The classic Tony Bennett tune “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” rings true to millions of travelers for a reason. Just about anyone who’s had the fortune of visiting The Golden City can sympathize — the eclectic architecture, amazing dim sum, majestic, fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge — all of it, will steal your heart and leave you aching for more.
Perched on the tip of a peninsula and sandwiched between the Pacific and the San Francisco Bay, SF is a funky melting pot of artists, hippies, hipsters, immigrants, entrepreneurs, young startup founders and more. And the city beholds endless possibilities for amusement — people watching in Dolores Park, admiring the famous Painted Ladies and other ornate brownstones that seem to be in every color scheme imaginable, or strolling down the rainbow studded sidewalks of the Castro.
Sure, the weather can be a little finicky (SF has its own microclimate after all), and some streets are so steep you have to hunch down to walk up, but it’s all worth it. Especially once you find yourself in burrito bliss in the Mission, or pastry nirvana at the temple (AKA Tartine Bakery), as you bite into the best croissant of your life, flakey shards of pastry strewn all over your lap. It’s a wonderfully quirky and colorful city.
A quick jaunt over the bridge (no, not Big Red, that other one), will lead you into Oakland — San Francisco’s scrappy little sister who’s growing into her own. Other than the Golden State Warriors, Oakland didn’t have much to offer and no one ventured there unless they were trying to skirt the steep hotel costs in SF.
But things have changed. The formerly gritty town not even on tourists’ radars is now a place people make a point to visit when they’re in the Bay Area. Having undergone (and still undergoing) a revitalization, Oakland has attracted tourists, foodies, and residents as it continues to be a city on the rise. Sure, it’s still a bit rough around the edges, but the hip neighborhoods, diverse culture, killer food scene, and more affordable curb appeal, have people comparing it to Brooklyn.
So are you ready to pack your bags and have a love affair with these cities by the bay? Happy trails!
Denise Woodward & Lenny Ferreira | Chez Us
Denise and Lenny are the power couple behind the blog Chez Us. As their bio says, she cooks, he devours. We’ve been big fans of theirs for a while now, and even featured them in our Dynamic Duos feature two years ago. We love perusing their blog, reading about their recent travels, and getting all googly-eyed over Denise’s latest concoctions.
Denise and Lenny moved to Oakland two years ago after being out-gentrified from San Francisco. While they were initially bummed about the move, they’re now enjoying everything Oakland has to offer, especially the more affordable housing and the warmer temps (it’s 10-15 degrees warmer there)! The couple also loves the explosion of new restaurants and cocktail spots opening up left and right and agree that it’s an exciting time to be in Oakland.
When we moved to Oakland, Pretty Lady was a hidden gem in West Oakland that only locals frequented. Not any longer! It is home to the hipster breakfast scene now and there is usually a small wait. This spot has the old fashioned charm of a greasy spoon diner but is a Korean-American and serves up classic diner food with a Korean twist. The breakfast menu has staples like eggs and bacon, and fluffy pancakes. It’s just honest to goodness breakfast food; not fussy or fancy.
Tip: The weekends get crowded, but the short wait (usually not more than 15 minutes) is worth it. Sit at the counter inside, as the people watching is great. Also, be sure to ask for a side to the homemade kimchi with your eggs over-easy.
Hawker Fare is a rice-bowl joint that does not disappoint when it comes to Thai comfort food. We enjoy hitting this local joint after work long hours, or on a rainy day, as the food is warm and inviting. Our favorite rice bowls are either the poached chicken with ginger, cucumber, cilantro and chicken fat rice, or the pork belly rice bowl that is slightly spicy and refreshing.
Tip: Be sure to order the blistered green beans with curry paste to start out with, along with a couple of icy cold Thai beers.
We happened upon Stag’s Lunchette—an Uptown sandwich shop, purely by accident, and we’re so glad we did. Meat it is taken seriously here—it’s all hormone free, antibiotic free, and cruelty-free, and is brined, smoked or rubbed down with amazing spices. The pastrami is smoked in-house and it makes the best darn Reuben ever.
Tip: Be sure to put a few dashes of the piquant dressing on everything you eat! They also serve a very simple breakfast of olive oil poached eggs with some greens and toast that is heavenly.
The Dog Truck at Linden Street Brewery is a gem. It’s only open on Saturday, but it is worth planning your day around. The Dog Truck is an outstanding food truck that parks outside the Linden Street Brewery. Their all beef and natural hot dogs will make you a hot dog lover (if you’re not one already). Served in homemade, buttery buns with simple toppings such as chili or slaw, they will not disappoint.
