Like coffee, bakeries have a long and colorful history in San Francisco dating back to the Gold Rush, when the original 49ers used a tangy wild bread culture to create the first loaves of San Francisco sourdough. Today, the city is knead-deep in artisan bakeries that churn out cakes, pastries, cookies and every other toothsome treat you can think of. The next time a snack attack hits, consult our bakery guide, hitting sweet spots from North Beach to the Mission.
Best bakeries in San Francisco
From the vintage pendant lights and china tea cups to owner/chef Michelle Polzine’s cat-eye glasses and aprons, 20th Century Cafe is a love letter to old Vienna, Prague and Budapest, with a tiny toe in Russia and Poland. Trained as a pastry chef, Polzine crafts pierogi with homemade damson plum preserves, knishes, pogácsa (Hungarian bacon-cheese scones) and drool-inducing layered Russian honey cake that are mini masterpieces. The menu expands at lunch to include soups, salads and sandwiches, from cream of green garlic and borscht to kale sandwiches with Hungarian pepper relish and goat cheese. Whatever you do, don’t miss the hot butterscotch—a creamy, caramel-y cup of comfort that will make you wonder why no one ever thought of it before.
If there’s such a thing as baking royalty, Liz Pruiett and Chad Robertson are it. The husband/wife team has won awards and accolades from nearly every critic and baker in the country. Their quintessentially French and quintessentially local bakery, Tartine, turns out loaves of heavenly country bread, which emerge from the ovens at 5pm. Other delectable creations include perfect croissants, fresh fruit bread puddings, frangipane tarts, lemon meringue cakes, and morning buns to make you weep. The hot-pressed sandwiches and croque monsieurs will make you long for Paris, even if you’ve never been.
The tiny Italian bakery does nothing but turn out ten or so kinds of focaccia—onion, tomato, raisin, rosemary-garlic, olive—from old-fashioned brick ovens. Founded on this corner in North Beach by three brothers from Genoa in 1911, it is still run by members of the same family. Locals line up daily to get their still-warm squares of pillowy bread, wrapped in butcher paper and tied up with string. When the shop runs out (usually by midday), it closes. Cash only.
This Mission District hotspot is among a new wave of café/bakeries that eschew comfy sofas and crumb-laden tables in favor of a modern-minimalist style that puts the focus firmly on what’s behind the counter and in the display cases. The self-described “contemporary patisserie” offers a beautifully curated selection of sweet and savory treats, from muscovado morning buns and exquisite little cube cakes made with chocolate and blood orange to the signature Rebel Within—a soft-cooked egg housed inside a muffin made with asiago, green onion and Boccalone sausage. Other favorites include matcha snickerdoodles and Thai scones infused with green curry, candied ginger and coconut.
Love it or mock it, the minimalist bakery inside Four Barrel Coffee came into prominence thanks to its now-notorious $4 toast. Not only is that label inaccurate (toast is only $3.50), it sells this bakery way short. The Mill is the love child of Josey Baker (his real name), who turns out legendary loaves of sumptuous sour wheat, country, rye and Wonder breads, along with chocolate claws, gouda tarts, morning buns and pistachio-blackberry croissants. But frankly, it’s the thick, chewy slabs of toast—slathered with seasonal toppings ranging from almond butter with Maldon sea salt to cinnamon sugar, pumpkin spread and cream cheese with honey—that people line up for in droves. Why fight it?
This worker-owned cooperative named for Basque priest and cooperative movement founder José María Arizmendiarrieta is the go-to spot for decadent carbo-loading: Fresh berry scones, pecan rolls, cookie brittle, brioche knots and sourdough-crust pizzas topped with things like arugula, caramelized onions, gorgonzola cheese and rosemary oil. They also offer a huge assortment of fresh-baked breads—corn-oat molasses to provolone olive—with daily-changing specials.
Sourdough bread is as synonymous with San Francisco as fog and Twitter. At the flagship Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf, tangy loaves are still made from a mother dough first cultivated here in 1849. You can watch the bread-making process from the railing overlooking the showcase kitchen, sample it at the café, and even buy a few loaves to bring home with you. There’s also a bistro that offers an all-day menu, including sandwiches, salads, Dungeness crab cakes and clam chowder in (you guessed it) a bread bowl.
This quirky little Russian bakery is known for hard-to-find Old World specialties. Authentic piroshki and pierogi (the kind that haven’t been deep-fried into greasy torpedoes) stuffed with everything from meat, egg and onions to cabbage and potatoes, pelmeni (boiled meat dumplings), blini (sweet and savory pancakes), hamentaschen (jam-filled cookie pockets), poppy seed rolls, and honey and napoleon cakes are just the tip of the Siberian iceberg. No matter what you end up trying, make sure to add on a loaf of their fantastically moist and sour Russian rye bread. Pozhaluysta (you’re welcome).
Every September during the Autumn Moon Festival, the lines form round the block for Golden Gate’s famous moon cakes, filled with things like pineapple, coconut, lotus seed, red-bean paste and sugared melon. A 40-year-old Chinatown institution, the bakery is also the place for other Chinese baked specialties, including egg custard tarts, coconut macaroons, sweet rice cakes and vanilla cream buns.
Pinkie’s Bakery, an adjunct to Citizen Band restaurant in the South of Market district, took the city by storm a few years ago with its cream cheese-stuffed cookie sammies, bacon and cheese brioche, lemon bars, cupcakes and decadent specialty cakes. Just looking at the devil’s food cake filled with bittersweet chocolate mousse and frosted with chocolate ganache and Maldon sea salt will put ten pounds on you (totally worth it).