The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the nation's top destinations for world-class food and wine. The region's culinary diversity began with the California Gold Rush of 1849, when more than 300,000 people from all over the world migrated to Northern California to strike it rich. When the gold no longer panned out, many of the immigrants remained in California and used their earnings to start small farms, dairy ranches, wineries, fisheries, and restaurants that served family recipes from around the world.
Today, California still harbors an impressive concentration of small, family-operated ranches, organic farms, and boutique wineries throughout Central and Northern California, providing local chefs with some of the nation's finest organic produce, artisan cheeses, hormone-free meats, and small-production wines. In fact, it was a Bay Area chef who invented California cuisine -- the renowned Alice Waters. Even a full week of glorious gluttony won't begin to cover the range of cuisines and varietals available to serious epicureans as they indulge their inner cognoscenti, but with careful pacing and a little exercise worked into your route, you can savor the region's finest foods and still fit in your pants by the time you head home. Well, maybe.
Note: Because some of the following attractions operate only on certain days, you may need to rearrange the itinerary based on opening hours. It's also important to make restaurant reservations as far in advance as possible; the places recommended here are popular on the foodie circuit. Also, you'll need a car for the Berkeley and the Wine Country excursions.
Day 1: Alfresco Noshing by Day & Fine Dining by Night
Start your movable feast in San Francisco at the Ferry Building Marketplace Farmers' Market, at the foot of Market Street in the Embarcadero. From November to March, when produce is less abundant, the market takes place Tuesday and Saturday mornings; the rest of the year, it's open on Thursday and Sunday mornings as well. Join the throngs of locals as they browse the dozens of outdoor stalls filled with organic goods from local artisan farms, and snack on free samples of specialty foods. Inside, shop or simply gawk at delicacies from the city's finest gourmet chocolatiers, bakeries, fish and meat mongers, and tea merchants. If you haven't already filled up on free samples, have lunch at the Slanted Door (reservations a must), located at the north end of the Marketplace. Afterward, burn calories with a leisurely bayside walk along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. If your feet are up for it, continue walking to Fort Mason and the Marina (a brisk 20- to 30-min. walk from Fisherman's Wharf) for more classic bay views. Rest in the late afternoon to revitalize yourself for a French feast at Restaurant Gary Danko, one of the city's finest dining rooms, or for a more affordable but equally wonderful Italian meal at A16. Both require advance reservations.
Day 2: North Beach Treats & Chez Panisse
Pace yourself. Start the morning with coffee and a light breakfast at one of the sidewalk cafes in North Beach, such as Caffè Greco. Wander the streets suffused with Italian heritage and the aromas of roasting garlic and pizza. Drop by Biordi Art Imports to pick up some Italian pottery. Enjoy a leisurely lunch at L'Osteria del Forno -- classic Italian fare at reasonable prices served in a shoebox-size dining room -- or sample authentic Hong Kong-style dining at Great Eastern, where rare delicacies are available for the adventurous palate. After lunch, it's time to find your way to Berkeley to learn how artisan chocolate is made during Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker's 1-hour tour. From the city, it's a 20-minute drive, traffic permitting (you can also take BART; call for directions, tel. 510/465-2278); take Columbus Avenue south and follow signs to I-80 east, which will take you across the Bay Bridge toward Oakland and Berkeley. Take the Ashby Avenue exit heading east, turn left at Seventh Street (the first signal), go to the second light, and the factory is on your right, at the corner of Seventh and Heinz streets. After the tour, it's time to dine at one of the nation's most famous and influential restaurants: Chez Panisse. Still owned and run by Alice Waters, the godmother of contemporary California cuisine, it's a requisite pilgrimage stop for serious gourmands. If the skies are clear on the drive back to San Francisco, revel in the city views from the East Bay or Treasure Island.
