The best brunches in San Francisco

IN SAN FRANCISCO, we take brunch seriously. It’s not a meal — it’s a lifestyle. The other event we take seriously is a warm sunny day. When the fog lifts and the thermometer shows something over 70, it’s time to drop whatever plans you have, get outside and enjoy the sun.

One of my favorite ways to spend time during our elusive beautiful weather is to brunch outside. There are plenty of places in the city to soak up the early afternoon sun, get some eggs or maybe fresh seafood and sip a mimosa or two.

Mission Rock Resort

Mission Rock Resort in Mission Bay is a delightful place to spend an afternoon. It’s right on the water. Grab a table on the patio and watch the kayakers go by. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a seal or two.

The seafood is brilliant, so order shrimp and calamari for your appetizers, and top them off with oyster shooters or bottomless mimosas before you order your full meal.

The Sycamore

The Sycamore in the Mission District is a beloved local bar with a sun-drenched patio. They serve excellent breakfast sliders, but you should check out the to-die-for chicken and waffles. The Sycamore has bottomless mimosas and at an incredibly cheap price — $8 with the purchase of food.

Inside you’ll find a whole host of board games, so grab one to go with your mimosas and your food, and enjoy your sunny SF afternoon!

El Techo

Also in the Mission, El Techo‘s a perfect place to spend in the sun because the whole restaurant is on a roof top. It’s all Mexican food, and it’s delicious — definitely upscale but not too pricey. You can rack up a tab going down their drink list. The specials change regularly, so ask your waitstaff what’s good and take their recommendation.

There’s also an extensive list of beers from a whole host of Latin American countries. They are similar to Mexican beers — light and crisp — but you’ll find some interesting twists with their flavors.

Bonus tip: When you’re done at either El Techo or The Sycamore, both in The Mission, you’re just a short trip away from Dolores Park. Grab a sixer or lie out in the grass for a few hours while you digest!

Epic Steak

Located in SOMA, Epic Steak is a high-end steakhouse that’s extremely pricey if you go for dinner but surprisingly reasonable if you head over for brunch. Grab a burger — these guys know a thing or two about high-quality beef. Pair that with one of their Bloody Marys and you’re off to an excellent start for your sunny afternoon.

What to do in San Francisco

Photo: goian

San Francisco is so jam-packed full of things to see and do, that you could never see all of it in just a day. However, if you did only have 24 hours in the city, what would be the best way to spend them?

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

6.00 am — Fishermans Wharf

Harbor SF V1 de Lukas Arndt en 500px.com

Photo: lukasvonarndt

If you haven’t Airbnb-ed a place in some other district and find yourself near Fisherman’s Wharf, the first tip is to get out of there before the droves of tourists do. Grab a takeaway coffee and wander down the wharf. It’s not the place is was 60 years ago, when fishermen actually sold the day’s catch to locals, but worth seeing first thing in the morning as the sun comes up.

7.00 am — Fuel up for the day at Il Cane Rosso

Head to the Ferry Building for breakfast.

 San Francisco Ferry BuildingSan Francisco, United StatesEach Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, some of SF’s best produce, cheese, bread, and seafood purveyors set up shop at the Ferry Building. Locals pick up weekly produce, and wait way-too-long in line for really good rotisserie chicken. Dining with a view of the Bay is expensive at neighboring restaurants, but cheap when you grab picnic supplies from local farms and walk out back.

#cheap-eats

The renovated landmark is home to local farm and food boutiques, and hosts weekly, year-round farmers markets. The Ferry Building has achieved the rare balance between being massively touristy and also a pretty cool place for locals. Foodie indulgences draw locals and tourists alike, but beware: the fancy cheeses and organic produce add up.

8.00 am — Ghirardelli Square

There are actually three different routes for cable cars around the city, but the most popular one runs between Powell and Hyde Streets, all the way to Ghirardelli Square, home of Ghirardelli Chocolates. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and help yourself to some free samples. You’ll need the energy for what’s to come.

