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best place to live for food near SF

My husband and I are currently living in Japan but planning to return to the States next summer. Prior to Japan, we lived in Portland, Oregon and are looking for somewhere in the SF bay area with a great local ag/casual food scene much like the one we left. A mix of high style and corner shops is our preference and farmer's markets and ethnic food availability are important as well.
We aren't certain that we can afford to buy in SF proper so are hoping to find a smaller city or town that still has character and excellent food options. Some places we're looking at are: Petaluma, Mendocino, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, San Simeon, Sebastopol, and Fairfax.
Anyone know if any of these towns are reputable in the food world?
Thank you!

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  1. L'appart Resto in San Anselmo and Marche Fleurs in Ross are two examples of excellent higher end restaurants within minutes of Fairfax. Fairfax does seem less expensive than most of Marin County but not sure that is still within your housing budget. Lots of ethnic food choices in Marin. Petaluma, Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Sebastopol are filled with fresh farmers market, wine country restaurants while Mendocino has more marijuana as well as cooler wet weather. I know this is not a real estate site so wont continue but San Simeon is a world ( So Cal) apart with which I am not familiar! Good Luck

    636 San Anselmo Ave, San Anselmo, CA 94960

    1. Don't rule out Oakland...
      Farmer's Markets: check.
      High quality shops: check
      Ethnic Food: check

      Also, a variety of neighborhoods with (relatively) friendly housing prices, BART, an ever increasing number of terrific restaurants, home of the Blue Bottle Coffee mothership, etc, etc, and so on.

      15 Replies
      1. re: Rapini

        Thank you for the reminder. My husband grew up on the Peninsula so has a few negative (and probably now outdated) associations with Oakland. But it's definitely on our interest list. What neighborhoods can you recommend with great food options and/or affordable and safe real estate? Are there year-round farmers markets there? How about good supermarkets? Thanks a million!

        1. re: natandkelly

          There are year round farmer's market in some areas of Oakland. ( Jack London, Lakeshore) Rockridge has great places to eat. Downtown Oakland is the hot spot in the Bay Area for great food. Great Lofts and condos to live in. SF chefs are moving to Oakland because it is cheaper to operate. The Berkeley Bowl is the place to shop for produce. Lots of Whole Foods in the area. Safe areas to live depend on how much you want to spend. Rockridge, Montclair, Lake Merritt area, the Oakland Hills are great areas. The Laurel, Piedmont Ave, Jack London Square great areas also and lots more. It just depends on your comfort level and how much money you have. Affordable, this is CA, not much is really affordable. :)

          Berkeley Bowl
          2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

          Jack London Square
          70 Washington St # 207, Oakland, CA

          1. re: Janet

            When you write that you "aren't certain that we can afford to buy in SF proper," it sounds like it's just a bit above what you can handle, rather than completely out of the question. If this is the case, even the most expensive areas of Oakland (Rockridge and Montclair) will be in reach. You might also consider baja Piedmont if public schools are a concern. Berkeley and Albany are other good options.

            The advantages of choosing this part of the East Bay over the North Bay are:
            1)a substantially shorter commute to SF
            2)the possibility of taking BART to SF
            3)lots of great shopping areas that fit your description within ten miles (Rockridge, Elmwood, 4th Street, Montclair, Piedmont Ave, Grand & Lakeshore Aves, Solano Ave, the Gourmet Ghetto, etc.)
            4)Farmers markets almost every day of the week
            5)Fantastic ethnic options (Oakland Chinatown, the Pacific East Mall, Korean and Ethiopian in Oakland, Latin American in the Fruitvale, etc.).

            Seriously, when I read your description I thought it sounded like Oakland and Berkeley. I was surprised by the places you listed. Oakland and Berkeley have everything you've mentioned, and they're much closer to the City. The only thing they lack, and it's something you didn't mention, is new developments of detached single family homes. If you're happy with either an older home in an established neighborhood or a brand new condo, you'll be very happy with the housing stock in the East Bay. If you want brand new construction in a tract, you'll have to look further.

            1. re: lexdevil

              There are some new townhomes off 580 . There are some fairly new townhomes off Jack London Square. They are still building in the Oakland Hills.

