Top Ten San Francisco Foodie Activities for Tourists

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Some of the best things to do in San Francisco for foodie touristsSo you’re a food-lover with some vacation days to burn, and you’ve decided to visit San Francisco. Good choice. You’ve probably already compiled a nice long list of famous five-star restaurants that you can’t wait to try. But what else is there for a hungry tourist to do here in my hometown? I thought it would be fun to try to answer this question, so I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite foodie events, activities, classes, stores, and restaurants to share with visitors and locals alike. Tourist hot spots can be fun, but if you like exploring the less-traveled path, check out these suggestions. You’ll see the city, learn, exercise, meet people, find interesting travel gifts, and eat a whole lot of delicious stuff along the way.

By the way, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got so many more San Francisco foodie tourist adventures to tell you about that I’m already planning Part II of this post. What’s your favorite food-related thing to do in San Francisco? Add your 2¢ to the comments!

In no significant order:

1. The Cheese School of San Francisco

(2155 Powell St., 2nd floor)
If you’re a cheese-lover visiting San Francisco, you’ll definitely want to make a stop at The Cheese School in the beautiful and historic North Beach neighborhood. They offer cheese tastings, classes in cheesemaking, cooking-with-cheese demonstrations, open houses, cheese movie nights, and the occasional cheesemaker dinner. They even offer a semi-annual three-day intensive program for professional-level cheesemongers. For the rest of us, one-night classes like “Vermont Beer and Cheese,” “Mountain Cheeses,” and “How to Stretch Mozzarella,” make for a delicious and informative night out on the town.
Cheese School website
Map and information

2. Omnivore Books on Food

(3885a Cesar Chavez Street )
Are you a cookbook fanatic, collector, or just plain old enthusiast? Then you simply must plan a visit to Omnivore Books on Food. Omnivore features new, antiquarian, and collectible books on food and drink. They offer “everything from 19th-century agricultural guides to how to start a kitchen garden in a 21st-century apartment.” You’ll love browsing their shelves (travel gifts!) and talking with the friendly, knowledgeable staff. And be sure to check out their events calendar to find out about their numerous author talks, tastings, and even the occasional pot luck.
Omnivore website
Map and information

3. TCHO Chocolate Factory

(Pier 17, on the Embarcadero @ Green Street)
Founded by a former Space Shuttle technologist, TCHO is known for its “obsessively good dark chocolate.” (Don’t worry, lactose-lovers, they make excellent milk chocolate too.) Visit their website to learn everything you ever wanted to know about chocolate history, science, and politics. Then turn off your computer and come to San Francisco for a free tour of their factory, located right on the water at Pier 17. (Bring camera. Killer views.) From their website: “The TCHO Factory experience includes a presentation and factory tour with the most knowledgeable and entertaining chocolate experts in town, as well as an in-depth guided tasting of our flavor-driven, artisan chocolate.”
TCHO website
Map and information

4. Discovery Street Tours

(locations vary)
This science-themed walking tour, in their words, is “an urban investigation of the science under your feet, in your food, and in your life. You’ll demo the science for yourself with hands-on activities, eat some tasty treats, and meet other folks like yourself—curious, active, and a little beyond the ordinary.” For the purpose of this post, I recommend the following tours: “The Science of Tea,” “The Science of Bread and Cheese,” and “Fermented Favorites: The Science of Cheese and Wine.” Not only will you learn some fascinating food science, but you’ll also explore interesting San Francisco neighborhoods and get some exercise.
Discovery Street Tours website

5. Brenda’s French Soul Food

(652 Polk Street)
A native of New Orleans with the topic-appropriate last name of Buenviaje, chef Brenda specializes in cooking that’s “rooted in French technique and made soulful through Creole and Southern influence.” I was eager to try her famous cream biscuits, and was thrilled beyond my wildest dreams by the fluffy, layery, buttery delights. I also recommend the beignet flight—an assortment of plain, chocolate, apple, and crayfish beignets. Close to downtown, reasonably priced, creative, delicious, and generous with the portions, Brenda’s is a must-try destination for foodie SF tourists.
Brenda’s website
Map and information