9.00 am — Get your bearings from the J-Church line.

Photo: andrewruiz

One of the city’s best views is along the J-Church line, when the streetcar heaves up the steep incline to the top of Dolores Park. All of downtown, the Bay, the bridge, and the East Bay are splayed out in front of you, plus the sunning hipsters of San Francisco’s trendiest green space. The J-Church is a part of SF’s MUNI mass transit system, meaning a ride is only $2 (unless you sneak through the back doors for free).

10.00 am — Rent a bike

Blazing Saddles is a popular choice, for renting a bike, but Park Wide, though more expensive, offers pickups at nearby Fort Mason and drop offs at the Ferry Building. Enjoy the fair weather and wind along the water as you cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge – give yourself enough time for pictures! – and into Sausalito.

 Lands End LabyrinthSan Francisco, United StatesThe Presidio is one of the few National Parks actually within the city limits of a major metropolitan city. And that’s cool. #hiking

11.00am — 1.00 pm — Lunch with a view

If you’re in decent shape, it will only take about an hour to cycle from Fort Mason into Sausalito, maybe two if you give yourself enough time to appreciate the views at the bridge and vista point. Salito’s Crab House is a solid choice for lunch, but there are plenty of other places within walking distance such as Napa Valley Burger Company. Enjoy the view of the bay and check out galleries like The Art of Dr. Seuss to pass the time until the next ferry.

2.00 pm — Indulge in some retail therapy.

Photo credit: torbakhopper

Once you’ve returned your bike rental, hop on board one of the F trains for $2.25. Although part of San Francisco’s Muni system, all of the cars running on this line have been reclaimed from old streetcar systems across the globe, including Milan and Philadelphia. Stay on this train all the way to the end of the line, carrying you through the Financial District and Market Street until you see a huge rainbow flag: your entrance to the Castro. Immediately after you exit the car, you might be hungry and thirsty. Fortunately, Hot Cookie, with its erotic macaroons and delicious baked goods, is right across the street. Wash that down with a Philz Coffee after a short walk window shopping.

Pedestrian crossing at Castro de Kutay Photography en 500px.com

Photo: kutay

3.00 pm — Appreciate the architecture

Photo: Pexels

Take some time to appreciate the architecture all around you. Some of the houses here survived the great fire of 1906, like the Caselli Mansion. You may not have time to see the Painted Ladies near Alamo Square, but properties in the Castro are well maintained and visually stunning

4.00 pm — 6.00 pm — Dolores Park

Evening at Dolores Park, San Francisco de Maddy en 500px.com

Photo: amadeshiya

Walk over to Dolores Park and enjoy some of the craziness that only San Francisco can offer: dancing robots, acro yoga, and of course one of the friendly ladies openly selling pot brownies.

6.00 pm — Grab some local brews

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve had time to grab a six-pack of some of the city’s local brews. 21st Amendment and Anchor Steam are close by, with Lagunitas based in Sonoma County.

6.00 pm — 7.00 pm — Dinner at Tacolicious.

san-francisco-mission-tacos

Photo: Evan Blaser

By the time you’ve danced and drunk to your heart’s content, the sun may have already disappeared behind Twin Peaks and left you shivering; in this city, save October, warm nights are mysteriously absent despite a scorching day. You’re close enough to the Mission District to appreciate some genuine Californian Mexican food. I’m partial to the fajita burritos at Tacolicious but Gracias Madre is a solid choice as well. Cala on Fell St is also worth a visit if you can get a table.

 CalaSan Francisco, United StatesMust-try while in SF. Cala offers an elevated Mexican cuisine. Reservations are hard to get, but they take walk-ins at bar and communal table. Order the sweet potato with bone marrow – my favorite dish in SF! #food

8.00 pm — Pick-up something sweet.

