Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Best San Francisco Foods: Bakeries
- Best San Francisco Foods: Treats
- Best San Francisco Drinks
- Best San Francisco Foods at The Ferry Building
- Best San Francisco Restaurants
- Best San Francisco Foods for Vegetarians
- California Specials
- Where to Stay on a California Eating Adventure
- Getting Around San Francisco
- Sourdough Bread Recipe to Make at Home
Ask a San Franciscan for the best restaurant and you will get such a long list you may want to move to the city. From Asian to Italian to American, with great seafood, amazing produce, chewy sourdough bread and local wines, you will find eateries for every price range and palate. And even Michelin-starred restaurants are child friendly. Here are some of the best San Francisco foods and drinks, a recipe for making your own San Francisco classic, sourdough bread.
There are many things to do on a San Francisco family vacation. Eating is one of the key attractions. On a recent trip to San Francisco, just before California started a shelter in place order, all museums, theaters, botanic gardens and stores were shut down. It was raining and cold. Literally, all we could do was eat. San Francisco may be the best place in the world to be ‘stuck’ spending all your time eating, thinking about where you’ll eat, and talking about what you just ate.
TravelingMom Tip: Famous places Zuni Cafe, Nopa, Mister Jiu and State Bird Provisions all have their place in the line up of top San Francisco eateries. But the establishments below are where you want to bring your kids. And they are the places I’ve actually patronized. Which is why I want to go back and eat my way through San Francisco again. And again.
Best San Francisco Foods: Bakeries
Man does not live by bread alone. But if he (or she) does, San Francisco sourdough bread has your back. Don’t count carbs here.
Base Camp Bakery
Rising bread baker Chase Agee sells his organic sourdough bread at Berkeley Bowl supermarkets, Grand Lake Farmers Market on Saturdays and Kensington Farmers Market on Sundays, among other places. Pick up a loaf, and a hunk of cheese from another market vendor, and you have the fixings for a great picnic lunch. The bread keeps for a few days, so buy an extra loaf to bring home.
This giant Mission District space encompasses a restaurant, bar, bakery and coffee bar. The bread baking dominates the open kitchen, and the crusty, lovely sourdough bread is served throughout the different spaces. We were so hungry while waiting for lunch (sandwiches on that awesome bread, of course) that we got some bread from the bakery and ate it while in line. If you happen to fly into or out of the International Terminal at SFO, you can get bread to bring home. There’s also great Thai food, and Mexico City-inspired tacos to eat while you wait for your flight.
Le Marais Bakery
Three locations in San Francisco. We ate lunch at the one in the Castro District and had an authentic, flaky and chocolate-y pain au chocolat. We watched bakers in the open kitchen putting slabs of chocolate into croissant dough. There are several variations on Croque Monsieur, the decadent gruyere cheese and bechamel sandwich served on a slab of Pain de mie. I had the vegetarian Forestier with mushrooms, best eaten with a knife, fork, and waterproof poncho.
Best San Francisco Foods: Treats
The Original Ghiradelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop at Ghiradelli Square
Come here for decadent ice cream sundaes (made with Ghiradelli chocolate ice cream AND Ghiradelli hot fudge sauce), plus milkshakes, cookies and hot chocolate. A mecca for chocolate lovers.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, in Chinatown
Offers free tours where you can watch the cookies being made by hand. You get a free, still-warm cookie. This will change your opinion of the cookies you might not even eat at the end of a Chinese meal. Here, they are delicious. Buy some of the interesting flavored fortune cookies to take home.
Several San Francisco locations, including a shop at Fisherman’s Wharf. If you go in to look around, you are offered a sample. And if you give a kid a sample candy, he’s going to ask for more. Be sure to get the classic Lollypops, square treats on a stick that come in vanilla, coffee, chocolate and butterscotch. Even at a young age, my kids loved the coffee Lollypops.
IT’S-IT ice cream started in San Francisco in 1928. IT’S-IT Ice Cream Sandwiches originally consisted of vanilla ice cream between two oatmeal cookies and dipped in chocolate. Newer flavors include strawberry, cappuccino and green tea ice cream. They are sold at supermarkets out west. But in San Francisco, you can visit the Factory Shop and try all the varieties.
Best San Francisco Drinks
Blue Bottle Coffee
This company started in Oakland. There are several Blue Bottle locations around the Bay Area, including a dozen in San Francisco. Go here for excellent coffee (try the smooth cold brew) or a quick breakfast or lunch. Blue Bottle has delicious overnight oats, avocado toast and pastries. And for the kids, chocolate milk or hot chocolate.
Anchor Brewing Company
The first and oldest craft brewery in United States started in 1896. You may have had the flagship Anchor Steam Beer, but if you visit the Anchor Public Taps you can try a wide range of brews. The family friendly and dog friendly patio has rotating food trucks.
Pacific Cocktail Haven
When your kids turn 21, take them to Pacific Cocktail Haven in Union Square. My foodie children grew up into cocktail connoisseurs. The dog friendly bar lets you bring younger kids but the kiddos won’t appreciate the complex craft cocktails. You choose your drink by the spirit and the glass. Cocktails come with a refill, so they are a good deal.