Tip: Be sure to load up on the homemade butter pickles too, along with a side of tater tots! The beer at Linden Street is fantastic as well and beer tours from San Francisco can often be found here on the weekends.
We’ve made a 2016 goal of finding the best happy hour in Oakland, and Luka’s Taproom is one of our favorites so far. It’s a Belgian style Brasserie located in the ever changing area of Uptown Oakland. Their claim is that they serve traditional French and Belgian food with an American flair, though we find it to be more American. That being said, the food is solid and moderately priced.
Tip: Their happy hours which run Monday-Friday are the way to go, with specials on drinks as well as food. Monday offers half of the oysters—that cannot be beat!
Mua is another spot that offers happy hour every day of the week. The cocktails are outstanding! Definitely try the Basil Gimlet or the Slow and Low Sour—they’re our favorites and they’re so refreshing! Also, a must-have nibble is their fried blue cheese olives.
Boot & Shoe Service is the first place we ate at when we moved to Oakland, and it’s since become a weekly habit. Located in an old brick building that used to house a cobbler, the atmosphere is casually chic, and the staff makes you feel like family! What we love most besides the fantastic service is the seasonal menus using local produce and meats, which change daily.
Tip: You cannot go wrong with anything on the menu, but they enjoy the wood-fired pizzas along with simple salads. That being said when the rabbit is on the menu, order it, as it is special. Be sure to save room for dessert.
Ramen Shop is a perfect little spot on a rainy evening, and they happen to serve up the best ramen in Oakland. Go early and ask for a seat at the bar overlooking as the people watching in the kitchen is outstanding. Plus it is just fun to watch the chefs make big bowls of hot ramen. The menu changes daily if they have the yellowtail tartare start with this along with an unfiltered sake. The ramen menu is small, but all of them are outstanding from the rich veggie shoyu ramen, which is usually always available, to the beef or pork shoyu that is available.
Tip: Go early as it fills up and the wait can be up to 90 minutes.
Trouble Coffee is located in a very modern space which seems a bit out of place in West Oakland, but do not let that sway you away, as it is the best coffee in the area. This hot spot is the home of the original “toast with coffee and a coconut” that has been written about across the country, as well as being featured on This American Life. The space is gorgeous, and the coffee is outstanding as is the cinnamon or peanut butter toast with honey.
Doughnut Dolly is a must hit spot every time we’re wandering around the Temescal area of Oakland. One can never go wrong with homemade doughnuts that are filled with custard or other creamy fillings. The doughnuts are filled as you wait, so they are always fresh, fluffy and super decadent.
Sarah Menanix | Snixy Kitchen
Sarah started her blog Snixy Kitchen in 2012 as a means of covering her culinary endeavors in her petite 26-square foot kitchen. The self-taught cook actually has a PhD in math education, but you’d think she trained at the CIA, because her recipes are the real deal. On her blog you can find a slew of healthy, seasonal, and gluten-free recipes, with an emphasis on baking (Sarah has a penchant for sweets).
A Northern California native, Sarah has lived in the SF Bay Area for six and a half years. She came to Berkeley for grad school and first met her husband at a SF restaurant called Rye, and never left! Though they’ve since migrated to the East Bay, Sarah’s husband works in SF, so they still spend lots of time exploring the neighborhoods. Sarah’s favorite things about living in the Bay area are having access to unique events like a soy & tofu festival with a dessert competition, a happening restaurant scene, and the same weather all year long (slightly cold and foggy).
Photo: Tartine Bakery
I’m a lazy Sunday sleep-in kind of brunch-goer so my favorite brunch places have light lunch items on the menu. In particular, I love The Plant Café Organic on Pier 3. It’s on the water and everything on the menu is super fresh. My go-to order is a mushroom pizza and one of their fresh-squeezed organic made-to-order juices, like Sweet Greens that’s filled with apple, celery, parsley, lemon, and ginger.
Tip: If you go on a Saturday, you can stroll down to the Embarcadero farmer’s market when you’re done.
A great option in the Mission is to head over to Tartine Bakery for a quick breakfast pastry. If you’re like me and sleep in, you can take what you get over to Bi-Rite Creamery for some ice cream “dessert.” (There’s such thing as breakfast dessert, right?)
Photo: Samovar Tea Lounge
There are two places I always recommend if I’m meeting someone for lunch in the city – the first choice is Samovar Tea Lounge. You can share a tea service with a friend and fill up with any one of their gluten-free rice bowls – I’m a sucker for the brown rice bowl topped with smoked salmon, two poached eggs, and a ginger-soy dipping sauce, but really you can’t go wrong.