 Tartine BakerySan Francisco, United StatesThe best French bakery in the Mission, Tartine is famous for its scrumptious pastries. My favorites (because I can’t choose just one) the quiche and the bread pudding (pictured here). If you come on the weekend, get ready to wait in line for about an hour. It’s worth it.

Tartine Bakery and Bi-Rite are close by and offer some excellent pastries and ice cream.

 Bi-Rite CreamerySan Francisco, United StatesTHE place to go for ice cream in the city! Go on a weekday to avoid the crowds, otherwise expect a wait around the block. I can’t get enough of their BLue Bottle Coffee flavor. #icecream

9.00 pm — Take your pastries to Twin Peaks and enjoy with a view.

 Twin Peaks SummitSan Francisco, United StatesAmazing San Fransisco ! #history

Take an Uber to the top of Twin Peaks for a truly peaceful look at the city.

Fire and ice de Dillon  Saw en 500px.com

Photo: dillon615

10.00 pm — Polk street bar crawl

Photo: crew

Now for the home straight! The Mission bar scene is thriving, SOMA still has it going on, and the Lower Haight continues to be the city’s premier bohemian drinking enclave. But if you want to know where it’s really happening for locals, get your ass down to Polk. Whether you want to find your own way or take part in an organised pub crawl, the area is full of pubs, bars and clubs suiting every kind of music taste and crowd.

5am — Morning dance party

Day Breaker and Morning Gloryville are monthly morning dance parties that happen before work. Rotating venues include dance clubs, malls, and even boats in the summer time. Instead of cocktails, coffee and breakfast is served and the dancing starts right after yoga. Expect people in costumes (of course) and bumping music, and bring a change of clothes so you can head to work when the party ends around 9 am.

Family activities in San Francisco

Photo: Pexels

San Francisco is well known of its kid-friendly tourist attractions. First off, you have Ghirardelli Square — a historic city square that’s dedicated to delicious chocolate. And a couple blocks down there’s Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can get excellent seafood and then go watch the colony of sea lions that hangs out by Pier 39. Not too far from the Marina District are the California Academy of Sciences and, on the water, the Exploratorium, both great, fun options for packing a little education into the vacation experience. I also recommend Alcatraz for the kids. Yeah, it’s a bit of a creepy place, but kids love creepy stuff. Just north of the city is Muir Woods (with its massively huge redwood trees), and the rest of the giant Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes beaches, parks, lighthouses, and a lot of scenic drives. Here’s our selection of kid-friendly activities to do in the Bay area.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

California Academy of Sciences

 California Academy of SciencesSan Francisco, United StatesOne of the best #science #museum in the world… It was completely rebuilt in 2008, and the #greenroof became an icon of the new institution. Great for both adults and #kids

There are several fun activities for both kids and adults. Walk through the four-story rain forest, see a show at the planetarium or watch the fish swim at the large Steinhart Aquarium. You can also step in the earthquake simulator to feel what it’s like to be in an earthquake.

Planet Granite San Francisco

 Planet Granite San FranciscoSan Francisco, United StatesJoin local climbing buffs at one of the city’s best gyms, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Day passes are available for climbing and yoga. Work up a sweat and then cool down with a walk along Crissy Field or head into the Presidio if you’re looking for a long walk.

Planet Granite has obstacle courses, climbing games and rock climbing for all ages and skill levels.

Baker Beach

 Baker BeachSan Francisco, United StatesSimply the most beautiful beach in SF. #beach #dogbeach #sunsets

Baker Beach stretches along the western shore of the Presidio below Lincoln Boulevard. Your family will be treated to views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands from the ocean side of the peninsula.

Exploratorium

 ExploratoriumSan Francisco, United StatesThis place is mind blowing and we are so lucky to have it here in the Bay Area. So many things to do and so many things to learn about the world. It’s great even for small kids because everything is hands on.

The Exploratorium offers hundreds of interactive exhibits in the areas of science, art and human perception. Admission is free on five select days each year.