              Jack London Square
              70 Washington St # 207, Oakland, CA

              1. re: Janet

                Yes, but there's not a lot of new detached single family homes. Though I shouldn't have lumped the townhomes in with the condos.

          2. re: natandkelly

            What is now called Temescal (Telegraph around 51st street) is a hotspot of great restaurants. Grand Ave has been improving (boot & shoe!). Uptown neighborhood (around the oakland fox theater) will host Plum when it opens. Commis is in Piedmont. For immigrant eats, there's some excellent vietnamese, lots of Korean, and wonderful mexican in Fruitvale. In general, if one has the do-re-mi, Rockridge is very pleasant, central, on the BART line, and a good number of well maintained detached single family houses.

            Going "uphill" gets views, fewer neighbors, nicer houses, but always a longer drive to food/culture.

            The downtown area has added a lot of condos. This area is gritter still, and is likely what your husband thinks of as Oakland.

            The trick, then, is finding that happy medium.

            Besides the farmers markets, the only great grocery store is Berkeley Bowl, of which there is the mother ship downtown, and the new western branch. There are a number of small markets, such as Market Hall in Rockridge, for specialties and meats. I think it can be argued that the only large non-chain market in all of SF is Rainbow Grocery, so the east bay is over SF in that regard.

            Berkeley Bowl
            2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

            Rainbow Grocery
            1745 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103

            3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

            1. re: bbulkow

              The restaurant scene in Temescal has changed dramatically in recent years, but the area has been called Temescal for a very long time.

              1. re: Glencora

                Yes, I know. I was reacting to the fact that 20 years ago people didn't talk about it much. It wasn't much of a neighborhood, more just a particular 20 blocks of telegraph. When I lived nearby I'd more commonly say "let's go to the ethopian place at 51st and Telegraph" than "let's go to the ethopian place in Temescal". But the name was in use, as you point out. The whole trend of unearthing old names and calling it a neighborhood sometimes gets me cranky (like Dogpatch in SF).

                1. re: bbulkow

                  I get it. I sort of grew up in the Temescal library (when the Pussycat theater was still across the street) so it was always Temescal to me. There were very few good places to eat back then, but the area does have an interesting history. It was an Italian neighborhood once. I barely remember a dairy in an old brick building that's still there.

                  1. re: Glencora

                    Yes, it was an Italian neighborhood. The Jesus Saves Apostolic Church was once the Jesus Saves Italian Church (38th and Telegraph). In addition to Genova, there was also the Ultra (Lucca's) Delicatessen on the east side of Telegraph. The Temescal branch library was once called the Alden branch, and the Alden Wine Depot was where the Aikido place is now. No one will ever forget the cheap food and cheaper liquor at Bertola's, and there was another Italian restaurant on the east side of Telegraph at 41st.

                    1. re: lexdevil

                      Which reminds me that I have to get to barlata sometime soon.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        No need to hurry...it's one of those "that was good, don't have to go there again" kind of places.

                        1. re: Rapini

                          Finally got there. You're nuts, barlata is an excellent neighborhood place. Wouldn't drive a long distance or recommend it; but it's quite tasty. The bocarones were excellent. Had a great glass of Priorat. Might not be as good as Iberia, but highly worthy.

              2. re: bbulkow

                Commis is in Oakland, on Piedmont Ave. There is very little commercial activity within Piedmont city limits. To be clear.

                3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                1. re: twocents

                  This is true, Piedmont avenue is totally within the city of Oakland and never touches the city of Piedmont. Piedmont does not have any restaurants and only a single small grocery store (Mullberrys).

          3. Sebastopol is great. Small town feel, much lower housing prices than Healdsburg, great farmers markets, microbrewery restaurant and other good places, and proximity to everything else in the Sonoma wine country.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Joan Kureczka

              Sebastopol would be seriously on my list as well, and the town of Sonoma. Western Sonoma county is very fierce about its food and local ingredients (nor sure if Sebatopol is over the line into Marin, but it's close). Just remember that nothing on your list is remotely close to the size of Portland, so of course options will be 1/10 thinner. Partially Portland is that cool, partially you're restricting yourself to smaller towns.

              Each of those towns you listed have very different feels for very different reasons. For example, fairfax is tonier.