Yield Wine Bar
This Dogpatch spot has a kid-friendly vibe with grilled flatbread pizzas and other snacks to keep kids content. And the sidewalk cafe is ideal for parking a stroller (or a dog). There are plenty of local wines, and you can get an inexpensive half bottle at happy hour, when the kids need to eat anyway.
Best San Francisco Foods at The Ferry Building
The Ferry Building has a wonderful farmers market Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, where you can get local fruit, cheese and bread and make a picnic lunch. In non-pandemic times, most of the farmers offer samples, too. Some of the farm stands also make sandwiches, soups, burritos, or empanadas – you can have a pretty substantial meal as you wander through the market.
Hog Island Oyster Bar
If oysters are your jam, Hog Island Oyster Bar in the Ferry Building offers the freshest bivalves. You can get them on the half shell, grilled or fried. There is also clam chowder and Old Bay fries. In season, try the Dungeness crab. The counter bar offers quick service for squirmy kids.
Cowgirl Creamery’s Sidekick Café & Milk Bar
This spot next to the Cowgirl Creamery’s retail cheese shop, makes superb grilled cheese sandwiches. Cowgirl makes delicious yogurt and cottage cheese. It also has excellent organic milk by the cup, hot or cold, and outrageous chocolate milk.
The Slanted Door
The largest food establishment in The Ferry Building has innovative Vietnamese food that is also kid friendly. Spring rolls, dumplings, crispy imperial rolls and noodle dishes are perfect for children (and their parents). Kids might even eat some vegetables. Food is served family style.
Out the Door
If your kids can’t sit long enough for a full meal, try The Slanted Door’s sister restaurant next door, Out the Door. The casual Out the Door has rolls, dumplings and buns to go, or for immediate consumption at the counter. There is another related restaurant, called OTD (aka Out the Door – Bush St.) in Pacific Heights.
Best San Francisco Restaurants
Sure, you can pay a couple of hundred dollars for a fine dining experience. But whether you are with your kids, or just don’t want to spend that kind of money, the ideal place to eat fish (and chips) is at this casual place in Sausilito.
We ‘made’ our kids ride bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge, then coast downhill to Sausilito; you probably want to take the ferry back. You can also just take the ferry both ways. However you get there, the fish and chips, made with Anchor Steam batter (don’t worry, the alcohol cooks out) and eaten outside on a picnic table is sublime. There is a kids menu for those who don’t want fish, plus red and white clam chowder, wild salmon and fish tacos.
Woodhouse Fish Co.
Specializes in fish tacos, crab rolls and lobster rolls. There is clam chowder, cioppino, and a couple of non-fish items on the kids menu. Note: there is pretty much nothing on the menu for non-fish eating adults. There are two locations, one in Castro and one near Japantown.
You should have a refined afternoon tea at the glass topped Garden Court, in Soma. This is how to spend a rainy day, or celebrate a birthday. We sampled the Legacy Blend, Ceylon tea with vanilla and bergamot, and the spicy Chai. Delicate tea sandwiches on the savory menu include a cucumber sandwich, goat cheese with Brussels sprouts, egg salad sandwich, and smoked salmon on pumpernickel. We had a substitute stand out portobello sandwich instead of the ham.
There is a Prince & Princess Tea for children 12 and under, and teas that come with champagne for adult celebrants. Afternoon tea is on Saturdays only. The Garden Court also serves an elegant Sunday brunch. The GC Lounge has a casual vibe where you can get flatbreads and a few Mediterranean snacks. If your kids are night owls, this is the place for late night desserts.
Best San Francisco Foods for Vegetarians
Vegetarians and vegan can eat exceptionally well in San Francisco. Not all of these places are vegetarian, but they all have many options. And meat eaters will enjoy these restaurants too.
Serves delicious organic, vegan Mexican food. The restaurantin the Mission District offers child friendly fare like guacamole, tacos and burritos made from homemade tortillas. There may be vegetables hidden under the cashew crema and vegan cheese, but the kids won’t notice. And everything tastes fresh and flavorful.
Likely the best Burmese food you’ve ever had. And the only Burmese you’ve ever had. It has some similarities to Thai, Indian and Chinese food, with well seasoned noodle dishes and curries. The tea leaf salad is a riot of flavors, but the fermented tea does have caffeine. My kids love the 22-ingredient rainbow salad. You can have a learning moment, trying to count all 22. Food is served family-style.
Burma Love is very accommodating of special diets, including vegan and gluten free. It also serves meat. Burma Love has sister restaurants Burma Club in Soma and Burma Superstar in Oakland.
A ‘vegetable forward’ restaurant, Al’s has small plates with many vegetarian choices. There are a couple of meat dishes, too, so you can bring the plant-based averse. The Michelin-starred farm-to-table restaurant has a tasting menu and a la carte. This is definitely worth the splurge. And though it is fine dining, Al’s is casual enough for children. There were several in the dining room.
