Avoid the throngs of clueless diners flocking to Cheesecake Factory in Union Square (why? oh why?) or Fisherman’s Wharf and check out where locals go to eat in their neighborhoods. All of the self-guided food tours on this site have been custom made by yours truly and tested (many times as tightening jeans can attest). The stops featured here do not break a bank and vegetarian friendly.
This tour starts in Union Square and takes you through Chinatown and North Beach, all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, and back downtown through Russian Hill neighborhood.
Length: all day (half day if you end in Fisherman’s Wharf)
Activity level: moderate to high.
Start at Dragon's Gate on Bush Street. A popular photo op for many, this is the entrance to San Francisco's Chinatown - one of the most popular and biggest Chinatown outside of Asia. Instead of taking Grant Street, filled by mostly souvenir shops, let's walk north along Stockton Street. Its sidewalks are often bustling with shoppers, fishmongers, vegetable sellers, and tourists. A breakfast dim sum stop at Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House is possible. Or better yet, grab egg tarts, shrimp dumplings, and other steamed or baked goods at Good Mong Kok Bakery. We don't want to fill to up too much, we're just starting out.
Read also: Self Guided Tour of Chinatown
Let's make a right turn on Jackson Street, and then left on Grant to see if Golden Gate Bakery is open. This bakery is famous for its egg tarts. You can tell when it's open from the long line. It has no fixed operating hours, so it depends on your luck if you get to try their famous egg tarts.
North Beach/Little Italy
Make your way to Colombus Avenue and you're now in North Beach, the Italian section of San Francisco. Cafe Trieste is your first stop here. An SF institution, it was a meeting spot for Beat movement writers in the 60's such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Legend has it Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay for The Godfather while sitting here. (Even though better coffee can be had elsewhere, might as well grab an espresso here if the line isn't too long).
One of my fave stops is coming up next. Tony's Pizza Napoletana makes delicious pizza. Grab a slice of coal-fired 4 cheese from "Tony's Slice House" next door to the main restaurant and a coke, then take it to a bench at Washington Square Park. It's one of my favorite Sunday afternoon pastimes.
Is all the food making you sleepy yet? Time for a cup of coffee at XOX Truffles. Each cup comes with a homemade truffle of your choice. But why stop at 1? Grab a box of delicious truffles to go.
Want more of Little Italy? Take an in-depth guided food tour of Little Italy and North Beach.
The longest stretch of the food tour is next. From here, a 10 minute walk takes you to Buena Vista, another SF institution credited for introducing Irish Coffee to the United States. So naturally, get in line and order one. Tip: you can also get it to go. You get a cup of coffee and a small bottle of Irish whiskey. Mix your own Irish coffee at the park outside with a view of the Bay and Ghirardeli Square behind you. Perfection.
From here you have the option to take the cable car (very crowded) or walk up Hyde Street (very steep). It's a good chance to work off some of those calories you've had. Take your time going up the hill and don't forget to look back at the view. You'll pass the famous, crooked Lombard Street.
The First Swensen's Ice Cream Store opened in 1948 at this location on Union & Hyde. Make a pilgrimage and grab a cone. If ice cream is not your thang, 2 blocks further on Union & Polk is my favorite dessert stop: Loving Cup, famous for their rice pudding, make your own fro-yo, and shakes.
Still with me, right?
Let's keep going south on Polk Street. You'll pass many restaurants in the next few blocks, any of them would offer a nice dining experience. Blue Barn Polk St offers delicious and creative sandwiches or salads, and a budget friendly option in the area.
More of a tea person? DAVIDsTEA is your stop. You can either order a tea drink or buy various types of tea in this place.
A few blocks further down on Polk and the last stop on this tour is Bob's Donut. Open 24 hours they're famous for their crumb donuts. They live up to the hype especially when they're fresh out of the oven.
From here, jump on a cable car on California St and enjoy your ride back downtown with an awesome view of Financial District skyline. Keep an eye out for Grace Cathedral on your left.
Congratulations! You've finished the tour. You've covered parts of San Francisco that in my opinion offers some of the most varied and best dining options available. You also get to see a few landmarks and some gorgeous views as well.
If you have feedbacks on any of the stops, I'd love to hear them in the comment section.