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A Food Lover's Guide to San Francisco

Posted Nov 26 2013 1:53am
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to accompany Brent on a business trip to San Francisco, and with a mere 1 hour and 40 minute flight away, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to visit a place that had been on my must-see travel list for as long as I can remember. For the most part, we were fortunate to have amazing weather for the whole trip, up until the last day, when it started to pour, the type of rain that is much easier to deal with from the inside of a taxi cab. While in San Francisco, we had an amazing time, ate the most enjoyable food, shopped, talked, laughed, all while circumnavigating the city a handful of times. What amazes me the most about San Francisco, is that for a city that seems so big, it really is quite easy to get around and see all of the sites on foot. And if you bring a good topographical map with you, you might even be able to avoid walking up some major hills - not likely. We spent 5 days in the city with a short road trip to Napa Valley on Sunday, to drink wine with the snooty folk, and eat the most ridiculously delicious wood-oven pizza. There are so many wonderful things to see and do in San Fran, and so many delicious restaurants to try. We were only there for 5 days, but that is 5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 5 dinners to share. We did not even come close to trying everything that was on our list, but I have summarized all of my favorites, in hopes that one day when you visit San Fran, you will find my recommendations useful, especially the food-related ones.


| SAN FRANCISCO THINGS TO DO |

Mission District:  is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city to walk, shop, and eat. If you are looking for some fresh, local, vegetarian food, or some delicious Mexican food, this is the place to be. Spend a leisurely afternoon walking around this neighborhood, especially Balmy Alley off 24th Street, where you can find more than 80 beautiful colorfully painted murals on the buildings, walls, and fences. This is also where you will find the popular bakery Tartine . Stop for a croissant or pastry and put your feet up. If you are lucky, you will be able to grab a loaf of their famous sourdough. To get there, take the BART and get off at the 16th St. Mission station and then walked up and down the streets from 16th to 24th, between Dolores St. and Folsom St. You won't be disappointed.

Haight Ashbury:  a neighborhood the Grateful Dead once called home, the streets are lined with vintage clothing shops, second hand stores, head shops, music stores, book stores, cafes and bars, therefore definitely worth a trip, if you are looking to eat and shop. I'm not going to proclaim that this area is the cleanest, polite and most welcoming area of San Fran, but once you get past the rough surface and weathered exterior, you can try to imagine what it was like back in the 60's when people used to flock from far and wide looking for peace and love.

Alamo Square :  on our way to see the Golden Gate Bridge, we stopped at Alamo Square, with one intention - to see the Painted Ladies  - the houses from Full House, and we were delightfully thrilled when we stumbled onto so much more. We parked on Divisadero St. right in front of The Mill, a joint venture between Fourbarrel Coffee and  Josey Baker Bread , where we grabbed a cup of coffee and the most amazing loaf of sourdough. It's really quite impressive there, each barista has their own coffee station, meticulously making the perfect cup of coffee. We then headed down the street to Bean Bag Cafe , grabbed a smoothie and a few breakfast burritos, walked over to the Alamo Square Park and ate while taking in the view of the Painted Ladies, albeit, they are just houses, but so permanently ingrained in my memory 'cue Full House theme song'. After, we went to Bi-Rite , grabbed some ice cream, and then walked down Divisadero Street, poking our heads into a few shops. I adore this neighborhood.

Ferry Building : is a must do, and even though it is a lot busier on the weekend, if you can get there when the market is happening on Sat or Sun morning, you won't be disappointed with the fresh produce. There are so many places to eat, foods to sample, little shops to visit (which I will discuss in detail below). All of San Fran's most successful businesses are gathered in this one spot. It's a food lovers paradise.

Cable Car :  riding the cable car was a highlight for me. I bought a day pass for $14, or you can pay $6 per ride. I rode the cable car throughout the city, while doing the obligatory hanging from the side of the railing, and it was everything I had imagined it to be. All of the drivers were super friendly and they allowed me to do ridiculous things, like scream as loud as I could while hanging on for dear life, going down the hill. It probably helped that it was a Monday, and there was no one else on the cable car.