We found several places to have delicious vegetarian dim sum in Chinatown. Enjoy Vegetarian has dumplings, buns and small plates and no worries, even if you’re a carnivore, about eating animal parts that you prefer to avoid.
The iconic California based In-N-Out Burger chain has a location near Fisherman’s Wharf. In-N-Out Burger invented ‘animal style’ – mustard-cooked beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickle and grilled onions. It is on the ‘secret menu.’ The fast food menu includes fries, shakes and grilled cheese.
Gilroy Garlic Fries at Oracle Park
California is the garlic capitol of the world, and the place to get the best garlic coated fries is at Oracle Park, the ballpark where the San Francisco Giants play baseball in season. There is so much garlic on the fries that they come with a free breath mint. And they prevent vampires from bothering you in the immediate future.
Chowder in a Bowl
Many restaurants serve the specialty soup in a bowl, but get it at Boudin Bakery. Boudin uses its freshly baked sourdough bread to create the best combo of superior bread and rich clam chowder. There is also vegetarian chili in a bread bowl for those who don’t eat fish.
Where to Stay on a California Eating Adventure
The Palace Hotel combines luxury with convenience. The historic hotel, just steps from a BART station, has a Ghiradelli chocolate cafe on site and a jaw dropping-ly gorgeous marble lobby. You can walk to The Ferry Building, Union Square, North Beach and the Children’s Creativity Museum.
All rooms have Frette linens, robes, marble baths and mini-refrigerators. The large, glass topped indoor pool makes this a child-friendly getaway. There is also a fitness center, free morning coffee and newspapers, and a concierge who can offer suggestions or hand out umbrellas.
Getting Around San Francisco
We rented bicycles from Unlimited Biking, right near Ghiradelli Square, so we could burn a few calories while we ingested more than our usual share. There are children’s bicycles, bike seats, and trailers so the whole family is covered. If you aren’t an experienced cyclist, you can rent an e-bike. You pedal as usual, but can switch to electric for a boost when you hit one of San Francisco’s legendary hills.
If you take Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, every person (over age four) needs his own ticket. MUNI is the bus system. Of course, you should also ride a cable car at least once. Get a Clipper card, good for one, three or seven days. It includes BART, MUNI and cable car rides.
Sourdough Bread Recipe to Make at Home
I’ve had a sourdough starter for about a dozen years, but while you are in the Bay Area, you can pick up a packet of sourdough starter and bake your own bread at home. This is a fun project with kids. We bought some heirloom bread flour at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, which is another way to bring a little bit of San Francisco home.
Once you commit to a sourdough starter, you might find yourself baking bread on a regular basis.
Buy a few cans of Boudin clam chowder to serve with the bread.
This recipe makes two loaves of sourdough bread. It takes two days, though there isn’t that much hands-on time.
Recipe: 2 Day San Francisco Sourdough Bread
- 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
- 2 1/4 cups of room temperature water
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 7 cups of flour
You can play with the grain mix: use all white bread flour, use some whole grains, and substitute seeds for some of the flour if your kids eat them and aren’t allergic.
My usual mixture is:
- 2 cups white bread flour
- 1 cup rye flour
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup flax seeds
- 1/4 cup millet
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
TravelingMom Tip: Don’t use pastry flour. It doesn’t have enough gluten.
Mix starter, water and flour in large, non metallic bowl. After 10 minutes, add salt and mix again. Dough will be hard to mix – get your hands in there and knead it all together. This is a great job for kids!
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for a day. If you stay at a hotel with good bath amenities, take a plastic shower cap for this job. It’s reusable and the elastic keeps the plastic on.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, put that in the oven first.
Put the dough on the counter or a cutting board. I use a large Silpat mat so the dough doesn’t stick. Divide the dough in half and form into two large rounds. Let sit for an hour covered with a cotton napkin.(The oven should be preheating and the stone getting hot while the loaves rest).
TravelingMom Tip: While the oven is heating, use that heat to roast a few veggies. I toss broccoli or cauliflower florets with olive oil and salt and roast them for about 25 minutes in the preheating oven. You can also throw in a butternut squash whole (on a pan, and pricked with a fork) for about 45 minutes; use the soft squash in soup or pumpkin bread.
Use a spray bottle of water to mist the inside of the oven and quickly put the two breads, not touching each other, on the pizza stone. If you don’t have a stone, put the breads on a large cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal.
Set a timer for five minutes and spritz the oven three times during that time. Continue to bake the bread for 20 minutes, without opening the oven.
After 25 minutes, rotate the breads and set a timer for another 25 minutes.
Remove bread, carefully, and let cool on a baking rack. Wait at least an hour to dive into it. You’ve already waited 24 hours, so what’s another hour?
TravelingMom Tip: Remove bracelets and necklaces before baking. These can get really hot when you open the oven and burn your skin (it’s also a good idea to remove your rings so you don’t get dough stuck in them). I uclear out the kids when they were younger, and all animals, when I opened the oven. It is extremely hot and stays hot for quite awhile after the bread is done baking.
Store bread in a paper bag on the counter. You can freeze the leftover bread if you aren’t going to eat it right away. But never put the bread in the refrigerator.