Stopping in Big Sur on the way to SF.
Gluten free bagel and lox at the farmer's market.
Beautiful beets at the farmer's market.
Butter lettuce salad from Little Gem.
Acai bowl from Bowl'd!
A shot from outside of AL's Place.
This spring, I embarked on the breathtaking drive up the California coastline. We started in LA and ended up in SF, stopping in Santa Barbara and Big Sur along the way. If you haven’t done this drive yet it’s an absolute must. Besides the views, there are so many little towns to explore, glamping to be done, and good food to be had. We ended up in SF (I hadn’t been in over 15 years!) and I fell in love with the city again. I’ve already been drawn to go back a couple of times and here are a few of my favorite spots… with still so much exploring to be done! Leave your favorites in the comments below 🙂
Breakfast and Brunch
Project Juice – one of my go-to spots during my trip – I love grabbing a few chlorophyll waters to hydrate and combat the effects of travel. Their green smoothies, gluten free protein oats, and grab-and-go snacks are some of my favs. And they source organic produce for their smoothies, juices, and plant food, which is a major win.
Bowl’d Acai – is run out of a food truck and has a few different simple but tasty acai bowl options. The owners are super friendly and the bowls are generously portioned and blended to the perfect consistency. They also have poke bowls, which seem to have been met with equally great reviews, but I haven’t tried them out yet. Overall, it’s an awesome spot to get your acai fix.
Basik – another spot to get your acai and smoothie (all with acai) fix. Despite everything having acai in it, there is a ton of variety to the smoothies and some fun, creative combos. I’m pretty into the Kilauea and the Banyan but go for what looks best to you – everything is good. Basik has a cute storefront and when I was there early AM there were a few breakfast meetings going on.
Outerlands – is an SF go-to brunch spot over on the surf side of town. It’s definitely a brunch scene so go early and be prepared to wait for a bit. While your waiting, check out Trouble Coffee down the street and The General Store for unique housewares and gifts. Outerlands is great farm-to-table style food. A note of warning: there’s not a TON of gf options but it’s a good vibe and fun brunch spot.
Go-to Lunch and Casual Dinner Spots
Blue Barn – I was craving a huge green salad as I do after 2 weeks of travel and directed myself straight to Blue Barn. True to it’s name, it has a slightly barn like wooden interior and has tons of salad and sandwich options. Portion sizes are generous but be prepared to spend up to $18 on the Arugula salad if you have modifications and additions like I did. But, I deemed it worth it for a huge, fresh salad during travel.
Gracias Madre – is one of my all-time favs in LA. I have to admit that I didn’t have the chance to eat at the one in SF but I imagine it’s just as good. This fun, vegan Mexi spot is perfect for dinner with friends. Order the cauliflower appetizer and any of the bowls. Also has great margs.
Shizen – is a fully vegan sushi and ramen spot that I needed to get to when I saw they had gf ramen. With Beyond Sushi in my backyard, I had high expectations for vegan sushi. It didn’t quite match up but that being said, the ramen was delicious and as close to a ramen experience I’ve gotten being gf. Go for the ramen!
Little Gem – is a beautiful, seasonally driven elevated fast-casual experience with a wide array of options on its gluten free and dairy free menu that will satisfy meat eaters and vegans alike. Go for the bibimbap over the curried cauliflower bowl – I’m looking forward to trying more of the chef plates the next time I’m there.
AL’s Place – is a vegetable-forward spot by Chef Aaron London (hence AL’s) and by far and away the most creative, tastiest meal that I had in months. The menu is packed with seasonal produce and you will be surprised by flavors that feel new and fresh and beyond delicious. Even what you might think of as the most simple dish, like the baby lettuces, are surprising and new. The staff is also super friendly and more than happy to accommodate allergies. It’s 100% deserving of Bon Appetit naming it Best New Restaurant last year, although that means you should make your reservation in advance. For last minute diners, check out their social media as they sometimes release spots last minute.
Other places on my list for next time are: Cala, Nopa, Liho Liho, and Chez Panisse (haven’t started the Berkeley exploring yet!).
Juice and Coffee Bars
Happy Moose Juice – is my favorite cold-pressed, organic juice in SF. The juices change seasonally and come in cute glass bottles. I’m partial to deep green juices so my favorites are the Kale Earnhardt and the Green Diesel.. Both much needed during travel!
Saint Frank – is a beautiful coffee shop located in Russian Hill that carefully sources their coffee and times their teas (much appreciated as I’m not a coffee drinker!). I gave up coffee a couple of years ago but I broke it for the first time here with a decaf latte made with their amazing house almond macadamia milk. Yum!
Markets and Fleas
Bi-Rite Market – is a cute little market that has local and organically produced goods, prepared food, and a sandwich counter. I love the sandwiches here – the Vegan Hippy is my fav – and often swing by a sandwich and chips and guac to picnic around the corner in Dolores Park. Hit up Bi-Rite Creamery across the street for dessert, if that’s your thing.
Rainbow Grocery – this grocery store/coop is kind of like my paradise. It has an incredibly extensive bulk section and is stocked to the brim with local, organic items. If you’re in the area it’s a good place to swing by to get snacks for your hotel room or Air B & B, or if you are a grocery store nerd like me a fun one to check out in general.
San Francisco Ferry Building – hit up the San Francisco Ferry Building any day of the week but especially Saturdays when the farmer’s market is in full swing. There’s lots of fun places to check out inside the building, including the 100% gluten free bakery Mariposa, an outpost of Hog Island Oyster Co, and some of my favorite ceramics ever from Heath Ceramics. There’s so much beautiful, organic California produce at the market, and also great prepared food. I love going to Cap’n Mike’s for smoked salmon. Tip: you can bring a gf bagel from Mariposa and they will make any of their menu items on it!
Little Paper Planes – is a cute boutique on Valencia that is chock full of natural beauty items, as well as prints, books, and accessories. I stocked up on curated selection of some of my favorites from Herbivore
Credo – is a fully stocked natural beauty store with some of my favorite brands including Tata Harper, RMS, and Well Beauty. They also have an extensive collection of fragrances. Come here to pick up the best natural products or to grab a hydrating beauty mask for the plane ride home!
Where to Stay
I’ve stayed at both The Fairmont and the Clift Hotel in San Francisco. You can find good deals for both using Hotel Tonight. The Fairmont is great anywhere you go and as a bonus has the famed Tonga Room in it’s basement. You may have caught a glimpse of this bar on an episode of Top Chef. We always end up having a super fun time. Both hotels have rooftop bee gardens. The Clift Hotel is a bit more boutiquey and modern, and has extensively built out its rooftop bee farm. They incorporate the honey into many of the dishes and drinks on their menu downstairs in the art deco style Redwood Room.
I’ve had the best time traveling to SF this year and can’t wait to come back. I feel like no guide is complete without a mention of Tartine. If you can eat gluten you absolutely should go here. I’m hoping the next time I’m back there are some more gf options there… Also planning to take a trip down the Hog Island! Hope this little San Francisco city guide is helpful – let me know you’re other favs below! x