San Francisco Botanical Gardens

 San Francisco Botanical GardensSan Francisco, United StatesLocated in Golden Gate Park, the Botanical Gardens are a great place to escape the city for a bit and stroll through continent themed gardens. See proteas from South Africa or visit the Asian cloud forest. The best time to visit is probably January when the gardens many magnolia trees are in bloom.
#garden #flowers #relax #nature

The San Francisco Botanical Gardens holds various activities and events for the entire family such as garden crafts, bug hunts in the Children’s Garden and story time.

Marshall’s Beach

 Marshall’s BeachSan Francisco, United StatesLands End hike spin-off to Marshall Beach. A short hike to see the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge

Sea Lion Colony

 Sea Lion ColonySan Francisco, United StatesThe Sea Lion’s at the end of Pier 39 put on a rad show and it makes Fisherman’s Wharf worth it. Always a show with these clowns of the sea.

Lands End Labyrinth

 Lands End LabyrinthSan Francisco, United StatesThe Presidio is one of the few National Parks actually within the city limits of a major metropolitan city. And that’s cool. #hiking

To get to the Labyrinth, park at Lands End parking lot behind the Cliff House at Point Lobos Avenue and 48th Avenue. Walk east on the Coastal Trail and take the trail off the beaten path towards Mile Rock Beach. Walk down the steps. Where the staircase turns a hard left, continue on the trail going straight. Look ahead, you can’t miss it.

Smitten Ice Cream

 Smitten Ice CreamSan Francisco, United StatesDelicious homemade ice cream and a nice little park across the the street to enjoy it in.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

 San Francisco Maritime National Historical ParkSan Francisco, United StatesTour the ships at the Maritime Historical Park, some of them over 100 years old, and discover the truth behind he Age of Sailing. Very cool interactive tours with the park rangers, should you choose to take them. #history #ship #sailing

The park is very well equipt for kids, there’s always something special going on. Explore the exhibits in the Visitor Center and stroll down Hyde Street Pier. Check the Calendar for program dates and times.

Picnic in Washington Square Park

 Washington Square ParkSan Francisco, United StatesGreat spot for tranquility and peace!

Treasure island

 Treasure islandSan Francisco, United StatesStuck right between SF and the East Bay, Treasure Island isn’t a destination most tourists (or even locals!) visit. But it hosts great art festival monthly, and music festivals annually. There’s also a lot of room to bike and a few wineries that are worth a visit. Visit before all the spooky former government buildings are knocked down to make room for commercial development. Take a bus over from the Embarcadero or drive. There’s no ferry, yet.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

 San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtSan Francisco, United StatesThis museum was recently renovated. They are open late on Thursday nights. It has an extensive modern art collection. Some galleries are part of their permanent collection and some galleries that are rotating. There is also an outdoor garden.
If you are an Andy Warhol fan or would like to see a Picasso in person go!
#museum #gallery #history #art #design #modernart

Kids 18 and under are admitted free, book kids’ free tickets online in advance. Check out actives for families here.

Chinatown

 Chinatown San FranciscoSan Francisco, United StatesVisit the vibrant streets of Chinatown in San Famcisco for jade jewelry, Chinese food, and lots of color! Chinese lanterns strung between buildings and turquoise painted lampposts make Chinatown a charming destination. Recommend entering through Dragon’s Gate at Bush Street and stopping at Golden Gate Bakery.

You’d be hard pressed to find an inch of blank space in the city’s oldest and most colorful district. Day trip it in your own backyard and watch your wee ones gobble up culture just as fast as they do their dumplings.

The Best Things I Ate in the San Francisco Bay Area

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

I adore California. It’s my favorite state to visit as a traveler. I love the beaches, the palm trees, the laid-back attitude. And I love In & Out Burger. (I don’t love how you have to drive everywhere in most places, but hey, no destination’s perfect.)

But my favorite thing about California is the constant sunshine — and with it, the bountiful fresh produce. Farmer’s markets are active year-round here. You don’t tend to appreciate this until you’ve tried to find an avocado for sale in London that wasn’t as hard as a rock. (Spoiler: I tried and failed.)

