The neighborhood was named North Beach because before the 19th century it was, in fact, San Francisco's north beach. The shoreline was extended with landfill and new wharves and docks were built. As with most coastal cities, the area close to the docks became a neighborhood if ill repute and was known for gambling, prostitution, and saloons during the Gold Rush. The Infamous Barbary Coast of San Francisco is still a major location for strip clubs and bars, especially on Broadway east of Columbus Avenue.
The 1950s gave rise to the Beatnik generation - a movement that originated in San Francisco's North Beach. North Beach hosted such famous Beatniks as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and Lawerence Ferlinghetti, who opened the famous City Lights Bookstore. There is a Beatnik Museum in North Beach, but I didn't go, because that period of history is boring to me. Sorry. You can pay a visit to City Lights Bookstore and browse the many counter-cultural books. City Lights Bookstore celebrates the liberal and experimental morals and culture of San Francisco and chronicles the leaders of the cultural movements that led San Francisco to where it stands in today's culture.