Tip: I highly recommend grabbing a bag of tea leaves to take home on your way out!
Photo: Gracias Madre
My other top lunch spot is Gracias Madre – don’t let the vegan label turn you away, everything on the menu is booming with flavor. I could eat their quesadilla stuffed with roasted butternut squash and caramelized onions and smothered in spicy cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seed salsa every single day of my life.
Of course the first place I’d choose to go for happy hour is the place where I met my husband: Rye. Think Pinkberry, but for cocktails. And you might find a husband. For a more low-key atmosphere, you can head to the nearby Fly Bar for a beer and some shuffleboard.
This is probably the easiest choice hands down. If you only have one night in SF, you need to head to Eiji for their oboro tofu and strawberry red bean mochi (both of which I’ve made versions of on my blog, which you can see here & here). Those are the givens, but I also always order the kelp salad, kampachi nigiri and miso eggplant.
Tip: It’s a small joint, so reservations are recommended (which can usually be made same-day), and when you do, be sure to ask to “reserve” a strawberry mochi for dessert as they sell out quickly!
Three years in a row for my birthday, we’ve dined with friends over shared plates at Stone’s Throw. The menu is always rotating, but if you see grilled octopus, don’t skip it. And definitely save room for dessert – the dessert descriptions might sound deceptively uninteresting, but I’ve never met one that didn’t impress.
As someone always looking for gluten-free options, my first choice bakery in the city is Mariposa Baking Company, which has a location in the Ferry Building. They sell all kinds of gluten-free baked goods from cookies to hand pies to bagels to cinnamon rolls!
Tip: Many of the Bay Area restaurants use their pizza crust for their gluten-free option, so for restaurant-quality thin crust pizza pick up some gluten-free pizza crust to cook at home! Plus they freeze well!
Photo: Dandelion Chocolate
If you’re looking for a more hip place to have a cup of coffee or tea, check out Craftsman and Wolves where you can ogle their pretty pastries, or walk over to Dandelion Chocolate for a spicy mission hot chocolate.
Kelly Egan | A Side of Sweet
We can’t seem to get enough of lifestyle blogs these days, and Kelly Egan’s blog A Side of Sweet is no exception. It’s a sunny composite of recipes, DIYs, travel guides, beauty, and fashion, and a place we visit regularly for inspiration.
Kelly moved to San Francisco about three years ago, to start work as a pediatrician. The move came just days after marrying her husband, Pat. The move kicked off a big adventure for the couple, and Kelly was excited about living in a city with an amazing children’s hospital and so many fun things to do outside of work. She loves how each neighborhood has its own unique characteristics, and how exploring each one feels like a mini vacation. Kelly also enjoys the proximity of SF to nature, with places like Big Sur only a short drive away. She definitely considers San Francisco the prettiest city in the world!
I love Plow in Potrero Hill. The Plow Platter is the stuff dreams are made of! They have great lemon ricotta pancakes too.
Tip: Get there early, as there is always a line on the weekends!
I also love 20th Century Cafe in Hayes Valley. For starters, the tables are marble and the dishes are all mismatched vintage, making it an Instagrammer’s dream! The food is equally lovely and tastes amazing. Don’t forget to finish your meal with some Russian Honey Cake.
My favorite place for lunch is definitely Sushirrito. You haven’t really experienced sushi until you’ve had it in burrito form. It’s also great to eat on-the-go.
Souvla in Hayes Valley is also amazing. They feature modern Greek food with awesome gyros and great salads. They also have this amazing olive oil soft serve ice cream.
Photo: Trick Dog
When I am craving ramen, only Izakaya Sozai in the Sunset will do. It’s SO good!
Another place I love, thats especially fun for dinner with a group is The Progress on Fillmore. You order as a group and eating all of the small dishes family-style makes it interactive and delicious.
The Mill has great vibes and some of the best “fancy toast” in San Francisco. Spending $4 on toast (which is amazing and worth every penny!) is very San Francisco.
People go crazy for Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, for good reason! All of their baked goods are amazing, but the Cruffin is truly the star. They sell out in about an hour every day, so get there early and stand in line! Lines are also very San Francisco. The joke is, if there’s a line, don’t ask questions just get in it! There’s probably something amazing at the end. Case in point, the cruffin.
Kirby lives in Brooklyn, by way of Chicago. When she’s not drawing, she can be found doing other’s makeup, watching movies, cooking meals with five ingredients or less, and dancing! Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
As always, thank you for reading and for supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. All opinions are always my own.
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