There's something so right about classic cupcakes: a dependable, single-serving pick-me-up. Luckily, the Bay Area is full of ‘em, whether you're a red velvet traditionalist or a booze-and-bacon flavored voyeur. (Screw vanilla, we've got brown sugar beer cake!) Here, ten local bakeries at which to discover your frosting-topped favorite.
The best cupcakes in SF
Mason jars filled with colored sprinkles line the front window of this tiny, sweet-smelling shop. Susie’s six-layer confetti cake is justifiably famous, but if you're not riding a birthday-merited sugar high, the cupcakes provide a generous serving. The super-moist, buttercream-laden confections are baked from scratch daily in flavors like red velvet, chocolate peanut butter, flourless chocolate, strawberry and lemon. If you'd rather graze, a handful of flavors are available in miniature sizes, as well.
This NorCal chain forgoes the standards for eclectic flavors like Battle Royale (almond cake with blueberry tequila filling topped with acai berry cream cheese frosting), pink champagne (raspberry cake with champagne frosting), and Samoa (coconut cake, chocolate ganache filling and caramel frosting rolled in coconut). The stools lining the white and pink-accented shop offer a break from Fillmore's crowded retail corridor. Cupcakes can be ordered a la carte or a la mode, topped with a scoop of ice cream. (The spot also sells ice cream sandwiches, whoopee cookies, and other treats.) Though cupcakeries typically skew overtly sweet, the Stud Muffin is a well-balanced alternative: brown sugar beer cake topped with salted caramel frosting and cayenne dusted bacon.
The display case here is an embarrassment of riches, featuring a rotating selection of fifty flavors, including gluten-free and vegan varieties. Owned by Oakland native Eurydice Manning, the baby blue shop has a neighborhood feel, where grown-up regulars are as likely be mulling over the sugar-packed offerings as their kids. The music-themed flavors are a particular hit, like the Kurd Cobain (lemon cake with lemon curd and light lemon buttercream) and the King of Pop (chocolate cake with buttercream filling and buttercream frosting dipped in glittery white sprinkles, a la Michael Jackson's glove). Fillings like marshmallow fluff, strawberry sauce and salted caramel set these treats apart from their dense contemporaries.
For owner Kara Haspel Lind, opening a cupcake shop was an act of rebellion—her father is a dentist. These cupcakes are the designer version of the kid-classic, touting a light, fluffy cake and a dense dollop of buttercream. Kara’s sweets are marked by pretty sugar decorations in the shape of flowers and polka dots. The shop cycles through 17 flavors—some gluten-free, all available by custom order—including fleur de sel, passion fruit, and chocolate raspberry. Each season also brings a new "charity" cupcake, the proceeds of which benefit a hand-picked nonprofit organization.
This neighborhood bakery has been in business for twenty years, peddling a nostalgia-inducing array of cupcakes as well as breads, pies, pastries and cookies. The cupcake flavors span Boston cream pie to lemon drop, but the perennial favorite is the "Most-est" cupcake, an oversized, homemade spin on the Hostess treat—cream filling and frosted squiggle included.
This small, hot pink cupcakerie is parts pretty and punk. Thought purists swear by the shop's red velvet cake, C&C also showcases zany novelty flavors like pancake breakfast, horchata, root beer float and Thai tea. (In fact, there's an entire "bacon and booze" cupcake section on the menu available for custom orders.) Check the shop’s website for the flavors of the day before stopping in.
Owner Lila Owens offers a dozen cupcake flavors—all baked from scratch, of course—at her narrow, sleek cupcake bar. The varieties range from lemon berry to grasshopper pie, plus vegan and gluten free options. Owens is admirably restrained with the frosting (so you won't be scraping it off by the fingerful), but generous with mouth-watering, tart fillings like strawberry jam and lime curd.
San Francisco City College culinary grad Cheryl Burr believes that not everything should be painted with the same (vanilla buttercream-slathered) brush. The shop offers as many frostings as cakes: you'll find espresso, praline, and coconut buttercream toppings among them. The cake is nuanced, as well, including the sea-salt inflected chocolate ganache and the dense, buttery lemon pound cake topped with cream cheese. If you fall for Burr's sweets, head next door: She also co-owns the hip SoMA diner Citizen's Band.
Though this bakery is run out of a proper pink-tinged shop, it's best known to downtown office workers for its Financial District kiosk. (The chocolate stout cupcake topped with espresso buttercream makes a decidedly indulgent alternative to the usual coffee break.) You'll also find Batter's sweets sold at local spots like Trouble Coffee, Ritual, and Jackson Place Cafe. The nine rotating flavors include combinations such as German chocolate cake with coconut pecan frosting and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Though the cupcakes alone are worth the trip, it's the Sand Angel that has inspired the most loyal following: it’s like the chewy, crispy love child of a snickerdoodle and a molasses cookie. Swing by the kiosk for a daily cookie happy hour, from 3 to 6pm.
In the quaint world of cupcakes, Sweet Bar is a unicorn: the rare bakery that also offers savory food (paninis, soups, salads), wifi, wine and beer. Situated in the former home of MacFarlanes Candy and Ice Cream, this retro-inspired eatery is homey and comfortable, with ample seating indoors and out. The cupcakes are moist, light and topped by tasty grainy frosting. The flavors include gluten free chocolate-dipped peanut butter, coconut creme, lemon drop and more, but the crowd favorite is the spicy-sweet pumpkin ginger cupcake, topped with salted caramel frosting and candied ginger.