I was lucky enough to call the San Francisco Bay Area home from 2009-2015. Here are a few of my favorite things.
- Berkeley Bowl: Not your average grocery store — a veritable treasure trove of produce. I could spend all day perusing the aisles.
- Strawberry Canyon: A great hike with a wonderful panoramic view. The trail also connects with Lawrence Berkeley Hall of Science, which boasts some great activities and photo ops for the family.
- UC Berkeley: It goes without saying.
- Bakesale Betty: Once, I literally cried because I realized I wouldn’t make it in time to get a fried chicken sandwich from this magical hole-in-the-wall. It is that delicious.
- Cheese Board Pizza: This bakery and pizzeria is beloved by all. On a good day, you can stroll in and grab some goods and a slice of their daily vegetarian pizza. On a great day, you can catch live music and meet the entire neighborhood.
- Flaco’s: You would never suspect that vegan Mexican food could be so good. Their tamales are wonderful, even by non-special-diet standards. I frequented both their brick-and-mortar and the farmers’ market stalls where they began.
- Gregoire: Deep-fried potato puffs — one of my favorite things in the world. Their seasonal, rotating menu and barebones, sustainable ethos made this a cheap gourmet option during undergrad.
- Ici Ice Cream: Fantastic artisanal ice cream. My sister makes sure this is a pit stop every time she’s in the East Bay. You’re in luck if they’re serving any rose flavor.
- Top Dog: A college town classic. I can’t count how many late nights I’ve ended with a bird dog, heavy on the mustard, from these joints.
- Vik’s Chaat: Incredible Indian street food, and very reasonably priced! A fun and bustling cafeteria-style restaurant, it also features a well-stocked market on its premises.
- Wat Mongkolratanam: Known among students as Thai Temple, this Sunday-only food feast is prepared by the Buddhist community and an experience in and of itself. Many meat and vegetarian dishes are offered, but I always make sure to end my meal with an order of mango sticky rice.
- The 16th Ave Tiled Steps Project: A little-known neighborhood gem, these mosaic steps were a community project (and feature some very expensive, intricate wares from Heath Ceramics). Very pretty, with a sweeping view of the Sunset district at the top of the stairway. Climb up the remainder of the hill, to Grand View Park, for a 360 panorama of the entire city.
- Alcatraz Island: I’m usually not one to suggest tourist traps, but the tour is actually pretty moving. Be warned that it does get very busy, so I’d try to go during weekdays. I’ve heard great things about the night tours, as well.
- The Ferry Building: An institution. The Saturday farmer’s market is not to be missed, as great farmers, producers, and food vendors are in attendance. Plus: free samples galore.
- Golden Gate Park: One of the best things about San Francisco, I’d recommend starting your journey near the 9th and Irving entrance (in my favorite neighborhood in the city). Stop by the Japanese Tea Garden for pretty landscapes. The DeYoung Museum‘s tower is open to all visitors free of charge and offers a breathtaking 360 of the city. On Thursday evenings, check out Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences for an unbeatable date night.
- Land’s End: An absolutely lovely urban hike. Go to the Lookout for a cup of joe and a view of the Sutro Baths ruins, or stop by the San Francisco VA Medical Center’s canteen for a cheap meal with a million-dollar view. The trails in the area lead to some stunning vistas of the ocean and Golden Gate Bridge. See if you can find the rock labrynth, made out of pebbles laid out in a maze pattern.
- Twin Peaks: The highest point in town! There are few things more beautiful than the view from the top of the mountain on a clear night.
- Arizmendi Bakery: This bakery makes some of the best goods I’ve ever had, including cheese rolls, sourdough sticks, and a daily pizza. If I could eat only one dessert for the rest of my life, it’d be their chocolate mint cookie. (Bet you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s vegan..!)
- B Patisserie: The head pastry chef trained at one of the most respected bakeries in Paris, so it makes sense that this is the best French boulangerie I’ve found in the US. Their kouign amanns, a puff pastry from Brittany, are not to be missed.
- B Star Bar: My favorite! It’s the little sister of Burma Superstar (one of the most popular restaurants in SF), serving the same delicious Burmese dishes along with more creative, asian fusion food. Their tea leaf salad is a must.
- Brenda’s French Soul Food: A pretty solid brunch and a tourist favorite. What makes this place really special is their savory beignet stuffed with spicy, cheesy crawfish.
- Coqueta: This newer Basque tapas bar is owned by a celebrity chef, so it’s pricier but worth it. Intimate, rugged atmosphere and amazing flavors — and right on the water. Perfect date night.
- Delfina: an SF classic. There are two storefronts: the original Italian restaurant and the pizzeria next door. Both are absolutely fantastic. Be warned that, like at most institutions, there can be quite a wait.
- Dosa: Both locations of this super-chic restaurant are in trendy neighborhoods. Their entire menu is great, but the best are dosas: savory indian crepes served with super flavorful fillings and sauces.
- Golden Boy Pizza: There are many options for pizza in town, but my favorite is a square, foccaccia-style slice from this grungy hole-in-the-wall in North Beach. If you’re feeling in the mood for something fancier, Tony’s Pizzeria Napoletana has deservedly won awards around the world.
- Kokkari Estiatoro: Delicious, upscale Mediterranean at reasonable prices. This place is the ultimate parent pleaser. It also happens to be the most popular place in town, so make reservations well in advance.
- New Eritrea: If you’re feeling adventurous (and I hope you are), try eating Ethiopian with your hands here. Tons of spice and flavor.
- San Tung: This immensely popular place has delicious Korean-influenced Chinese food — but the must-try are their dry fried chicken wings. Best of all, it’s family style and affordable, so you can really feast.
- Sotto Mare: Unbeatable for classic SF-style seafood. They make the best cioppino (seafood tomato-based stew) in town, and the rest of their menu is just as good. It makes sense, since it’s in a bustling, historically Italian neighborhood.
- Tartine Bakery: The bakery in San Francisco. Amazing breads and even better desserts. I’d go here, grab a banana cream tart, maybe some ice cream at nearby Bi-Rite Creamery, and enjoy both at Dolores Park while people-watching.
- Zuni Cafe or Nopa: Both of these places are institutions. Zuni is an intimate, more upscale place with a seriously life-changing roast chicken. Nopa has brunch featuring a custard french toast that makes me cry with happiness.