I visited California on a campaign for Visit California, focusing on the culinary culture of the Bay Area and Top Chef-owned restaurants. (For my international readers, the Bay Area is the area surrounding San Francisco, including Oakland and Napa Valley, which I visited on this trip.)

Chef Yigit Pura and Kate

Maybe it’s all the sunshine, but all of the chefs and culinary professionals were so nice, friendly, and eager to chat about food near and far! Like Yigit Pura from Tout Sweet Patisserie, pictured above.

The food was nothing short of stupendous. I decided to break down my absolute favorite dishes of the trip, so when you make your next trip to San Francisco, you can eat as well as I did!

Brussels Sprouts at Bottega

Brussels Sprouts Salad at Bottega in Yountville

If there’s any dish that I yearn for weeks later, it’s this — a shaved brussels sprouts salad with marcona almonds and pecorino and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette, topped with a sieved egg. I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO MAKE THIS AND IT DOESN’T LOOK TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO REPLICATE. It was an absolutely perfect balance of flavors and textures and that’s honestly all I can say about it.

Bottega was, hands down, the best restaurant where I ate on this trip. Every single dish was outstanding — the short ribs (mentioned below), a simple spaghetti dish inspired by Sophia Loren’s hometown, a chocolate panna cotta, even the asparagus soup amuse-bouche and this fantastic dip for the bread! Chef Michael Chiarello features dishes from all over the varied microclimates of Italy.

(Just know one thing — the outdoor seating was underneath a red tarp, which gave all our photos a weird neon red tint. That’s why the color is so weird on that photo — I removed all of the red, pink, and magenta so it would look somewhat normal! Cailin remarked that my original photos looked like that episode of Seinfeld when the chicken place with the giant neon sign moves next door to Kramer…she wasn’t wrong. BAD CHICKEN!!)

Insalata di Cavolini di Bruxelles, $13.

Fried Chicken Benedict at Pican

Fried Chicken Benedict at Picán in Oakland

Eggs Benedict. But remove the Canadian bacon and add a boneless fried chicken breast. And top it with mustardy hollandaise.

WHY HAVE WE NOT BEEN DOING THIS FOR YEARS?!

Picán is a kickass Southern restaurant in the heart of Oakland and they definitely don’t scrimp on the decadence. Other standouts included the shrimp and grits (mentioned below), fried green tomatoes with gravlax and a kickass horseradish mascarpone sauce, and Louisiana-style beignets. And the Bloody Marys? KILLER.

Signature Chicken Benedict, $18. Brunch only.

Maui at Tout Sweet

The Maui at Tout Sweet Patisserie in San Francisco

If you have a sweet tooth in the least — or even if you’re like me and go for salty more often — stop in at Tout Sweet. Chef Yigit Pura, the winner of Top Chef Desserts, has created a variety of creative and whimsical desserts. And surprisingly, I didn’t find any of them overly sweet!

The Maui is so simple — tapioca, coconut milk, mango. It reminded me of my favorite Thai dessert, sticky rice with mango, and it’s named after Yigit’s beloved dog.

Other standouts: a fabulous pineapple cake, the WTF (“what the flavor”) cookie, a breakfast bar made by throwing lots of random stuff in a pan, and a raspberry pistachio macaron-like pastry.

Prices and selection vary.

Octopus and Chorizo at Shakewell

Octopus and Chorizo at Shakewell in Oakland

Who knew that octopus and chorizo was such a divine pairing? It makes so much sense once you taste it. This is actually Chef Jen Biesty’s favorite dish on the menu, and it was mine as well. Octopus can easily be cooked badly, but every piece was perfect, and the chorizo lit it on fire.

Shakewell is a rollicking Spanish restaurant in Oakland and their dishes are both classic and unusual. Bacon-wrapped dates and duck liver mousse…but also a black rice dish with clams, chorizo, and saffron, among other ingredients. Chef Biesty was also a Top Chef contestant!