Fisherman's Wharf : there are so many things to see and do at Fisherman's Wharf, you can easily spend the day here. You won't be able to miss the barks from the resident sea lions at Pier 39. Stop by the Musée Mécanique and check out what arcades used to be in the early 1900's. They have everything from hand cranked music boxes, to mechanical fortune tellers, and antique arcade machines. After you've spent all of your loose change and energy, head on over to the Codmother Fish and Chips  for lunch - the best I've ever eaten. Stroll down to the Hyde Street Pier and check out the big ships, and then to the Ghirardelli Square to sample some chocolate. I like the walk along the water from Pier 39 to the Hyde Street Pier. You get a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Northbeach: is San Francisco's little Italy. This article by Peggy Knickerbocker sums it up nicely. Our hotel was situated in this neighborhood, so we were able to visit it frequently. There is no shortage of pasta or pizza in this friendly neighborhood. The first night we arrived, we found ourselves wandering through the streets of this vibrant neighborhood, and we were convinced that someone had taken us Italy. The streets are lined with check clothed tables and chairs, all looking out onto the street, perfect for people watching. A very European feel. Further down the hill, you can't miss the street buzzing with neon signs and strip clubs, which is a sight in itself. Personally, we opted to take solace in the grungier pubs and bars that lines the streets and alleys. There is much to see and do in this area.

| OTHER THINGS TO DO |

Chinatown : The largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and the oldest in North America.
Lombard Street : a windy street consisting of eight tight hairpin turns. It is fun to take a car down.
Coit Tower : purchase a ticket for $4 and you can take the elevator to the top to get a good view of the city.
Alcatraz : take the ferry over and get a glimpse of what it was like to be a criminal locked in a cell on an island. I did not have the chance to do this, which may or may not have been intentional.
Golden Gate Park : we didn't have a chance to wander around this park, but I hear it is very pretty and worth the visit.
Exploratorium  a twenty first century learning laboratory. We didn't get a chance to visit, but it looked super fun.



| SAN FRANCISCO COFFEE AND DRINKS |

Blue Bottle Coffee : if you plan to visit the Ferry Building location on a Sat or Sun morning, get there early, as the line can grow long, quick. We did see a few other locations around the city, so there is always that option of you don't feel like waiting, but it is worth noting that I had the most amazingly delicious waffle that I have eaten in my life at the Ferry Building location. I wish I could recreate it at home, it was that good.

The Mill : located near Alamo Square, they serve excellent coffee from  Fourbarrel Coffee  and the most amazing sourdough loaves by  Josey Baker Bread . You can order a fresh slice and they will serve it was a generous slather of nut butter.

Pressed Juicery : located on Union Street, this places only sells fresh pressed juice, but that's all they really need to sell, because they are that amazing. I loved the free samples the offered. Take advantage and try as many flavors as possible.

Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant : located in the Ferry Building, this place has an extensive list of wine, champagne, and beer to sample. We ordered the champagne flight and it was delicious. Friday evenings get busy, and you will likely need to wait 20 min for a table. They also offer small bites, cheese and bread, or bring in your own snacks.

Comstock Saloon : located in Northbeach, is in an old historic building with lots of charm. Order a delicious cocktail from their extensive list, and sit back in the old yellow velour chairs in the back corner by the fire place, and you are instantly brought back to the early 1900's.
 

| SAN FRANCISCO FOOD |

Gary Danko : located near the Ghiradelli building, if you can get a reservation well in advance, I recommend eating at Gary Danko at least once in your life, but you better save your pennies beforehand. Every item I sampled from the menu was absolutely amazing, from the seafood risotto, the seared tuna, to the mascarpone cheesecake. The best meal I have ever eaten.

Cowgirl Creamery : located in the Ferry Building, this local cheese shop serves up some delicious treats: grilled cheese, soup, mac and cheese. Stop by the cheese shop next door and bring home some samples, or pick up a jar of their bread and butter pickles. If you're lucky enough to visit on a day where they are serving raclette - warmed cheese on bread, you must give it a try.

