If trying a few of the most delicious dishes a city has to offer while getting the inside scoop on neighborhood restaurants sounds like an ideal afternoon, you’re in good company. Food tours are hotter than ever with new eat-and-drink excursions popping up all across the country. The culinary tourism market is set to grow 16.5 percent year-over-year through 2027, according to a 2020 report, and there’s no better place than California to get a taste of the action.
“It’s phenomenal to do food tours when you’re traveling,” says Avital Ungar, founder and owner of Avital Tours in San Francisco. “It gives you a way to taste and experience the neighborhood through your belly and through your eyes.” Ungar, who founded her company more than a decade ago, says that California has a leg up when it comes to culinary tourism. “Restaurateurs and chefs have such great access to amazing produce,” she explains. Add on year-round sunshine and exceptional diversity in culture and cuisines and it’s clear why you can find a food tour in nearly every destination in the Golden State.
Ungar, Sally Tiongco of Six Taste Food Tours in Los Angeles, and Bianca Beale of San Diego’s So Diego Tours, are all featured in the most recent episode of the California Now Podcast. Ungar explains to host Soterios Johnson that her company aims to appeal to her city’s toughest critics—its residents—and that this insider focus makes her tours extra special for travelers as well. “I’m designing an experience to capture the soul and essence of a neighborhood,” she says.
While Ungar hosts tours in the Mission District and North Beach, the Bay Area is home to a bevy of culinary-focused excursions, including North Berkeley Food Tours, the Chinatown Walking Food Tour, and Oakland Temescal Tastes.
You can find fascinating food tours in less expected destinations too. Head to Point Reyes in Marin County to find a tour dedicated entirely to cheese, including behind-the-scenes access to area creameries. On California’s North Coast, Humboldt Bay Oyster Tours ferries guests by boat around an oyster farm before serving freshly shucked bivalves at Humboldt Bay Provisions. In Temecula, Sidecar Tours pairs some of the best local bites with a thrilling motorcycle ride, while Bikes, Bites, and Bevs in Carmel has guests power their own two wheels while discovering tasting locations and historical points of interest in the Central Coast city.
Of course, food tours in California’s major cities also have significant appeal. They’re a great way to zero in on the very best bites, while getting a feel for the diversity in different neighborhoods. Tiongco of Six Taste Food Tours says that her Downtown L.A. experience includes a taste of El Salvador at Sarita’s Pupuseria. The popular spot often has a long wait—but guests of the tour skip the line and go straight to the good stuff. Beale’s tour through San Diego’s Old Town features flavors that reflect the city’s strong Mexican community with stops at Cafe Coyote for tacos and Tahona Bar for mezcal.
To make the most of your food tour, consider a few expert tips. Ungar advises booking directly through the tour company. “You're going to get a better experience and a relationship,” she says. As for timing, Beale says that scheduling a tour at the top of the vacation can set the tone for your entire trip. “The guide has a wealth of knowledge,” she says. “It’s a great way to get to know a local who can give you suggestions on how to spend the rest of your time in our city.”