It’s hard to get a group of people to agree on anything, but there’s one thing I’ve found that works: Sweets. Though some prefer ice cream, and others thick, frosted cupcakes, a love of sugary indulgence connects us all.
Still, I was caught off guard by the level of interest in my first ever, in-person blog meetup last week, dubbed SF #SweetsCrawl. After reaching 20 RSVPs for this walking tour and celebration of all things sweet, I realized I’d have to start turning people away so that the group would be manageable. I felt bad about this, but I was really excited about the enthusiasm.
I’ve never led a tour before. I had never even been to the places that we were touring. The night before the event I panicked, worrying that participants would ask hard questions or be upset that I didn’t know more about the shops and restaurants that I’d chosen for the itinerary. My friend, C., reassured me that morning by repeating the mantra: “Remember: It’s free” (hoping that as no one had paid to join, expectations would be low).
As it turned out, there was nothing I needed to fear. Everyone who came was really friendly, curious, and put up with my lack of organization. As for the itinerary, there was nothing we needed to know. We just showed up at shops, delighted in the beautiful and mouth-watering creations, and ordered a bunch of things to split between the group.
That’s not to say we didn’t learn a lot.
Here are some of the things we discovered:
At La Oaxaqueña, we discovered the spicy flavors of the real, hot cocoa that the owners and staff (Roxana, shown here) bring in direct from their home towns in Mexico’s Oaxaca state.
At Dandelion Chocolate, co-owner Todd, took us into a back room and gave us an extensive discussion of his chocolate making technique, starting with ordering raw beans direct from farmers around the world, and going through the seemingly endless array of steps needed to craft them into smooth, decadent chocolate bars. Because all of this work is done within his San Francisco’s Mission District factory, we got to see the machines in action and his staff pouring the molds and churning out the final, beautiful product. In the cafe, we were able to try all of their handcrafted chocolates, as well as some of their other sweet creations, including homemade marshmallows and cocoa fruit smoothies (which taste nothing like chocolate, by the way! It is nutty and fruity, the flavor reminds me of acai.)
At Craftsmen & Wolves, we sampled some elegantly crafted pastries at one of the top-rated pastry shops in the US.
Bi-Rite Creamery, the ice cream shop that revolutionized the craft by offering unique flavor combinations, was sure to be busy on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And it was — the line wrapped around the corner, so we decided to avoid the long line for the main entrance. Some of us opted for soft serve and baked goods, with limited selection, but a shorter line. Others went down the street to buy a pint of ice cream in their market. In both cases, their rich, flavorful ice cream did not disappoint.
Straw SF was an unexpected find along our route. This – I’m not kidding – carnival themed restaurant, serves things like corn dogs, deep-fried candy bars, funnel cake, and cotton candy. This place was too good to resist, so we stopped in to buy a bunch of freshly spun, blue raspberry cotton candy.
Miette is an old-fashioned sweets shop offering a beautifully curated selection of candies and pastries prepared in-house. Jars on shelves were filled with colorful jelly beans, salt water taffy, black licorice, and freshly baked macarons.
Chantal Guillon, was a crisp white and modern take on a classic Parisian macaron shop. From classic macaron flavors like vanilla, chocolate, salted caramel and pistachio, to more unique (and American) flavors like red velvet, their selection rivaled any macaron shop in Paris.
Finally, we tried out Smitten Ice Cream, a food stall with the longest lines yet. They freeze the ice cream right there as you watch, using a specially crafted ice cream maker powered by liquid nitrogen.
In between the whopping eight shops that we visited, we had the chance to see some of the quirky things I love about San Francisco: The stunning local street art that covers the walls of the Mission, a local artist working on an expansive oil painting in his garage, and some stranger installations, like this kaleidoscope set up along the sidewalk.
But by far the thing I enjoyed the most was the chance to spend time eating and laughing and exploring with friends, old and new.
So I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to tour San Francisco with such a fun group of fellow explorers. I plan to make in-person meetups like this a regular feature of Ever In Transit’s online travel community.
Until next time… cheers!