Spanish octopus, potatoes, celery hearts, salsa verde, arbequina olives, spanish chorizo, $17.

Short Ribs at Bottega

Braised Short Ribs at Bottega in Yountville

I couldn’t just mention one dish at Bottega and call it a day — I have to mention the short ribs as well. Short ribs braised to the point that they were deeply smoky and sweet like candy, falling off the bone. This is the kind of dish you eat and make embarrassingly loud yummy noises over until it’s gone.

Costolette Brasate e Affumicate, $32.

Mozzarella at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe

Fresh Mozzarella at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe in San Francisco

The best Italian food starts with the best ingredients. (Why else do you think Emilia-Romagna is my favorite food region in the world? Ah, I digress…) And this mozzarella astounded me. It wasn’t burratta, but the inside was so moist it was almost soupy. I’m closing my eyes and imagining spreading it on a baguette…

This was one of the first stops on the Tastes of the City North Beach Food Tour, which was led by North Beach native Tom, a hilarious guy who got just as excited about us trying the food as we did! The tour, specializing in all Italian-American food, was excellent. We were us a truly insane amount of food over a three-hour period. All of the ingredients were fresh and all the vendors were such cool people that I ended up gabbing with them for the whole visit!

Join the tour for $55.

Kate with Cannoli at Victoria Pastry

Cannolis at Victoria’s Pastry in San Francisco

This was another top-notch spot on the Tastes of the City North Beach Food Tour.

If you know me, you know I’m very serious about cannolis. If you’ve ever asked me what to do in Boston, I’ve ordered you to go to Modern Pastry, NOT Mike’s across the street, and get a cannoli. I won’t touch a cannoli if it’s been sitting around cream-filled all day.

Did these pass the test? Well, we walked in…and they were waiting for us, already filled.

“When were these filled?” I asked Tom suspiciously.

“While we were across the street,” he answered with a grin.

“THEN THEY’RE OKAY!” I crowed. And they were more than okay. Flaky, creamy, sugary perfection. We had a moment, as you can see in the photo.

Join the tour for $59.

Sandwich at Molinari

Sandwiches at Molinari’s in San Francisco

Another notable stop on the Tastes of the City North Beach Food Tour was Molinari’s, which looks exactly like an Italian deli should (there’s a picture further down in the post). Salamis hanging from the ceiling? Check. Bright blue boxes of Baci chocolates? Check. Butchers telling people to stay away from me because I’m a Boston Sicilian? Check.

If I lived in San Francisco, I’d shop here all the time. But I settled for having a sandwich with salami, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, and pesto. Perfection inside a loaf of bread.

Join the tour for $59.

Margherita Pizza at The Forge

Margherita Pizza at The Forge in Oakland

As I tried this pizza at The Forge, I lit up with delight — this was just like my favorite pizza in London, Franco Manca! Neapolitan-style sourdough pizza. Could not be more hipster. The great thing about pizza like this is that it puts the toppings on display, and I couldn’t get enough of the tomato sauce, which tasted like sunshine.

Also on the menu? Wisconsin-style cheese curds, delicious brussels sprouts, and a meatball pizza called Balls Deep. Which is the kind of thing I order based on name alone.

I visited The Forge as part of the Savor Oakland Jack London Square Food Tour, which is a great way to discover Oakland’s culinary side as well as the city’s Urban Wine Trail. They also offer a Chinatown food tour.

Join the tour for $55.

Satine Dessert at Tout Sweet

The Satine at Tout Sweet in San Francisco

My second favorite from Tout Sweet is not that double meringue lemon tart (though it was amazing!) — it’s the brown pastry behind it. The Satine is named after Nicole Kidman’s character from Moulin Rouge: a roasted, flourless, gluten-free hazelnut milk chocolate cake. So fancy.

