With its dazzling array of ethnic and cutting-edge cuisine, vibrant wine and beer scene, and year-round abundance of locally sourced foods, the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the world’s great culinary destinations. Throughout the region are countless ways for groups to experience it, whether it’s dining at an organic farm, sampling rare vintages at an urban tasting room or working with local chefs to create memorable dishes of their own.
While San Francisco has long been renowned for its restaurant scene, outstanding culinary opportunities abound everywhere from rural Marin County to urban neighborhoods in the East Bay and South Bay.
“The culinary scene in Oakland is booming,” said Frances Wong, PR & community relations manager for Visit Oakland. “It can be hard for up-and-coming chefs to open a restaurant in San Francisco, so they’re coming over here. And we’re one of the most diverse cities in the country, and our cuisine reflects that.”
East of Oakland in the Diablo Valley, cities like Concord provide plenty of ways for groups to experience fine dining as well as craft brews and wines, according to Elaine Schroth, executive director of Visit Concord.
“Concord has something for everyone—casual comfort food as well as global cuisine, including Peruvian and Guatemalan,” she said. “There are great options for dine-arounds right near our meeting hotels.”
Whether upscale or casual, the Bay Area offers myriad possibilities for events showcasing the talents of local chefs and vintners, according to Zorianna Smith, director of marketing for AlliedPRA Northern California. Among her favorite options is to capitalize on the pop-up restaurant trend to present truly customized experiences.
“You can create your own gourmet restaurant in unique locations like an art gallery, private home or even a remote vista that can be built out into a beautiful dining space with a modern tent,” she said. “These pop-up restaurants can be enhanced by including well-known local chefs to the dinner or even compete in a food challenge where guests vote for their favorite dish.”
A particularly fun and informative way to delve into the Bay Area’s culinary scene is through a walking tour, according to Smith.
“I particularly love the food tours around San Francisco and the East Bay because groups get to see the real flavor of the neighborhoods and experience something local and off the beaten path,” she said.
A pioneer in the concept is Edible Excursions, which began with walking tours showcasing the San Francisco Ferry Building and its array of artisanal food purveyors. The tours have since expanded into San Francisco’s Mission District and Japantown as well as into neighborhoods in Berkeley and Oakland. Along with scheduled tours, the company offers customized experiences for groups as large as 100. The tours typically include a half-dozen or more stops to visit with local chefs and purveyors while sampling their wares.
Two new offerings from Edible Excursions focus on libations. Temescal Beer and Bites explores the craft beer scene in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood, while the Craft Cocktail Tour is an extended happy hour through downtown San Francisco that includes a mixology class focusing on bitters.
“San Francisco has always been a popular drinking town due to its long history in libations and current cocktail renaissance,” said Lisa Rogovin, founder and CEO of Edible Excursions. “Bitters have become the next big thing in the cocktail world, and the class is a great takeaway from the tour.”
Local Food Adventures, which focuses on the East Bay, also provides scheduled walking tours and customized group experiences. Among its popular offerings is the Grand Lake Cultural Cuisine Food Tour, which explores Oakland’s culinary scene along with historic sites around scenic Lake Merritt.