One recent Saturday, after preparing an anniversary ‘Breakfast for Two’ in San Francisco for a new client, I decided to spend the day in The City. On a whim, I decided to find out if there were any San Francisco food tours available on a last minute booking. Much to my surprise, there were several tour companies listed online and one in North Beach had an available opening near my hotel on the Embarcadero.

About Food Tours

North Beach is known for the Italian flags on its poles.

North Beach is known for the Italian flags on its poles.

What is a food tour (or ‘food adventure,’ according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News)?

These tours give you a local’s take on restaurants, unique shops and eateries in a specific neighborhood and teach a little bit of local history as well. They usually have 8-12 like-minded people who are out to enjoy a few hours eating, drinking and meeting new people. On this tour, for example, the states of Colorado, Florida and Texas were represented along with a local couple from San Francisco and a couple visiting from Sydney, Australia. I’m almost local since I was born just across the Bay, and have lived in San Jose for many years, although I still find it fun to explore. In fact, San Francisco is now the third large city I’ve seen through a food tour.

On this occasion it was all about North Beach, a neighborhood of San Francisco historically home to a large Italian American population. Just by looking at the signposts you’ll know you’re in North Beach; the Italian Flag colors are painted on them (see the photo above).

Before the Tour Began…

The day of the tour was a beautiful, sunny and warm in The City (locals know that this is a rarity). In case you don’t live the area, you should know that late September and early October are the best months to enjoy warm weather here. If you come in the summer, you may find it foggy and cold even though the temperature in other parts of the Bay Area may be in the mid-80s to 90s. My motto is to always bring a sweatshirt.

I decided to leave my car at the hotel since parking can be expensive and, as you can imagine, good parking spots where you don’t have to worry about a time limit can be hard to find. Our tour was scheduled for 3 hours but ended up being closer to 4; this would not be good if you could only find 2 hour parking! I found that I could easily walk to the designated meeting place located near Washington Square Park.

Our meeting place was only a 15-minute walk from the financial district (around the same amount of time if you happen to be coming from Union Square). I was so close to China Town that I decided to try a quick snack before the start of tour. Call me crazy, but I knew we wouldn’t get to the main part of the meal until later in the afternoon. So, I found I was in the mood for some fresh spring rolls and a Thai iced tea (total cost was $10). These really hit the spot! If you’re in the area, try them out sometime:

These fresh spring rolls and Thai iced tea were delicious!

These fresh spring rolls and Thai iced tea were delicious!

Sai’s Vietnamese Restaurant, 505 Washington St., San Francisco, CA 94111, 415.362.3689

Once the food tour started, I realized again how much character and energy there is in North Beach! Many of the restaurants have outdoor seating. When you walk through the neighborhood (rather than drive), you really get a sense of the area and you may find that you will want to stop (or shop) at places you otherwise would miss.

The North Beach San Francisco Food Tour Itinerary

Here are the shops our guide, Tom, showed us during our walking tour:

Caffe Roma Coffee Roasting Co., 526 Columbus Ave, San Francisco 94166 (at Union St), 415-296-7942
I thought it was great that they actually house-roast their beans on site!

North Beach Bakery, 1501 Grant Avenue, San Francisco 94133, 415-421-3796
One of the oldest bakeries in the city! We got a behind-the scenes look at their 100-year-old oven made from real bricks and sampled some fresh-baked biscotti and focaccia bread.

Z. Cioccolato, 474 Columbus Ave, San Francisco CA 94133, 415-395-9116
We sampled their famous fudge – they have more than a dozen flavors to choose from. They also have a wide variety of taffy, caramels and other candies they will ship anywhere in the U.S.

Salt water taffy at z cioccolato

Salt water taffy at Z. Cioccolato.

Stella Pastry, 446 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, 94133
Fresh Italian-baked goods!

Mercato
This artisan food and gift shop only sells products that are produced locally. We sampled Artisan balsamic vinegars.

Another North Beach stop to try

Another North Beach stop to try.

Italian French Baking Co., 1501 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133, 415.421.3796
This was a wholesale bakery, too.

The Italian French Baking Co.

The Italian French Baking Co.

Trattoria Pinocchio, 401 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, 94133
Their fresh-made penne pasta was sampled with a pomodoro sauce, which is tomato & fresh basil.

Cinecitta, 663 Union St. (between Powell & Stockton St.), San Francisco, 94133, 415-291-8830
They definitely saved the best for last! This restaurant is home of roman-style pizza. If you like thin crust, this is for you!

A Food Tour Add-On

In the mood for beer after having pasta and pizza? It’s not on the tour, but a few doors down from Cincietta is a brewery-restaurant I highly recommend:

Rogue Ales Public House, 673 Union St, San Francisco, 415-362-7880
It’s a bit quirky, but definitely a fun place, and the food is great, too. I first visited the original brewery while I was in Newport, Oregon.

Although it's not on the food tour, this is definitely a great restaurant to try.

Although it’s not on the food tour, this is definitely a great restaurant to try.

Have you ever been on a San Francisco food tour? Was it in North Beach as well or another part of the city? Share any of your favorite stops via Facebook, Twitter, Google + or any of my other social media accounts!

Mary Hathaway, Owner of Dinner Diva, has been a personal chef since 2002. She cooks regularly for clients who have special dietary needs, value healthy cooking by using organic products where possible and those who want healthy family meals but have no time to cook. Whether it’s a dinner for 4, a holiday party for 20, or a set of meals for the week, all of the recipes are customized to her client’s needs or lifestyle. Go to: Dinner-Diva.com for more info.