(Also, guess what, celiacs? There are a few pastries at Tout Sweet that are naturally gluten-free. No recipe tweaks or crappy imitations. Just delicious desserts that happen to be gluten-free.)

Prices and selection vary.

Seafood Dumplings at M.Y. China

Seafood Dumplings at M.Y. China in San Francisco

You can’t go to San Francisco without getting Chinese food at least once. Look for Chinese food and there will be dozens if not hundreds of recommendations. As for me? I went to the modern M.Y. China, by Chef Martin Yan, and loved everything we had, from the Szechuan green beans to the Peking duck to the crispy tofu to the black pepper-glazed sea bass.

But most of all, I loved these little seafood dumplings. The dumpling is made with spinach and the insides are filled with scallops and shrimp. They reminded me of the euphoria-inducing dumplings I had at Shandong Mama in Melbourne, Australia!

Spicy seafood dumplings, $9.

Shrimp and Grits at Pican

Shrimp and Grits at Picán in Oakland

One of my biggest oversights when I ate my way through the South was never getting to try shrimp and grits. And perhaps I’m doing it wrong by trying them in California…but these were so fantastic, rich and deep and barbecue-y and moist, that I have to give them a shoutout here. The fried okra was a nice touch, too!

Gulf Shrimp and Logan Turnpike Mill Grits, $18.

Jicama Salad at Mijita

Jicama Salad at Mijita in San Francisco

At the time that I ate this fabulous salad, it was the culmination of a gluttonous afternoon at Tout Sweet and then the North Beach tour. But this was absolutely perfect — so light, so simple, a perfect combination of flavors. Jicama, grapefruit, avocado, pumpkin seeds. What more could you need?

Mijita is a fabulous Mexican restaurant located in the Ferry Building. It’s a great spot to drop in after photographing a pink sunset on the Bay Bridge. Also try the ceviche tostadas, the margaritas, and any dish Chef Traci Des Jardins happens to come up with for a special (we enjoyed a pork neck salad with chicharones).

It was also nice getting to share this meal with Chef Melissa King from Top Chef Boston — a.k.a. the only season of Top Chef I ever watched! She’s got a lot of exciting stuff planned for the next few months, including a stint in one of my favorite countries…

Jicama salad, $7.

And as for the drinks…

Coffee. Wine. Cocktails. Three of my favorite things, and California does all three quite well. Here are my #1 favorites in all three categories:

Kate and Salt Air Margarita

Salt Air Margarita at Calavera in Oakland

Salt on the rim? That’s been done a million times. But if you’re looking for something modern, Calavera offers a Salt Air Margarita, where you get a foamy cloud of salt that just sits on your margarita! I already love this so much more than salt on the rim!

Calavera is a cool restaurant with an amazing bar area — it’s all rare tequilas, white shelves, and a ladder sliding along it. Expect more on it in my Oakland post soon.

(Note that I’m holding the mini size given to us by the owner. The actual margarita you get off the menu is much larger.)

Salt Air Margarita, $13.

Wine at Bottega

Bambino e Mamma Cabernet at Chiarello Family Vineyards in Yountville

Chiarello Family Vineyards is tied into Bottega — both are products of Chef Michael Chiarello. Chef has named wines after all four of his children. My favorite was Bambino e Mamma, meaning Baby Boy and Mother, for his youngest son. I’m not good at writing about wine, so let’s just say that it was exceptionally lovely.

I was ready to buy a bottle of it — then when I realized it was $75 a bottle (even if that’s a good price for a wine you love!), I quickly moved on. Ah, someday I’ll be able to drop money like that.

Bambino e Mamma Cabernet, $75 per bottle in the restaurant or online, or $900 for a case of 12.

Latte at Blue Bottle Coffee

Latte at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland

If you need some caffeination, the Bay Area has tons of fantastic options. My personal favorite was the rich, full latte I got at Blue Bottle Coffee. I visited the W.C. Morse location in Oakland location, but they have additional locations throughout the Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Caffe Latte, $5.

