California's cities are so rich in culinary treasures, there aren’t enough meals in a day to give visitors a fair taste. Food tours offer a solution, allowing groups to experience a half-dozen or more gastronomic options, while learning about the destination’s history and landmarks. A plus: Food is a universal language. Tacos, pizza and chocolate are some of the most e ective means of bringing together people of di erent cultures, job types and ages. Here are six delicious adventures, from San Diego to Sacramento.
Bite San Diego tours are equal parts history and food. “No other groups do what we do,” says Daniella Ruiz, operations manager. “We have a really good grasp of the city as a whole, and we take people into restaurants they wouldn’t normally go into.” Groups of any size (though typically in the 30-50 range) can go on one of eight tours, spanning the San Diego area, from the swanky beach town of La Jolla to San Diego’s hip North Park neighborhood. Because of its proximity to the city’s convention center, the downtown Gaslamp Quarter/Little Italy tour is Bite San Diego’s most popular. There, groups can learn about the allegedly haunted Horton Grand Hotel and other historic San Diego landmarks while delighting in Indian cuisine at Royal India, deep-dish pizza at Berkeley Pizza, Southern comfort food at the 19th-century saloon-inspired Magnolia Tap & Kitchen, and chemistry-themed cocktails at brand-new downtown hot spot Zymology 21.
At Six Taste, no two tours are alike. Groups of up to 100 can select one of nine tour locations— from Santa Monica and Hollywood to Little Tokyo, Thai Town and New Chinatown—and Six Taste tailors each experience based on the group’s budget, occasion, appetite and teambuilding requests like trivia or scavenger hunts. “I love exploring new food options,” says CEO Sally Tiongco. “It’s important to keep the tours fun, tweak things, and make them exciting for myself and for the clients.” Downtown LA remains Six Taste’s most popular tour, attracting companies like Google, YouTube, Target, Nestle and Disney Animation. A typical downtown tour might include tastings at Grand Central Market, tacos and a view of tortillas being made on Spring Street, gelato or another sweet treat, and a nice sit-down dinner at a high-end restaurant on Seventh Street. “It’s more of a progressive meal experience than a tour,” adds Tiongco. “We’re like a concierge, as well as a food tour company.”
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a foodie haven with some five dozen restaurants, all within walking distance of each other, vying for diners’ attention. Staci Giovino started Carmel Food Tours in 2012 to introduce visitors to some of the mouthwatering options. “Carmel is a vortex for fresh food and talented people to prepare it,” she says. “It’s also an upscale town where the people who visit generally have disposable income, and that allows chefs to create with everything available to them without having to worry. It allows them to expand their talents wider and faster.”
Carmel Food Tours’ three-hour guided excursions combine insight into local history with tasting stops at seven restaurants, winery tasting rooms and gourmet specialty shops. Besides members of the general public who book individually, the company accommodates many groups in town on business. “We’ve recently gotten everything from a gaming company to engineers to cattlemen to corporate retreats,” says Giovino, adding that Carmel Food Tours plans to add a breakfast itinerary later this year.
Savor Oakland Food Tours is passionate about all things Oakland, from the city’s flourishing culinary renaissance to its diverse urban landscape. Budding foodies can take one of the company’s two offered tours. The Jack London Square and Historic Warehouse District tour highlights chic restaurants, hidden foodie gems and urban wineries along Oakland’s waterfront. The Chinatown tour explores the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian eateries tucked away in the country’s fourth-largest Chinatown. “Our tours are very engaging,” says Savor Oakland Food Tours’ Carlo Medina. “It’s not just about tasting food, but learning the area’s history, art, culture and architecture.” The company offers private tours to small groups of up to 15 people; clients include corporate teams from Kaiser Permanente and Silicon Valley-based dot coms. They plan to expand with a third East Bay craft beer tour as well as a small bites and cocktails tour.
One of the oldest food tour companies in the Bay Area, Edible Excursions offers an astounding 10 different tour options. Food lovers can stroll through San Francisco’s famous Ferry Building Marketplace, the culturally diverse Mission District, historic Japantown, downtown San Francisco’s craft cocktail scene, Berkeley’s iconic Gourmet Ghetto, Oakland’s hip Temescal and more. In addition to indulging in signature tastes, groups are also treated to personal food stories from the tour guides, chefs and artisans they encounter along the way. “A really interesting offering is that many of our tour guides are chefs or former food writers,” says Lindsay Wright, marketing manager. “They live and breathe the Northern Californian food scene and really understand the food and restaurant culture.” Each tour is customized, and the company is open to creative tastings for private groups, including combined cooking and tasting tours.
Even before Sacramento started marketing itself as America’s farm-to-fork capital, Lisa Armstrong had picked up on the concept with Local Roots Food Tours, a company she started in 2010 to expose visitors to the city’s history, restaurants, tasting rooms and specialty food shops. Today, Local Roots offers three themed food-centric downtown walking tours, as well as one in the hip and happening Calaveras County town of Murphys.
“Our tours tie into the farm-to-fork campaign, as our guests are meeting chefs and visiting restaurants using fresh local ingredients,” Armstrong says. “A lot of the time, chefs will talk about sourcing their ingredients at urban farms or farms just a few miles out of town. It engages the meeting and convention people and lets them know that we’re very lucky to have so many resources right at our feet. It ties together what Sacramento is becoming.”
Local Roots tours make five to six stops for food and libations over the course of a threeand- a-half-hour itinerary (in Murphys, the tour sticks close to Main Street and includes nine stops). At each establishment, tables are reserved and waiting. Group size is capped at 16 people for standard tours. “With larger groups, we break into smaller groups of 20,” Armstrong says. “We’ve accommodated as many as 500 people; the largest was a convention for Les Schwab tire centers. We broke into small groups over a whole week.”