakers). Downstairs, watch Beat-era films in ramshackle theater seats redolent with the odors of literary giants, pets and pot. Upstairs, pay your respects at shrines to individual Beat writers. A seismic retrofit may mean closures; call ahead.

Enter the museum through the adjoining museum store, stocked with poetry chapbooks and obscure Beat titles you won't find elsewhere. Entry to the store is free, and so are readings held here (check the website). You'll notice there's a dusty old car parked downstairs: that's a 1949 Hudson roadster, and it's covered with dust accumulated over 4000 miles of driving coast to coast for the filming of 2012's On the Road movie. Guided two-hour walking tours cover the museum, Beat history and literary alleys.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby North Beach & Chinatown attractions

1. City Lights Books

0.04 MILES

No one could have predicted the cultural force City Lights would become when it first opened in 1953. Sure, it had a proletarian ethos suggested by its…

2. Jack Kerouac Alley

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'The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great…' This ode by the On the Road and Dharma Bums author is embedded in his…

3. Mule Gallery

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Upstart San Francisco artists buck art-world trends and kick out brave new work at the backstreet Mule Gallery. Recent shows have featured artworks by Bay…

4. Columbus Tower

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If these copper-clad walls could talk, they'd name-drop shamelessly. The tower's original occupant was political boss Abe Ruef, ousted in 1907 and sent to…

5. Wentworth Place

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Dragons bring this shadowy brick byway roaring to life. The narrow entryway is illuminated with 'Dragon Boats Chasing Moonlight,' a new mosaic mural…

6. Good Luck Parking Garage

0.17 MILES

Each parking spot at this garage comes with fortune-cookie wisdom stenciled onto the asphalt: 'The time is right to make new friends' or 'Stop searching…

7. Ross Alley

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Colorful murals hint at the colorful characters who once roamed SF’s oldest alleyway – known during the Gold Rush variously as Mexico, Spanish or Manila…

8. Chinese Telephone Exchange


California's earliest high-tech adopters weren't 1970s Silicon Valley programmers – they were Chinatown switchboard operators c 1894. To connect callers,…