When you think of things to do in San Francisco the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street and cable cars come to mind. While sightseeing is the number one tourist attraction in the Bay area the second most popular reason for visiting the city is its culinary crossroads. With over 3,000 restaurants, seafood markets and desert joints San Francisco has more places to eat than any other major city in the United States. Here are just a few recommendations whenever you take that long overdue trip to San Francisco.
1) Dim sum in Chinatown
San Francisco has the largest Chinese community outside of Asia and it is home to one of the oldest Chinatowns in America. The Chinatown central to Grant Avenue and Stockton Street originated around the 1850s and served as a gateway for incoming immigrants during the California Gold Rush. Since then Chinatown has been reconceptualized as a bustling tourist attraction filled with vibrant colors, sounds, smells and tastes. In the early morning this is where you will find the best spots for fresh dim sum that you can take on the go while you tour the city.
Although you can find many different types of Chinese food in San Francisco, dim sum is simply the best. It consists of bite-sized portions of doughy goodness traditionally steamed or pan fried. If you’ve never had dim sum before and you like the taste of pork and shrimp then I guarantee you will like this. Some of my personal favorites are baked pork buns, pork shumai, steamed shrimp dumplings and, if you’re lucky enough to find them, soup-filled dumplings.
2) Seafood from Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf
At the corner of North Point & Taylor Street stand the old fisheries and warehouses that once outlined San Francisco’s seaport. Fisherman’s Wharf is best known for being the location of Pier 39—the third-most popular tourist attraction in the nation. Despite its redevelopment into a hotspot for tourism during the 1970s, the area is still home to many active fishermen and their fleets. There are plenty of seafood restaurants here as well as stands that serve up fresh seafood native to the area, like Dungeness crab and bay shrimp.
Nick’s Lighthouse is one of the best places to eat at the Wharf. Their seafood is always fresh and cooked to perfection. The restaurant has been around since 1934 and its atmosphere embodies the nautical charm of San Francisco. Historic photographs on the walls plus a front and center view of the Wharf’s lagoon give those dining in an insider’s perspective on the city and its renowned cuisine. At the front of the restaurant you will find a street stand where you can place orders to go. Whether you’re dining in or taking out this place has some great Oyster recipes and fantastic lobster bisque.
3) Desert at Ghirardelli Square
On the corner of Beach and Larkin Streets stands Ghirardelli Square, the company’s flagship location and a chocolate lover’s paradise. This historic site dates back to Gold Rush era when it was bought by the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in order to meet the rising demand for spices, coffee and, of course, chocolate. Today the Square delights visitors with its retail shops, ice cream parlors, chocolate stores and even a winery. The best time to visit is at night between 9PM and 11PM, after the dinner rush has come and gone.
4) Navigating the City
Although all of these activities are within walking distance of each other, the hop-on hop-off tour is a great way to get around without spending too much money on transportation. This tour lets you see San Francisco at your own pace from the comfort of an air-conditioned open-top, double-decker bus. You can hop on and off the tour bus as many times as you like to visit attractions and grub out at local hotspots.
You can also take a ride along the cable car line, an icon of San Francisco. The San Francisco cable car system is the world’s last manually operated cable car system. There are two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf and a third route along California Street. The City Pass is the best deal if you want unlimited access to the cable cars because it includes free admission to select local attractions and a tour of the city by ferry boat.