Last weekend I took two walking food tours in San Francisco. Both were great, but different, so I thought I would share some thoughts with you as to WHY.
Both of my tours, one of the Mission District, the other North Beach, were put on by the same company, Sidewalk Food Tours, and interestingly enough, led by the same guide. So you would think they would be close to the same, right?
Casey is a lively and entertaining guide. A font of information about the both districts and how they came to be what they are today. I'm not going to tell you the history, when in San Francisco take the tour yourself to find that out; but at the end of the day, the second tour, the North Beach tour, was so much better.
The people I toured with.
Let me tell you more.
My husband travels the country marketing wine for a well known Napa (Calistoga) winery. Whenever possible I love to travel with him, but I have the whole daytime to figure out what to do with myself. I can wander around, go to a museum or two, have lunch. All good. But wandering an unfamiliar city by yourself is a bit lonely (awwww, poor Lindy) and may not allow me be as adventurous as I'd like to be. And I'm not a get on a Duck bus tour kind of gal.
Since I love to eat and taste local foods, find the new and upcoming chefs and restaurants, places that are off the beat and path, walking food tours, or culinary tours are perfect. A great combination of walking, tasting, seeing some of the most interesting local only secret places, as well as some that apparently everyone else, but me, can find on their own.
Such as the bubble gum wall in Seattle. A very "fragrant" and rather disgusting site.
I have been on walking food tours in NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, and Boston. But as a near native of San Francisco, 10 years, I had never even thought of doing one in San Francisco.
But as my husband was getting set to taste a few wines as a judge at the San Francisco International Wine Competition (4600 wines entered, 60 esteemed judges to judge) I thought, I've been everywhere, shopped everywhere so, let's do something old/new and go on a walking food tour. So while he did this...
I did this...
I walked with Casey and a group of other adventurous travelers to discover hidden gems in the city. Places like Clarion Alley, where you saw art on the walls along with a little bit of local "wildlife".
Which you can view without fear...well almost without fear. She was not too pleased to have her photo snapped, but hey, if you dress like that, I think you are more or less asking for it.
Of course the food part of a walking food tour is important...
Discovering the new hot trends along with some of the oldest and most established eating and drinking places is so much fun (and delish) but meeting and seeing the passion of the chefs is even more so...
You go to so many little places, out of the way, on the main drag, and taste many tastes. Something you would probably not do on your own. How many people go from place to place to taste 6 - 7 bites on one day? Not many. But walking food tours allow you the pleasure.
Still, one of my most favorite parts is hearing the history of the areas I'm in. How did the Mission become the Mission? How did North Beach become North Beach? Tour guides on all the tours I've been on have been very knowledgeable of their tour area, either from having lived there most all of their life, or maybe it's Google search. But when I come upon a building such as this ...
Or see this ... well, I like to know what's the deal?
And a walking food tour is the perfect way to find out.
So what made one tour better than the other? The people.
Most people going on a tour go with someone they know. A friend, a spouse, Aunt Margie, Uncle George. The first group I was with while touring the Mission District, stayed exactly that. Closed up, in their tiny little world of family and friends. No room to talk with anyone else. As we went from location to location, they talked only among themselves. When we got to a place to sit and eat, each took their own table, rather than sharing a community table. Half of the time, while seated, they pulled their pocket computer (AKA Smart Phone) out and checked something on it or texted. Not very friendly.
The second group, on the North Beach tour, were very open and friendly. We introduced ourselves, found out where each was from, walked together, talked together, and shared the experience. We even sat together and found out about each other's lives. So much more fun and let's face it SOCIAL!
So here are 10 of my very BASIC recommendations when participating in
Walking Food Tours:
1. These tours take place rain or shine, so be prepared.
2. Arrive on time and know that the place you are meeting in front of may not be a part of the tour, just a meeting place. They don't have a sign-up sheet for you to sign-in on. Your tour guide will check you in. However, if it is a place of business, usually a coffee house or such, go in and buy a cup of coffee from them. It's just the right thing to do.
3. Wear comfortable shoes. You don't walk a long distance per se, but you walk a lot in a small space. The route is intended to give you maximum history, include all the hidden gems AND give you a wide variety of foods. So you wander through the streets in a rather interesting puzzle.
4. DON'T eat a big breakfast. A walking food tour is intended you give you many tastes, that will eventually fill you up. In Chicago, I had a whole slice of Chicago Pizza, a WHOLE Chicago dog, a large cupcake, plus more, so let's say by the end of the tour, I was full full. Almost all of them will give you plenty to eat. Watch the video to get an idea (the food part starts about half-way in, but the rest is interesting too, after all, the Cubs won that night).
5. On many tours, at one stop or another, you can purchase wine, beer, or soft-drinks. It's best to bring cash for these purchases. Most locations will have water available, but it doesn't hurt to bring your own. Bathroom stops on some are more readily available then on others.
6. In smaller, or more popular places, you may be eating on the sidewalk (thus the name sidewalk tours). Holding a plate, along with a bunch of other items can be challenging, so have somewhere to ditch those items to keep your hands free to grab that bite.
7. You can make purchases at most places, but don't confuse that with "shopping". These tours have pre-determined times scheduled to get to each stop, so they cannot hold up the tour for you to shop. A map is always given at the end of the tour, and since you are usually only a few blocks from the starting point, it is easy enough to go back to shop for what you want (and then you don't have to carry it around either).
8. Walking Food Tours will take you into the back door of many places, so you get the inside scoop. A lot of these places you would not see the same way if you tried to do it on your own. I have taken locals along with me, and they are as entertained as I am, mostly saying "I didn't know that."
9. The tour guides, as informative as they are, are not paid the "big bucks", they work for tips. So if you have had a good time, be generous with them. 15% of the cost of the tour is a good start; per person. If you had more fun then that, show them. Of course, this means bring CASH!
10. Most of all, be social. Get to know each other. Put away your phone, except to take a selfie or two, and talk. It makes the day just so much more fun. For you, for me, for Casey, for everyone!
So eat, walk, learn, with Walking Food Tours!
Food Tours of San Francisco - North Beach and Mission Tours - Diverse with great food and history.
Savor Seattle Tours - Took both the Tour of Pike Place Market, can you say "flying fish" and Gourmet Seattle tours were deliciously entertaining.
Food Tours Boston - Foods of the Freedom Trail and the Boston Seafood and Chowda Tour - so much fun, and so interesting. And filling!
Foods of NY - I have taken both the Greenwich Village (Original) and the Nolita/NoHo tours- and I can't wait to get back to do some of the other, very fascinating food districts. Being NYC this is one that had the least amount of bathroom stops available, and the one we ate outside of the shop more than we ate inside.
Tastebud Tours - I did the Taste of Chicago tour - delicious (and filling) and historic.
Forktown Food Tours Portland - Here I did the north Mississippi Avenue tour, a new and upcoming culinary district in a quickly redeveloping community. Diverse and delish.
These of course are only the ones I have actually done. There are many out there, and many more coming all the time. I recommend these, as they have been tasted and tested by LindySez. But I'm sure all of them will give you a satisfying feeling, both for your brain, and for your culinary pleasures. Read their various reviews, and then you be the judge.