A few years ago I was looking for a great birthday present for the pasta-loving bf, and came across a walking tour of North Beach (the infamous Italian district of San Francisco). The tour, which is hosted by Bay Area food guru GraceAnn Walden, ended up being one of the best birthday presents I could ever give. Not being one to miss out on a food adventure, I bought myself a spot on the tour as well, and I was definitely glad I did. GraceAnn is a vivacious, well-connected SF food institution (she wrote for the SF Chronicle's Inside Scoop - local food & industry news column - for 14 years) and has been running various culinary/history tours of San Francisco for over 20 years. This particular 5+ hour tour was called Mangia! North Beach and we started it with an empty belly and ended it barely able to move.
The tour changes slightly over time, but when we were on it some of the highlights were: North Beach's oldest store, receiving traditional Italian baked goods and fresh focaccia, a lesson on how to make chocolate truffles, tastes from a new neighborhood hot spot, and a full meal at a fantastic restaurant. Since GraceAnn is quite vibrant and very well connected, she has relationships with every place she takes you. The chefs/owners know you're on the way and set aside some time (as well as goodies) to share with you. At this time, the tour costs $80 a person, but in my opinion, it's worth every penny, if not more. And even if you're not interested in the history of the region, Grace Ann's infectious love for the area will have you gobbling up every morsel of knowledge (and food).
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with GraceAnn, you can read the interview after the jump, or checkout GraceAnn's website for information on her history/culinary tours of San Francisco, read more