Top 5 Dining Experiences in San Francisco

It’s been a while since I’ve been back in my former home of San Francisco, and this past weekend we booked an impromptu trip to see family in Northern California. We had two nights in San Francisco and our goal was to consume the things we missed most about the city: great food, wine bars, city views, boutique shops and fall-flavored coffee.

After living on an island for three years, we asked ourselves: what are the quintessential dining experiences that we miss most in San Francisco? There were a few that were standouts. From classic San Franciscan fare to authentic Asian cuisine, here’s a rundown of 5 things you must eat when you’re visiting Northern California’s premier city.

Dim Sum

Great Eastern, San Francisco

1One of my favorite traditions when we’re in San Francisco is a dim sum brunch. If you’ve never experienced proper dim sum before, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the place to do it  if you’re on the West Coast. The largest Chinatown outside of Asia, you’ll find street after street with Asian markets, peking duck, sub-categories of Chinese cuisine you’ve never considered, and the famously delicious dim sum spots serving up the Chinese equivalent of tapas. Wash it down with hot green tea or a Tsingtao. My favorite nibble? Shrimp and spinach dumplings with a dash of soy and chili sauce.

Where to Dine: The Great Eastern, 649 Jackson St

Clam Chowder — Bread Bowl Required

Walking Tour, San Francisco

2You can’t visit San Francisco and not have clam chowder.

In a sourdough bread bowl.

There are few things that taste more like San Francisco to me than creamy steamy clam chowder in a crunchy bread bowl. As a kid, I used to live for that layer of dough inside the bowl that was saturated with soup, so doughy and delicious. Ladies, you’ll be tempted to avoid the carbs, but don’t. Even if you have to share the bread, it’s worth the caloric investment. I swear it’s not the same in a normal cup.

Where to Dine: One of the stalls at Fisherman’s Wharf

Brunch + Happy Hour

Balboa Cafe, San Francisco

3I lump these very different things together because to me they’re both hallmarks of great cities. The US’ great cities boast great brunch scenes and fabulous happy hours for 9 – 5ers. Brunch in San Francisco can take many forms – including dim sum like I mentioned above – but a quintessential city brunch for me has great classic options, some with fun twists, and a zesty Bloody Mary to accompany the meal.

Happy hours are pervasive, too. You’ll find great ones in the Financial District where suit-wearing twenty-somethings sip craft beers and half priced cocktails, but there are great options in many of SF’s neighborhoods. For me, happy hours are a great way to enjoy a glass of wine and a few nibbles without breaking the bank.

Where to Brunch: Balboa Cafe, 3199 Fillmore St

Where to Sip: Amelie Wine Bar, 1754 Polk St – enjoy a custom flight of wine for $10


Swan's Oyster Depot, SanFrancisco

We get plenty – plenty! – of seafood on our island home but for travelers that come from less fish-heavy areas, San Francisco remains a wonderful city for fresh seafood prepared in a variety of cuisines in settings that span the ultra casual to the uber fancy. One of my favorite things when we’re back in SF? Slurping up oysters with horseradish and mignonette sauce, something that our warm weather home has very little of.

Where to Dine: Swan Oyster Depot, 1517 Polk St for a class raw bar that has a line out the door

Farm-to-Table Fare

Farmers Market

5If there were a type of cuisine that most perfectly captures the spirit and feel of SF, farm-to-table fare may very well be it. With loads of great fruits, veggies, seafood and meats able to be locally sourced, there’s no shortage of great, fresh food coming from local producers. For many places, even the wine and cocktail inputs reflect the local scene, and menus are often times changed on a weekly or even a nightly basis. New farm-to-table establishments continue to pop up, putting their own twists on California produce.

Where to Dine: State Bird Provisions, 1529 Fillmore St*

*We haven’t yet been to State Bird Provisions since it opened right before we moved to Anguilla, but it has continued to garner support from friends and family members who’ve dined there. Expect rustic American cuisine served dim sum-style for a spot that wins a gold medal on fusion and farm-to-table.

In San Francisco on a Saturday? Don’t miss a stop at the Ferry Building, where an outdoor farmer’s market merges with fabulous indoor vendors. Think of it as a different sort of dining experience, where you’re able to sample some of the region’s best offerings, from locally made olive oils and cheeses, to specialty meats and oysters!

Share your thoughts! What would you recommend as top dining experiences in San Francisco?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.