Day 3: Eating Your Way Through Chinatown
Kick off another gluttonous day in San Francisco with Wok Wiz's "I Can't Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown" excursion -- established by the late, beloved icon Shirley Fong-Torres, who passed away in 2011 (tel. 650/355-9657; www.wokwiz.com). Part variety show, part feast, the Chinatown food tour takes place every Saturday and some Sundays; call for details. If you're visiting on a weekday, try Wok Wiz's standard Chinatown tour, another authentic introduction to delicacies hidden throughout Chinatown. Work off lunch (included in the tour price) with a visit to Golden Gate Park, where you can visit the amazing de Young Museum, lounge in the grass, or ride a paddle boat. Head to the bustling Mission District for dinner at Delfina, one of the city's best Italian restaurants, with its hip, young, fun patrons and casual setting.
Day 4: Union Square
Spend your last day in the city shopping at Union Square department stores and boutiques. Have a light lunch of antipasto and a salad at the Emporio Armani Cafe, and then spend the afternoon with a visit to Alcatraz Island or the city's museums. Or just pamper yourself with a spa treatment at the Huntington Hotel's Nob Hill Spa. In the evening, either go for a multicourse affair with flambéed desserts at Gary Danko; a more relaxed Greek-inspired feast at one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Kokkari; or some of the city's finest Mediterranean-influenced cuisine at the city's beloved Zuni Café. If you've still got energy after dinner, head downtown for a gentleman's hour at Bourbon & Branch (be sure to book online for your password), wine tasting at First Crush, or champagne at the Bubble Lounge.
Day 5: Napa Wine Tasting
Get an early start to Napa on scenic Hwy. 101, which crosses the Golden Gate Bridge and is a far prettier drive than I-80. Make Artesa Vineyards & Winery your first wine-tasting stop, as it's known for its beautiful views and contemporary architecture, as well as for its Carneros District pinot noirs. Next, stop at Bistro Don Giovanni for an excellent Italian lunch (don't skip the pasta); if the weather's warm, reserve a patio table overlooking the garden, whimsical fountain, and vineyards. Next, take the scenic drive to the Hess Collection winery and art gallery, indulge the senses with a private sit-down wine-tasting party at Swanson Vineyards & Winery, or tour Francis Ford Coppola's stunning historic winery with a tour at Rubicon Estate. Then you can satiate your appetite at celebrity chef Michael Chiarello's festive Italian hot spot, Bottega Ristorante. Stay the night at any of the recommended B&Bs or hotels in your price range, but make sure you book a room as far in advance as possible.
Day 6: Sparkling Wine, Hand-Dug Caves & Hot Springs
Take it easy on the morning meal and have just coffee and pastries (ask your concierge for the best place near you). Then head north on Hwy. 29 to Schramsberg in Calistoga (about 1/2 hr. from downtown Napa and 15 min. from St. Helena) for a tour of their sparkling wine-making process and hand-dug caves, followed by a tasting. Head back "down valley" for lunch at long-standing French favorite Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. Then spend the rest of the afternoon visiting other wineries in the area, including Domaine Chandon and Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Or relax with spa treatments at funky-cool Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs, one of Calistoga's numerous spas. For an indulgent dinner, grab a bite at Iron Chef Morimoto's new Morimoto Napa.
Day 7: Food & Wine Gifts & Picnic & Pétanque
Reserve the day for shopping. Start with a light breakfast near your hotel. Then head to St. Helena for the Main Street boutiques. Grab mementos and gifts from Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company, follow your nose at the culinary emporium Dean & DeLuca, and buy a picnic lunch from Oakville Grocery, which has a few picnic tables on-site. Taste wines and play the French lawn-bowling game pétanque at St. Supéry winery. If you have time, you can stop in downtown Sonoma to meander around its square, or make one last stop at Buena Vista Carneros Winery. Or extend your trip and head to Northern Sonoma for a truly unforgettable dinner at Cyrus. Then it's back to San Francisco the same way you came, just in time to start your diet again.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.