On my first (solo) trip to San Francisco, I decided to eat the city out. Its such a beautiful foggy city by the bay, the Golden Gate at a distance, fresh markets and lots and lots to explore. San Francisco is probably one of my favorite cities in America because its got great history, some tragic pasts and now is an exciting, vibrant city full of people from all parts of America and the world. If the weather wasn’t so chilly, I’d move there!
One of the highlights of this city (apart from the bridge, the largest Chinatown in America, the sights and smells) is the FOOD. I stayed a hop and skip away from Chinatown and the Financial District (about 5 minutes of a walk) and the Piers were just a 10 minute walk so I was pretty fortunate with where my hostel was. With the long list of places that I wanted to try out, it so happened that most of these spots were cafes, coffee shops or eateries! A shout out to my tiny hostel (which I was lucky enough to find out given that I booked last minute. I will ignore the 3 long flight of stairs I had to drag my heavy bag up and the tiny bathrooms only because it was the cheapest and friendliest place I could find at the shortest time and met some really cool people because of the tiny spaces!
I’ve compiled my list of favorite eats in San Fran with maybe a few additional tips/recommendations to explore and taste the city like I did and I officially can say that this time #IGotFatinSF and I sure didn’t mind! I spent a good 11 days in SF just walking A LOT and eating a lot and I think this is the best way to tackle SF – cross it off, district by district. Its more fun that way and you get to completely immerse yourself in a different culture each day because you get a mini bit of the world in every corner of SF at very little: travel- winning!
I started off with the Pier area, Embarcadero and the Financial District just because it was so close to me and I absolutely fell in love with the Ferry Market Building!
Top places to try in the Financial District/Piers:
- Start off with coffee- Peet’s coffee (Its everywhere, and it does a good black with delicious chocolate scones!)
- Second coffee spot (if you are like me) – Philz Coffee (available right past the Transamerica Tower in a massive coffee truck (ah the excitement!) with long queues but worth it.
- If you need a third cup, there’s a very friendly Blue Bottle around the corner too.
- For a refreshing afternoon lunch, visit Waterbar. Do a walk long the Bay Trail (or cycle!) and its perfect for an al fresco late lunch. I was there when the sun set and the Bay Bridge lit up and it made the walk worth it. The oysters are brought in from all parts of America and they’ve got a massive oyster menu, its delicious!
- A good ol’ beer needs no excuse, but another short walk back half way through, you can one of the coolest and oldest bars in San Fran – Old Ship Saloon – now the history that follows is that the ship Arkansas was pulled ashore at Alcatraz on a stormy night and was then dragged across the notorious Barbary Coast to SF during the 1849 Gold Rush. The watering hole was then converted to a bar in the 19th century and it stands to this day. The pub has cool craft beers and old photos hung with pride on its wooden walls. Definitely ‘gold diggin’ when I chanced upon this spot!
- For another cool spot for dinner, check out The Slanted door. This restaurant is placed inside the Ferry Building (when you exit it towards the bay side) and its only open from 2pm. A bit high end but really good Vietnamese!
- Along the Piers, Pier 23 Cafe does the world’s best fish and chips! I mean, I would confidently say its better than the Bournemouth Beach ones in the UK! The view is worth the 20 minute wait-list that you might end up on as the place is just so popular. Sit outside facing the water preferably nursing a cool beer, you can’t be disappointed!
Now the Ferry Building alone deserves a list because even if you set aside the Farmer’s Market (that runs every Saturday), the foodie in you will start doing cartwheels once you step foot in this building. Go hungry… very hungry!
- If you love pork, the way I do, first stop (after you’ve warmed your hands with a cuppa from Blue Bottle) should be Boccalone for everything pig!
- Next, stop by at Cowgirl Creamery for some yum cheese tasting and a scoop of ice cream!
- If you are done with coffee and ice cream, its of course, wine’o clock! Its crazy how there is a fully stocked Wine bar in the middle of veggies and cheeses and ham!
- After a glass, head outside to the Farmer’s Market and first stop must be at The Farmer’s Wife. I had their honey lavender bacon and avo cheese toastie (still drooling!)
- You might need another cup of coffee for this one, but head inside and look for Biscuit benders for the most delicious biscuits which are kind of a cross between doughnuts and biscuits. Biscuits for days!
