San Francisco’s high-end, farm-to-table culinary scene is the envy of the world, and the Bay Area is now home to more three-Michelin-starred restaurants than any other region in North America. Why? It’s partly down to the sheer quality of the agricultural produce, with family run organic farms across Marin County and stretching south to the winelands of Napa and Sonoma. This produce found itself spectacularly showcased in the 1970s, with influential chef Alice Waters effectively launching the Californian Slow Food movement and farm-to-table dining concepts at her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. Throw in a rapidly growing and increasingly wealthy population of sophisticated diners, not to mention heaps of Silicon Valley investment, and you have a recipe for one of the most innovative culinary scenes on the planet. But it’s also a delightfully inclusive and welcoming gastronomic scene, with none of the formality and fuss of other cities famed for fine dining.
Stroll the waterfront to the Ferry Building, the very best place for visitors to give their tastebuds their bearings. This grand but disused transit hub is California’s culinary epicentre, with a focus on local and sustainable independent stalls and restaurants. The farmers’ market, held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, keeps it real amid hot tickets such as Vietnamese eatery The Slanted Door and Japanese deli counter Delica. A group tour with Edible Excursions takes in most of the building’s highlights and is a superb introduction to the Bay Area’s dining scene.
For a special lunch, just a few minutes away from the Ferry Building sits one of the marina’s best-loved restaurants, La Mar Cebichería Peruana, where celebrity chef Gastón Acurio serves Peruvian seafood on a pretty terrace with views of Alcatraz. It’s perhaps only rivalled for sea views by McCormick and Kuleto’s at Fisherman’s Wharf, a seafood and steakhouse venue serving arguably the city’s most authentic cioppino – a hearty tomato-based Italian-American fish stew unique to San Francisco.
This is also a city that takes its coffee very seriously indeed. Local chain roastery Blue Bottle has a cult following across the city, while The Mill combines spectacular organic baked goods with excellent single-origin coffee. Most amazingly of all, it’s served out of a food truck at Spark Social, an eclectic collection of food trucks (highlights include Adam’s Grub Truck and KoJa Kitchen) and “neighbourhood block party”.
A reliable barometer of any city’s culinary creativity is found in its food trucks, so this edit of eclectic operators should sit high on the list of any foodie’s San Francisco itinerary. Go at lunchtime to munch on spicy kamikaze fries with local tech and finance workers, or in the evening, when the craft beer and sangria flows, firepits are lit and local bands play at what feels much like an impromptu street party.
For hipster vibes, head to the Mission District for dinner, where hotspots such as modern Argentinian Lolinda and Californian-Mediterranean Foreign Cinema sit alongside old-school taquerias such as Taqueria San Francisco. While you’re in the neighbourhood, a visit to craft-cocktail bar Trickdog is a must; the bar menu features creations from international mixologists and rotates every few months.
For a nightcap and nibbles with a view, round off your day with a Manhattan at Cityscape, on the 46th floor of the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, where you can watch 360-degree views of the sunset and skyline by night and digest the delights of the city beneath you.
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