My self-guided tour of the best bakeries in San Francisco began on an overcast and uncharacteristically chilly summer morning.
I'd only given myself a weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area (en route to Honolulu), and it didn't feel like nearly enough time once I was there.
Wondering how best to take advantage of the jetlag waking me up at 5 a.m., I decided to visit as many incredible bakeries as I could on my second and final day.
This is no small task in a city with a reputation for excellent pastries.
I hope my indulgent mission for sweet treats at San Francisco's best bakeries serves you well, whether as an armchair eater or planning your own trip.
Where to Eat Pastries in SF
I began my Sunday adventure at the renowned Tartine Manufactory in the Mission District.
This 5,000 square foot space dedicated to breadmaking, pastries, and ice cream occupies the same building as the Heath Ceramics factory.
It opened in 2016 following the runaway success of nearby Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St), a joint venture by Chad Robertson (breadmaker) and his wife Elisabeth Prueitt (pastry chef).
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they were only offering limited outdoor seating.
I, however, got lucky as I arrived soon after they opened and managed a table for breakfast sans reservation.
To warm up, I ordered the ham and cheese croissant with fried egg, mission verde, and jalapeño along with a green tea.
This was one rich breakfast sandwich. The croissant's flaky crust crumbled as I took bite after delicious bite, the pepper giving it a subtle spicy kick.
For something sweet, I ordered a pain au chocolat with Valrhona chocolate.
I devoured the pastry after a six-block walk west to Dolores Park, where I could enjoy it with views of the San Francisco skyline. It was one of the better chocolate croissants I've eaten.
Before leaving Tartine Manufactory, I did get a quick look at the interior when I used the restroom.
A counter in the cafe is open for to-go orders, including their famous loaves of sourdough bread.
The bakery serves coffee and pastries until the late afternoon, 5 p.m. to be specific.
595 Alabama St, San Francisco, tartinebakery.com
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Craftsman and Wolves
After dusting the pastry flakes off my pants in Dolores Park, I backtracked two blocks east (past the original Tartine Bakery, known for its long lines) to check out Craftsman and Wolves.
It was already 10:30 a.m., and this modern pâtisserie, bakery, and cafe had its own share of customers filing through the doors.
Inside, the pastry counter greeted me with too many tempting choices, including roasted banana bread with coconut and a croissant pudding with rhubarb, vanilla custard, and citrus zest.
The Rebel Within is a signature treat by baker William Werner. A soft-cooked egg ensconced in an asiago, sausage, and green onion cake.
Unaware of this at the time, I ordered a pill-shaped pastry made of peach oolong mousse, peach confiture, vanilla sponge, and shortbread.
I was happy to be sitting inside this great place with my delicate dessert and warm cappuccino and didn't mind the communal seating.
746 Valencia St, San Francisco, craftsman-wolves.com
A six-block walk north of Craftsman and Wolves brings you to Kantine, a Scandinavian-inspired bakery and cafe well-suited for a fika.
Kantine was opened by chef Nichole Accettola after she spent 10 years in Copenhagen.
I walked up to Kantine a little after 11 a.m. and joined the short queue to order inside. The counter was smaller than the other places I'd been to, but they had exactly what I wanted.
Cardamom buns! Oh, there were cinnamon knots too, which are a favorite of the Swedes, but it was cardamom that won me over on that last trip across the Atlantic.
Kantine was my third bakery in San Francisco that morning, and it was starting to show.
I only took a few buttery bites before placing the remainder of the bun in a brown paper bag and hightailing it back to The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel for a break.
On my way out, I noticed the line was already long, and all the outdoor tables were occupied.
The cardamom morning bun kept well overnight and served as a quick snack before I left for the airport to go home.
Kantine also offers three-grain porridge, smørrebrød (a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich), and a build-your-own brunch option starting at $16.
1906 Market St, San Francisco, kantinesf.com
Related: 5 Best Bakeries in Copenhagen
The sun came out during my hotel break, and I headed over to The Golden Gate Bridge to take pictures and burn off some calories.
A few hours later, I ordered a Lyft from Presidio of San Francisco (a large park by the bridge) south to Arsicault Bakery, a local favorite and the best bakery for croissants.
Arsicault was named Bakery of the Year by Bon Appétit on the strength of their plain croissant alone.
I've eaten a lot of croissants in my life, so I had to go. Never mind that it was now 1:45 p.m.; there was still a 20-person line outside this unassuming little bakery.
Thankfully, it moved quickly, and I was soon in possession of their acclaimed pastry.
Around the corner on Clement Street, the weekly Farmer's Market was wrapping up.
Walking down the sunlit street, I tore into the croissant, flakes of dough flying everywhere. Inside, it was oh-so-buttery.
It's the kind of croissant you eat and realize 99% of the rest you ever ate were tough, chewy, dry, or just disappointing by comparison.
Arsicault also offers chocolate, almond, chocolate almond, and ham and cheese croissants. There's kouign amann, scones, and a classic chocolate chip cookie, too.
397 Arguello Blvd, San Francisco, arsicault-bakery.com
Cinderella Russian Bakery & Cafe
A seven-block walk southwest of Arsicault (and two blocks north of Golden Gate Park) is the Cinderella Russian Bakery & Cafe.
My mom's side of the family immigrated to New York from Russia around the turn of the 20th century, though I know little about that side of my family.
So, when Cinderella turned up in my research of the best bakeries in San Francisco, I felt a calling to check it out.
Not surprisingly, there was a line for this historic cafe which first opened its doors in 1953. It moved pretty quickly, though, as half the people were ordering food-to-go.
Once inside the small bakery, I was overwhelmed by the options in the display cases. There were breakfasts, bagels, borsch soup, chicken a la Kyiv, and dozens of pastries.
I was tempted to order the Vatrushka sweet cheese tart or perhaps the bird's milk cake, but settled on the sour cream cake with a honey sponge, which I was assured was the most traditional Russian pastry available.
With my prize in hand, I took a small table outside. A quick photography session ensued as I captured a dozen layers of cake and cream elegantly put together.
Then, I plunged the plastic fork down one corner and watched as the Russian honey cake bent like a contortionist to avoid being split apart.
Ultimately, it gave way, and the luxurious layer cake soon disappeared. If you've got a sweet tooth and curiosity for Russian baked goods, head to Cinderella Bakery.
436 Balboa St, San Francisco, cinderellabakery.com
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My bakery crawl in San Francisco ended at Cinderella, leaving many wonderful places to try the next time I'm in town.
I thought the French bakery, b Patisserie, would be one of them. Pastry chef and owners Belinda Leong and Michel Suas won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker in 2018.
However, I was surprised and delighted to learn their breakfast pastries are available at Kona Coffee Purveyors in the heart of Waikiki, Honolulu.
Not only that, Kona was just across the street from my Hilton hotel there. There was a line out the cafe door every morning, but waiting in it was worthwhile to try their creations.
I went three times in one week. My favorite pastries were the insanely good chocolate banana almond croissants.
I also enjoyed a mango, coconut, lychee pastry, a pan Suisse with cream cheese and chocolate chips, and a chocolate passion fruit cremeux. Vive la France!
2821 California St, San Francisco, bpatisserie.com
Kuhio Avenue Mall Entrance - International Marketplace, 2330 Kalakaua Ave #160, Honolulu, HI