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A Perfect Day of Eating: 24 Hours in San Francisco

From toast to tacos to martinis — a spectacular day of SF dining and drinking
November 5, 2017
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by Trevor Felch

Sure, visitors come here for the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars. But, let's be honest, San Francisco's incredible restaurants and signature foods are just as much a part of its DNA as the cable cars. We've done the planning for you with an ambitious itinerary of morning toast, midday oysters, taco snacks and an evening of roast chicken and quirky bars. Wake up early and hungry for our ideal day of nonstop eating in San Francisco.

Breakfast (pastries edition): B. Patisserie
Start the carb-filled morning with a kouign-amann and perfectly flaky almond croissant at Belinda Leong’s serene French-inspired cafe. It's near the tony Pacific Heights neighborhood and not far from Golden Gate Park and the Presidio (both great for morning walks before this nosh tour). Leong is a master with pastry dough, deftly keeping her creations rich and buttery but not overly sweet or greasy. If there’s a seasonal fruit-filled kouign-amann in the case, order it without hesitation.  

2821 California St.; 415-440-1700

Breakfast (toast and coffee edition): The Mill
After a 10-minute stroll along Divisadero, you'll arrive at this hybrid cafe from Josey Baker Bread and Four Barrel coffee. The Mill's "$4 toast" has become a polarizing subject in SF's gentrification debate. But without picking sides, let’s be clear: This toast is outstanding homemade bread with fresh toppings (from avocado to almond butter to a house "Nutella"). The espresso drinks are just as impressive — the perfect breakfast duo to fortify you for some upcoming hills.

736 Divisadero St.; 415-345-1953

Retro seafood brunch: Swan Oyster Depot
From The Mill, walk to the nearby Alamo Square Park for the requisite Full House Victorians photo. Then it’s a short taxi ride to Polk Street for this legendary 105-year-old seafood counter run by the Sancimino family. It’s a tight space, with barstool seating only, but the vibe is always convivial with locals and tourists enjoying clam chowder, oysters and the city’s best Dungeness crab Louie. Pro tip: Get there by 10 AM (opening is at 10:30 AM) to avoid the lunchtime crowds.

1517 Polk St.; 415-673-1101

Late-morning Chinatown sweets: Golden Gate Bakery
Take the California Street cable car up and down Nob Hill, hopping off at Grant Street. Then stroll along Chinatown's main thoroughfare to this tiny bakery known for these warm, creamy egg custard tarts. Grab one at the noon opening time — and enjoy it while walking down Jackson Street to the Ferry Building. Note: Golden Gate Bakery closes often for vacations, so check here before visiting.

1029 Grant Ave.; 415-781-2627

Grazing lunch by the Bay: Ferry Building
It’s possible to have a Perfect Day of Eating simply grazing around the city’s landmark Bayfront food hall, so sticking to strategically picked vendors is key. We’ll steer you to the cheeses and grilled cheese sandwiches at Cowgirl Creamery, sourdough loaves at Acme and fresh Marin County oysters at Hog Island. Then move on to caffeine and sweets: Order a scoop of the quirky Secret Breakfast ice cream at Humphry Slocombe, a decadent sipping chocolate from Dandelion Chocolate and a smooth gibraltar at Blue Bottle Coffee's kiosk to power you through the afternoon.

Don't miss the farmer's market here on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from morning to early afternoon. That means the already overwhelming dining choices become even more deliciously daunting — with produce samples that are hyper-seasonal and fresh.

One Ferry Building

Afternoon snack: La Taqueria
Next, take BART from Embarcadero to Mission/24th Street. A half block from the station is the area's legendary burrito destination, La Taqueria. A carne asada or carnitas burrito at La Taqueria is as quintessentially San Franciscan as they come. But let's be honest — a burrito isn't quite a snack, so smaller stomachs opt for the off-menu “dorado-style” crispy tacos cooked a la plancha.  

2889 Mission St.; 415-285-7117

Pre-dinner drinks if you want funky cocktails: Trick Dog
From “everything bagel” to Ritz cracker–infused rum, buckle up for the city’s most inventive cocktails and cocktail names at this Mission bar in a chic converted warehouse. Every six months, they switch up the drinks and the menu presentation (from Pantone drink cards to a menu map of the world); the ingredients range from thoughtful to head-scratching. Still, amidst all the cleverness and trendiness, quality shines through in some of SF’s most delicious cocktails.

3010 20th St.; 415-471-2999

Pre-dinner drinks if you want a funky beer garden: Zeitgeist
If you’re more in the mood for an ultra-hoppy double IPA and some fresh air instead of a crowded craft cocktail apéritif, then the backyard of the eclectic, cash-only Mission beer bar must be the next stop. Zeitgeist has no shortage of personality (no photos allowed — seriously) or outstanding brews to choose from (40 taps).

199 Valencia St.; 415-255-7505

Dinner: Zuni Cafe 
In the heart of the city on busy Market Street, Zuni Cafe is San Francisco's relaxed fine-dining fixture drawing lively, diverse crowds nightly. Many are there for one reason: the roast chicken. Trust us, it really is that good. The daily specials are always tempting, but first-time visitors should experience the classics — start with the Caesar salad, feast on the legendary chicken, then finish with a slice of gateau victoire (a dense, moist flourless chocolate cake).

1658 Market St.; 415-552-2522

Smaller second dinner with mandatory dessert: Liholiho Yacht Club
A late-night drop-in to this hopping Cali-Hawaiian-global spot in Lower Nob Hill is always a good idea; you avoid peak crowds and can focus on the smaller bites (the stars of the menu, in our opinion), like beef tongue steamed buns and poke on nori crisps. After a few of those snacks and some inventive twists on tropical cocktails, share one of the city’s most Instagrammed dishes: the baked Hawaii (a baked Alaska with caramelized pineapple ice cream in the center).

871 Sutter St.; 415-440-5446

North Beach nightcap: Tosca Cafe and Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe
Finally, it's a pleasant downhill walk to our final stops in North Beach, SF’s Little Italy. Tosca Cafe is a timeless spot known for its colorful regulars and house cappuccino, a confusingly named coffee-free digestif of Armagnac, bourbon, Dandelion chocolate ganache and milk.

Then head next door to conclude the evening (or early morning) at Specs', an only-in-SF setting filled with never-ending knickknacks. No-frills drinks are the name of the game here, so choose one or both of the SF dive bar icons: a bottle of Anchor Steam and/or a shot of Fernet Branca.

Want to extend your nightcap? North Beach has an abundance of nightlife to keep the festivities going. It's been a long day, so we'll understand if you decide to call it a night. Either way, you'll leave your heart and your diet in San Francisco.

242 Columbus Ave.; 415-986-9651
12 William Saroyan Pl.; 415-421-4112

ice cream
chinatown
craft cocktails
burritos
dungeness crab
san francisco
beer gardens
tourists
san francisco classic
seafood restauarants