The Codmother Fish and Chips : located in Fisherman's Wharf, the best piece of Halibut I have ever eaten, and I have had my fair share of fish and chips in my life. All of the seating is outdoors, so make sure you visit on a sunny day.

Stable Cafe : located in the Mission District, I was tempted to order everything from the menu. This lunch spot offers fresh local items from grilled veggie and quinoa salad to a warm veggie panini. It also makes a perfect stop to check emails, or curl up with a good book.

Tony's Coal Fire Pizza and Slice House : located in Northbeach, this tiny spot offers an amazing slice of New York style pizza. Call ahead if you are looking for a whole pizza to bring back to your hotel room.

Stinking Rose : located in Northbeach, if you are looking for a truly authentic experience, visit this restaurant, where their sole purpose is to have you leave smelling as garlicky as possible. Try to get a seat in one of the circus inspired booths, and make sure to order the sizzling mussel and shrimp platter. Brings some mints for after.

Vicoletto Italian Restaurant : located in Northbeach, this restaurant is one of the trendier looking Italian spots. We stopped here for the nice interior decor and good food reviews. The service was something to be desired, but the pasta was amazing. I will definitely return for the food.

Sparrow Bar and Kitchen : located in the Haight and Ashbury neighborhood, this trendy spot offers fresh and seasonal fair. I ordered the grilled kale salad and olive oil and sage fried cauliflower. The service was quick and friendly, and the meal delicious.

The Grove : located on Filmore Street, this colorful and vibrant spot is busy from 7 am to midnight. The french toast, huevos rancheros, and sandwiches are all very tasty.

Bean Bag Cafe : located near Alamo Square, this little vegetarian cafe offers a wide variety of breakfast treats. The smoothies were incredible.


| SAN FRANCISCO SWEETS |

Miette : located in the Ferry Building, they have a beautiful selection of macarons and other fancy treats.

TCHO Chocolate : located by the Ferry Building, visit their chocolate factory, take a tour, and sample some amazing chocolate. I really adore the Mokaccino chocolate, but the Galactic Gelato, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, and TCHunky TCHOtella are also worth a taste.

Bi-Rite Creamery : located near Alamo Square, stop by and browse the aisles of perfect stocked artisan items, or grab some of their famous ice cream to go. Also a great place to check out some local micro brew.

Dandelion Chocolate : located in the Mission District, Dandelion is a bean to bar chocolate factory offering the most exquisite chocolate I have ever tasted. They also offer a selection of baked sweet treats that is worth noting.

Tartine Bakery : located in the Mission District, Tartine is the famous bakery known for their sourdough bread. Stop by for a late afternoon pick-me-up, when the lines aren't busy. They offer sandwiches, croissants, cream tarts and much more.

| SAN FRANCISCO ACCOMMODATIONS |

Omni Hotel San Francisco :  is a conveniently located, beautiful boutique hotel located in downtown San Francisco near Northbeach and Chinatown. This boutique hotel was built as a bank in 1926, the lobby adorned with Italian marble, large beautiful chandlers, and an interior designed with the Florentine Renaissance architecture as an influence. The hotel staff are friendly and the beds are extra comfy.



| SAN FRANCISCO SHOPPING |

Mission District: a great selection of small independent shops offering one-of-a-kind items.

Haight Ashbury: a good selection of vintage clothing shops, second hand stores, head shops, music stores, book stores, cafes and bars. The Sockshop and Shoe Biz are worth a look.

Ferry Building: a food lovers paradise, a great place to purchase a bottle of wine, olive oil, cheese, and some interesting artisan prepared products.

Filmore Street : this street offers some cute one of kind shops, alongside with the more popular Kiehl's, Ralph Lauren, and MAC.

Union Street : this street offers a range of art galleries, trendy boutiques, and jewelry stores.

Alamo Square: The Perish Trust , and Umami Mart SF Popup are two of my favorite shops in San Fran.


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