6. New May Wah Supermarket

(707-719 Clement Street)
Spanning half a city block, this Asian mega-market boasts an entire aisle dedicated to dried fungi and seaweed alone. NMH is more than just a grocery store—it’s an afternoon’s adventure, meant to be studied and explored like an edible museum. I love to roam the aisles, boldly throwing mystery foods into my cart (gogi leaves, dried fish, ambiguously-packaged powders), and then trying to figure out how to cook them. If you don’t have a kitchen handy, don’t worry—they also have some prepared items that you can take out (seaweed salads, Vietnamese desserts, sushi). And the packaged foods, seasonings, snacks, and candy make great travel gifts.
Map and information

7. Food Trucks

(locations vary)
Mobile cuisine is all the rage in San Francisco these days. Entrepreneurial chefs are seizing the opportunity to share their fare with the public—without the expense and hassle of having to rent a pesky restaurant space. Websites devoted to food trucks abound: Roaming Hunger, for example, lists and tracks all the trucks in San Francisco (and other cities, too). Can’t decide if you want lumpia, samosas, cupcakes, grilled cheese, waffle sandwiches, falafel, empanadas, curry, or steamed buns? Check out Off The Grid’s food truck parties, where you’ll find up to 30 vendors all together in one big foodie huddle. Live music and a bar often accompany the wagon train.

8. Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

(Embarcadero @ Market Street)
The historic Ferry Building is permanent home to dozens of gourmet foodie merchants all week long. But on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the bounty spills outdoors and the waterfront turns into one of the country’s most renowned farmers markets. (Saturday’s is by far the largest, with the most offerings.) You’ll find produce, herbs, flowers, meats, eggs, and dairy products; artisan specialties like breads, cheeses, and jams; and plenty of delicious prepared foods that you can eat while staring at the sparkling bay from a park bench. They also offer talks and special events featuring chefs, writers, and other food experts. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up some foodie travel gifts!
Farmers Market website
Map and information
A guide to all the other Bay Area farmers’ markets

9. Underdog

(1634 Irving Street)
Street corner hot dogs are a fun staple of metropolitan travel noshing—but for those of you who are serious about your wieners, there’s Underdog, “The Organic Sausage Joint.” Underdog specializes in gourmet sausages made from organic meats and spices, as well as vegetarian and vegan sausages made from non-GMO soy. They note their commitment to using biodegradable supplies, composting and recycling, and avoiding products from multi-national corporations. Personally, I love their Andouille and chicken-apple sausages. And the vegetarian dogs are far better than others I’ve tried. The tiny shop is about the size of a (rich person’s) closet, and has just two small tables for seating. But Golden Gate Park is only a block away, so if you can’t get a seat, go have a picnic!
Underdog website
Map and information

10. Skillshare Classes

(locations vary)
If you’re looking for a fun foodie activity to do while in San Francisco, check out Skillshare. Self-described as “a community marketplace to learn anything from anyone,” Skillshare connects people who know how to do interesting things with people who want to learn how to do interesting things. And in San Francisco, naturally, many of the skills being shared and learned are food-related. The range of class offerings is varied and eclectic—from Scotch appreciation to cake decorating to navigating the Farmers Market. Check their calendar to find out what you can learn while you’re here. The non-food categories (technology, art, health, travel, and much more) sound really cool too.
Skillshare website

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5 Responses to Top Ten San Francisco Foodie Activities for Tourists

  1. Savorique says:

    TCHO is definitely a place to visit. Some equipment of their factory can be remotely controlled from an iphone! And their approach to chocolate is based on flavor profiles (citrusy, nutty…) rather than cocoa percentage. Who can tell the difference between 60% and 65% after all?
    However: when one uses such high technology and machinery for significant volume, chocolate is no longer “artisan”. Oh TCHO is good at marketing too ;)

  2. Pingback: Top Ten Adventures for San Francisco Foodie Tourists

  3. suki says:

    YES to #2 for sure! :)

  4. For knife fanatics – Columbus Cutlery in North Beach – the size of large walk in closet, it has everything sharp under the sun! And the Takara Sake Company in Berkeley is a lot of fun with their tatami mat tasting room.

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