              On of my favorite towns you haven't listed is San Luis Obispo, as it's a college town with good eats.

            2. Fairfax is pretty nice. Lots of little shops, the Good Earth Market, and farmers' markets. Plus you are close to Pt. Reyes Station, home of Marin Sun Farms and Cowgirl Creamery. I love Cafe Lotus in Fairfax.

              Sebastopol is nice too. Lots of farmers up there. You can probably have more land to garden there and maybe even keep bees. There's a good bee store up there.

              Cowgirl Creamery
              80 4th St, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

              Cafe Lotus
              1912 SIR Francis Drake Blvd, Fairfax, CA 94930

              Good Earth Cafe
              , San Francisco, CA 94102

              1. My vote is for Sonoma, near the town center.

                1. http://www.healdsburg.org/index.asp
                  I lived in SF fo 25 years and moved here almost 5 years ago. I love it..................Takes me abt 55 min to GG bridge during slow traffic time. Has all your asking for and housing prices keep going down. Not as touristy as Napa and abt 200 winerys near by on quiet roads. Some excellent restaurants , coast near by....lots of farms to buy from.
                  Check out the maps here
                  Numerous farmers markets http://sonoma.com/thingstodo/farmers_...
                  Healdsburg has a michelin 2 and 1 plus many other great restaurants.........many other ethnic iin area .....
                  Check out
                  There are food and wine events every weekend and many tiimes during the week

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: celeryroot

                    Thank you, everyone, for the info. Don't know much about Sonoma proper. I realize none of these places are likely to have the food diversity that we are accustomed to in Portland. Is the restaurant scene around Sebastopol/Sonoma geared only toward tourists or also locals? I know there is a good ag scene in that area. Petaluma, being the biggest, seems the most likely to have ethnic options but is the food there more chain-oriented? I can't tell if Petaluma is lacking the agricultural/local food influence that is present around the rest of the Sonoma/Napa area.

                    1. re: natandkelly

                      Petaluma does not have much in the way of "high end" restaurants, but it has an excellent array of midrange and ethnic eats. At one time it was known as the chicken capitol of the wold (residents can still own chickens in their yards), and celebrates "Butter & Egg Days" every year, so that should say something about its agricultural influence.

                      Petaluma is also one of the more affordable places on your list, and is the closest one to SF other than Fairfax (which is just as expensive as SF).

                      1. re: Civil Bear

                        I've lived in Petaluma for over 10 years (siblings have been here 25+) and i love it. It's got small town feel, great community and centrally located to lot's of other great restaurants and towns. I agree with Civil Bear about high end dining, but we do have a great mix. Not to mention TWO great farmers markets with a fantastic selection of prepared food, farm fresh eggs and produce and crafts. I love this town. If you move here before the housing prices go up, you could be living in a beautiful old craftsman or victorian home for under $700k!

                      2. re: natandkelly

                        My perception of Sebastopol is that the food is geared to the locals. Sonoma is geared towards the tourists.

                    2. The food scene in Berkeley and parts of Oakland is as good as it gets. Excellent restaurants, stores that feature local goods, Berkely Bowl, the gourmet ghetto, and so on. There are other areas that have good stuff too, but nothing compares to the diversity and abundance of that part of the East Bay.

                      1. If you want the diversity and quantity/quality of restaurants you are going to have to either be in San Francisco or the East Bay (probably either Berkeley or Oakland). The other locations you have listed have nice restaurants but are quite a bit smaller city's/towns than Portland. I'm partial to the East Bay myself and there are tons of choices here with more becoming available every month. Plus if you live in Oakland/Berkeley then San Francisco is an easy 20 minute BART ride away (I can get to downtown SF quicker than someone in SF can). Farmers markets are just about every day and quite varied in whom they cater to (the Friday Oakland market has a slant toward asian influences with more vegetables you would see in asian dishs, live fowl and such I've not seen anywhere else). There are also markets in Berkeley three times/week and Oakland also has Saturday and Sunday markets along with the Friday market (there are two markets on each day)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: skwid

                          Yeah, the Berkeley-Oakland area is really the only place in Northern California with food shopping and restaurants comparable to (arguably better than) SF's.

                          My commute to downtown SF was significantly shorter after I moved from Noe Valley to Berkeley.