I’ve said it before; we didn’t live in the Bay Area long, but it was long enough for that place + the people there to imprint me. It’s a place I imagine returning to, always for just that reason. I’ve been lucky to get back several times to visit since we moved away nearly 2 years ago now, and I’m always amazed how – even though it changes at such a rapid pace – it always feels the same. I count on it, actually.
Before my bags are even packed for a visit, I’ll always have a long list of places I want to get to, things I want to buy, or eat, or see, or just be near. Typically, the good people I long to spend time with happily de-rail the list but still, I pen it out and it lives in my notebooks for the next time I make it out. This happened on the trip I took earlier this month — where the list of “to-do’s” was a mile long and I tacked nearly none of it in lieu of hunkering down in a little house in the North Bay, drinking wine, catching up, riding bikes, drinking beer and eating pastries. It was glorious. (Those things are all on the to-do list now for the next visit, mind you.) I thought it would be good to share with you some of the things on this ever-updated (5/4/2015) list so that you can be imprinted by the Bay as I have been.
Places to Eat:
In San Francisco
Tartine – an SF institution, known for the line that wraps down the block and around the corner some days. If you’ve never waited in the line, wait in the line. If you’ve waited in the line, plan your trip so you *accidentally* find yourself walking by the place multiple times in an afternoon. Eventually, the line will be short enough and you’ll have to take a pause and eat something/anything/all the things from their case.
Bi-Rite– this grocery store is not a secret (right around the corner from Tartine ) but it is absolutely the most fun place to buy groceries in the city. We stocked up before heading North and were treated to the perfect sugar peas, tastes of first strawberries + fresh cheeses grown on local farms, and I discovered a whole slew of new artisan caramel and candies before checking out. It’s the place to go if you want everything you eat to feel special. It is.
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse – this Tenderloin spot is new on the scene and almost to be missed if you don’t plot your course carefully. Don’t miss it. Be there at 9am when they pull their famous cruffins from the oven. Also try the bostock and kouign amann (one of the best I’ve ever tasted.) This was my last stop before jetting to the airport to leave and I ported home a box of baked goods all the way to Colorado.
Craftsmen + Wolves- Their milk jams are the reason I tell myself I’m going to visit, but like the other bakeries above, this place is a treat. It’s worth each penny. I always go for the Devil Within, but everything they offer is creative, fun and delicious. Don’t forget to buy the milk jam.
Dandelion Chocolate – conveniently located next door to Craftsmen + Wolves, this is another wonderful place just to enter and smell. You can watch their entire chocolate making process from a glass bar in the back, and their drinking chocolate is some of the best I’ve ever had.
Blue Bottle Coffee – there is more than enough exceptional coffee in San Francisco, but I like Blue Bottle best for the ambiance…and the pastries. The Mint Plaza outpost is my favorite, and when I needed a pause I loved popping in to have a cookie and watch the people. Their chicory iced coffee is THE best I’ve ever had. The world agrees – they’ve finally bottled it and you can buy all over the country.
see also: The Best Bakeries in Chinatown
In Berkeley/East Bay:
Paisan – this was one of the first and only places recommended to me by a good friend when we moved to the Bay. It became our local haunt, and has become the local haunt for lots of other East Bay residents since. We always order – and will likely never stop – the half roast chicken, the mushroom pizza, and a green bean salad to share on the patio.
La Note – this is one of my favorite breakfasts on the planet. A little french café poked into the blurred lines of Shattuck Street, it’s very easy to miss. But they have an orange-blossom honey brioche french toast that is unforgettable. Eat it on the patio with a café au lait as big as your face.
In North Bay:
Barley + Hops Tavern – a true find in the tiny town of Occidental. They make nearly everything from scratch here (we were particularly excited about the burgers, home-made bun, house pickles, live music, and extensive local brew list they have on draft.) If you’re driving (or biking!) through, it’s highly recommended.
HopMonk – another true find in Sebastopol. Their outdoor dining area – complete with fire pits for chilly nights, umbrellas for hot days, and all manner of seating configurations for any group just to chill, we found to be a perfect place to have a simple meal with friends, enjoy a beer, and toast a weekend well spent in Sonoma County.
Hog Island Oyster – this spot isn’t off the beaten path, but most don’t know that the weekdays are the jam at this sea side oyster bar where you can bring your own picnic and shuck the oysters yo’self. (Or, reserve a bbq for a party!)
Wildflour Bakery – this little bakery in Freestone is a journey in itself. Everything they bake is delicious, and worth the drive (or ride.) We typically order up a sticky bun the size of your face, and then wash it down with nibbles of scone in seasonal assortments.
What to do:
There is no shortage of great things to do in this City. Spend the day at Stinson Beach playing in the sand, eating oysters, and just relaxing. Take a ferry to Alcatraz just to spend time on the Bay. Ride your bike in Sonoma County. (Specifically, see this and this.) Wander the Mission + eat all the things. Whirlwind through Wine Country. Drive down to Santa Cruz, visit the amusement park, eat lunch and come back along Hwy. 1
Where to Stay:
Truthfully, I’ve never stayed in a hotel in San Francisco or in the Bay Area, so I’m not about to suggest one to you (though there are many, and they are lovely — search quickly and you’ll find a few.) I highly recommend looking for an AirBnB anywhere in the Bay Area. It’s reasonable, and will get you into neighborhoods worth exploring that you couldn’t come to know in the same way.
Where to Shop:
Mill Mercantile – beautiful women’s clothing, upscale tomboy style that never goes out of style.
Bi-Rite Market – everything from first spring peas to secret crops of strawberries, small artisan chocolates and people who are passionate about sharing all of them with you.
The Gardener – several outposts in the Bay Area, this is a wonderful spot for perusing fine gifts, or buying yourself something fresh and special.
Omnivore Books – I could spend days just reading here. There is no cookbook that isn’t on these shelves, many special editions and signed copies.
Thoughts + Notes:
Favorites List: Inspiration in San Francisco
The Best Bakeries in Chinatown