If you mention bakeries in San Francisco, sourdough bread immediately comes to mind - and with good reason. Sourdough bread is an institution in this city, with some bakeries using sourdough yeast as old as one hundred years. (Don't worry - it doesn't taste a hundred years.)
And while eating some sourdough bread (and possibly picking up a loaf at the airport to bring back home) is definitely a must, it would be a real shame if your only experience with bakeries is that memorable but, well, sour taste.
Our list below does include some classic sourdough staples, but we're balancing that with the sweet tastes that also abound in this city that loves to bake. Whether it's waiting in the long line at Tartine's for that perfect breakfast croissant, or indulging in Arizmendi's perfect pizza crust for lunch, nothing warms up a foggy San Francisco day better than hot baked treats straight out of the oven.
San Francisco has no end of fancy, sit-down restaurants, but sometimes what you need before (or after) that long hike in Muir Woods or up and down the hills of North Beach is something sweet and warm. And there's no better cure for homesickness while you're traveling than that comforting, universal smell of a bakery.
Hayes Valley Bakeworks
If you want to ease your social conscience as you gobble down a blueberry muffin, swing by Hayes Valley Bakeworks. Besides offering delectable morning pastries, cookies, porridge bowls and signature sweets, this bakery trains and employs people with disabilities who are homeless or at risk. And just one visit will convince you that the eager and helpful staff are very grateful for the opportunity. The unique and imaginative interior is designed by award-winning San Francisco architect Jim Maxwell, using an eco-friendly design and cheery colors. So if you like helping both people and the earth as you eat your sweets, head to Hayes Valley Bakeworks. ((415) 864-2688)
Good Mong Kok Bakery
You can't really experience San Francisco without visiting Chinatown, and you can't really experience Chinatown without eating dimsum, and you can't really say you've had dimsum until you've tried the dimsum at Good Mong Kok Bakery. The service is fast if not friendly, but there may still be a wait for takeout, as this place is renowned. But it's well worth the wait. Load up on wontons, dumplings and egg rolls and wander the streets of Chinatown, munching to your heart's delight for a true San Francisco experience. Be sure to grab some black tea to wash the take-out down, too. ((415) 397-2688)
Golden Gate Bakery
Venture through San Francisco's Chinatown for a visit to Golden Gate Bakery, a sweet shop that has customers braving long, out-the-door lines for its incredibly tasty egg custard tarts. In addition to these flaky, custard-filled pastries, patrons can choose from a wide range of other confections, including lotus seed paste cakes, moon cakes, flavored napoleons and classic chocolate chip cookies. The bakery also serves savory favorites like barbecue pork roll and chicken pie. You can't leave San Francisco without experiencing Chinatown, and you can't experience Chinatown without a visit to Golden Gate Bakery, so get in line and wait for that scrumptious egg tart. (415-781-2627)
Town's End Restaurant and Bakery
This friendly restaurant, located at the Embarcadero, is just two blocks from the "New" Giants Stadium and offers great bay views. Brunch is a near-perfect experience, according to regulars. In fact, speaking of perfect, Giants pitcher Matt Cain credited his own perfect game to that morning breakfast at Towns' End...! Baskets of home-baked breads, smoked mozzarella frittata, crab cakes, and oatmeal pancakes studded with nuts and fruit, are constant favorites. And the best accompaniment to your breakfast is a cup of their hot, strong single origin Bolivian drip coffee. Although the wait can be long (other folks know about Town's End's appeal too!), brunch is well worth the delay. (415-512-0749)
DeLessio Market & Bakery
Ask anyone about DeLessio's and their eyes will sparkle with delight as they mention the place's decadent macaroni and cheese, tasty gourmet sandwiches, and impressive buffets. When the topic of desserts and pastries comes up, however, those same eyes absolutely glaze over in awe. Folks can't praise the bakery's bounty enough, whether they go for mini-cupcakes, lemon decadence cake, flaky croissants, scones, chocolate brioche, bread pudding, or any of the other myriad temptations. Perfect for any meal or snack. If you happen to be traveling with a small party and are in need of a celebration, check out their selection of decadent cakes, all favorites with the locals. (415-552-5559)
Acme Bread Company
Walnut levain, rustic sweet dough, Challah, rosemary-and-olive oil fougasse, rock salt foccacia, olive, currant pumpernickle, citrus almond brioche: with options like these, it's not hard to see why Acme Bread Company is one of the Bay Area's most popular bakeries. Located in the Ferry Building Marketplace, this beloved bread shop offers fresh, creative creations straight from the hearth oven at some of the best prices around. Plus, all breads are made with organic flour. And the original location in Berkeley has gone a step farther, installing photovoltaic panels to generate much of its energy. If you love good bread and care about the environment, there's no better place on earth for you than Acme. (415-288-2978)
Locals love this cooperative bakery for its delicious pastries, artisan breads and gourmet pizza. Just two blocks from Golden Gate Park, Arizmendi offers its specialties on a weekly schedule, and depending on the day, patrons enjoy assorted focaccia flavors, baguettes and brioche knots. Regulars especially love the fruit scones and the wolverine loaf, a creative concoction nicknamed the "power bar-type bread." Gourmet pizzas of the day are available after 11:30am. If you need to pack a healthy-sized loaf for that long trek through the park, or you need that slice of pizza as a reward for you long hike completed, head to Arizmendi. (415-566-3117)
Schubert's Bakery is an absolute must for discerning confection connoisseurs. Since 1911, locals have been flocking to this bakery for cakes that are reputedly out-of-this-world, specifically the Opera Cake and the beloved Swedish Princess Cake. Other favorites include the classic chocolate mousse and strawberry shortcake. Try a slice of one of these specialties, or spring for other sweets like croissants, cherry and apple tarts, coffee cake, strudel and fruit pie. Schubert's location on tantalizing Clement Street is just one more reason to visit this iconic but often overlooked neighborhood. Want to experience a local San Franciscan day? Grab a coffee and treat at Schubert's. (415-752-1580)
A true San Francisco standout, Tartine Bakery boasts a consistent local following and never fails to impress newcomers. Fresh, organic ingredients mean the offerings are constantly changing, but you'll always find a great selection of delicate tarts, artisan loaves and airy, buttery croissants. Breads are made fresh with locally milled organic flours and baked on a stone hearth. Other house-made delicacies include savory quiches, hot-pressed sandwiches and a glorious variety of breakfast pastries. Whether it's weekend or week day, the line is most likely out the door, so bring your coffee for the wait and enjoy some great Mission Street people-watching opportunities. (415-487-2600)
Flour and Co
The cheery bakery and cafe Flour and Co. sticks out among the upturned noses of Nob Hill's high-end restaurants like an unabashedly happy smiley face. If the gourmands of Nob Hill have you too self-conscious about which is the salad fork and which is the dining fork, head to Flour and Co, where most of the food can be eaten the best way: with two hands. Although it's justifiably known for delicious breakfast treats and munchies, don't discount their scrumptious lunch menu, which features a piping hot chicken pot pie and savory salads made from the best local ingredients. If you need a break for the heavy atmosphere that only comes from too many people concerned about too much money, head to Flour and Co for a reminder of the simple pleasures in life. (415-992-7620)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.
Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. His journalism has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, and 7x7. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
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