Molinari San Francisco

Kate’s Top Recommendations for the Bay Area

Really, every place on this list is excellent. But if you ate at all of them, you would explode. Hell, I felt like the gluttony dude in Seven after packing them all into four days. My stomach hurt so much after this trip that I was carrying around ginger tea bags for days.

But if you wanted to narrow it down to three out-of-this-world dining experiences, here are the ones that I would recommend the most:

Lunch at Bottega in Yountville. Seriously, make the journey out to Napa Valley solely to eat here. Go for lunch and enjoy the outdoor atmosphere. You will not regret it one iota. This was one of the best meals of my life.

Tastes of the City North Beach Food Tour. I’ve done a lot of food tours and this one stands out for the quality of the food as well as the friendliness of the vendors, which is rare. Plus, Tom, the guide, is a character and a half and knows North Beach like the back of his hand. He’s a little kooky in the best way possible. I loved getting to know him!

Brunch at Picán in Oakland. But you’ll get more out of it if you’re not from the South. Go totally decadent for brunch and be sure to top it with one of their fabulous cocktails.

That said, forget my top three — the best thing you can do is go to whatever place sounds awesome to you! Happy eating and don’t forget the elastic pants!

Essential Info: Tastes of the City North Beach Food Tour costs $59 for three hours, which I think is astoundingly good value considering the quality and quantity of the food. Do not eat beforehand — you will be getting more than enough for a full meal!

Savor Oakland’s Jack London Square Food Tour costs $55 for three hours, and while the food wasn’t quite on the level of the North Beach tour, I found it to be a wonderful way to eat your way through a city that so many people don’t know about. They also have a Chinatown food tour for $59.

While in San Francisco I stayed at two hotels: Hotel Zephyr and Hotel Zelos.

Hotel Zephyr is by Fisherman’s Wharf, a touristy area that I prefer to avoid (think Times Square/Faneuil Hall). There’s a lot of funky art in the lobby, including a wax statue of Leonardo DiCaprio, and rooms were very comfortable. I’d stay here if you want to be near the waterfront. Doubles from $359.

I much preferred Hotel Zelos, which was better situated near Union Square and had comfortable, luxurious rooms with crazy deep tubs, as well as a chic cocktail bar, Dirty Habit. Doubles from $348.50.

In Oakland I stayed at the Oakland City Center Marriott, which was in a convenient location and got the job done. Pretty standard, not too exciting, but very comfortable. Ask for a room with a view of San Francisco. Doubles from $189.

Are these hotels too expensive? In the past I’ve stayed at the Green Tortoise in San Francisco, which I think is the best hostel in the United States. It has a PERFECT location in my favorite neighborhood, North Beach. The private rooms (all with shared bathroom) are situated in a quiet house down the street from the main hostel. Free breakfast every day includes eggs (!!) and bagels (!!!), and they also do free dinner a few nights a week! Dorms from $34, doubles with shared bathroom from $80.

The best way to get around San Francisco and Oakland is to use a combination of public transit and Uber. (New to Uber? Get a free ride up to $15 with the promo code 9x41m.) Public transit is good in some neighborhoods but poor in others, and Uber will save you a lot of headaches. It’s best to rent a car to get to Yountville and Napa Valley, but PLEASE don’t drink and drive!

I was hosted in California as part of a campaign with Visit California. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to the Bay Area? Where’s your favorite place to eat?The best food experiences I had on a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area with Visit California.

Map: The Hideaway Inns of Northern California

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The Weller House Inn

We don’t know about the rest of you, but something about the end of summer (a particularly evil phase of Mercury in retrograde?) has made us want to follow in the footsteps of decades of drop-outs, head for the hills, check in to the Hotel California and possibly never leave. The following hideaways north of San Francisco capture that loopy-mystical NoCal experience and make great footholds for enjoying the spectacular natural surroundings and the bounties of the local harvest.