While walking around the city and Union Square, don’t forget to spot the many Tony Bennett hearts all around. Super cute! If you haven’t already given your heart to SF, you will after you walk through echoing Tony’s words ‘I left a piece of my heart in San Fransisco’
If you find yourself in Chinatown, don’t forget to stop by Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory to see the sweetest old lady make fortune cookies at pro level and you can even get your own little message put in the cookie and take it back for someone you love (like I did- but do carry it in your hand luggage!).
Another must-see sight, is Lombard Street, which is famous for being world’s crookedest street. If you brave to walk it bottom to top and then back down, you will end up at one of the liveliest Piers, Pier 35 to Piers 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. You can grab a nice little snack at Freddie’s Sandwiches on your way down to refuel.
Down at Fisherman’s Wharf, if you are a sucker for movies and particularly Forrest Gump, you can lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and then visit The Fudgery for some amazing fudge varieties! San Fran was my first stop on my American holiday and I had already eaten a truck load of delicious food but there is definitely more on the list!
Once you are done squealing at how cute baby seals are and looking at Alcatraz in the distance from Pier 39 (and your teeth start chattering), you can warm up with a 30 minute walk to Ghirardelli Square! *does a small dance move* Hello chocolate heaven!
The square itself is … a square with a park in the centre and dogs running by, people jogging, skateboarding et cetera until you spot the big brown building with the metal signage of Ghirardelli calling out to you. The property comprises of the main building that has the Ghirardelli chocolaterie, ice cream parlour, shops and a cafe. I was so fascinated at first, it smelt heavenly and was a great relief from the cold outside. I quickly got into line and bought about eight bars of gourmet chocolates to take home with me and then flopped onto a diner style couch to wait for my hot chocolate topped with marshmallows to arrive! I’m not a hot chocolate fan, but I thought it must be tried. Regret, I did not! *heaven in my mouth!*
Another area that cannot be missed is the North Beach area. I stayed about 12 minutes away and this is the Italian precinct of the city. Home to a lot of Italian restaurants and a lot of Italian Americans too. In the past, North Beach was bound by the Barbary Coast but now is the perfect location to go for a picnic, a stroll, some great eats and exploring.
- I had the best gnocchi in ever at ‘Firenze by Night‘ at North Beach.
- Golden Boy Pizza – another midnight haunt we just rolled into, a quick walk from where I stayed. They serve pizza by the slice/square and has a number of flavors to choose from. We queued up for a good 15 mins to get in but it was absolutely worth the wait at 10.45pm post a very long day of walking.
- Another 45mins wait that was worth it, was Mama’s for breakfast. They used freshly baked fruit bread to make their French toast (mine were made using caramel brioche (bottom far right)- So delish!!!
A couple of other spots to try out would be around the Mission District area- had some really amazing tacos at La Taqueira. You can really feel like you are suddenly in Mexico, the atmosphere changes quite drastically too (a great outlet shop here!). I walked all the way from the piers one day to AT&T Park to see my first baseball game and then got some grub from La Taqueira (yes there was a queue) and finished off with gelato from Bi-Rite Creamery (another great spot) for all odd flavours of gelato! I went for a mascarpone and sour cream flavour- so delish!
I also walked up one early morning to queue up (like everywhere else in SF) at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse to try the infamous cruffin which is located at the Tenderloin District on Larkin Street. I also didn’t want to be wandering on my own in both Mission and Tenderloin districts so if you are a lone traveller, best visit these spots during the day.
San Francisco was full of wonderful smells and sights. So much to eat but also so much to see and I really loved that it was divided up into ‘districts’ which to me was a more organised way of tackling the city, district by district! Its hard to choose a favourite area from the Embarcadero, the Golden Gate Bridge Park and Japanese tea gardens, the Piers and the beautiful sunsets or even Napa and Sanoma or Yosemite which were just a few hours away.
My next trip to San Fran will definitely have a trip to Petite Crenn and Atlier Crenn lined up. She’s a Michelin star chef from Brittany who has two amazing fine dining and casual restaurants nestled in the heart of SF where she grew up. If you are there before me, send me your reviews. I can’t obsess over how fabulous SF was, any questions, just holla!
Until then, happy travels!