Despite living near San Francisco, I don’t know the city very well. My resolution: combine my loves for exploring and donut consumption into a self-guided San Francisco Donut Tour. It’s a fun and cheap way to spend the morning (donuts are fresh in the morning).
About $25 covers donuts and public transportation between the 4 areas if you’re 1 person alone. Bus transfers are free between bus rides, but I never got back on the bus within the transfer time, since each Donut Stop includes 2 donut shops. If you pay bus fare in cash, definitely ask for the transfer pass. Often it gives you quite a bit more time than if you pay with the Clipper Card.
I took BART (subway) or Muni (buses and trams) to the first donut shop and walked to the second, and then got back on public transportation to another area. The walks are perfect when you’re eating a lot of fat and sugar! Plus, I got to see the neighborhoods from the ground, which was a lot of fun.
Getting Around and Doing Your Own Donut Tour
If you don’t have a Clipper Card and want to also visit other sites around the city, consider a City Pass. It offers a good deal on the attractions and public transportation including the cable cars (individual rides are expensive). Click the icon for current pricing (it’s a good deal if you’re a tourist).
You can bike around the city, but I’m scared of the drivers in S.F. There are too many drivers who don’t understand about giving bikes space, checking before opening their car door into a bike lane, etc. You can find bike routes on Google Maps and the S.F. Bicycle Coalition.
I highly recommend you do this donut tour with at least one other person, simply because eating so many donuts in a day is rough on your body. Alternatively, donut holes are smaller than an entire donut, but usually are only available in 1 or 2 flavors.
I thought San Francisco was all about organic kale, pressed juices (I don’t actually know what those are, but the ads are everywhere), and vegan diets. Yikes! It turns out that there are vegan donuts, but that’s not my thing. I actually live by a vegan donut shop, but I prefer non-vegan things like butter, milk, bacon, and light fluffy donuts.
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Recommended S.F. Books and Maps
Stairway Walks of San Francisco – Great book! Highly recommended even for locals. Adah Balinsky wrote the original, and now there are a few editions.
San Francisco Green Map – Free online and to download. This map shows all the community gardens, parks/playgrounds, eco-centers, etc. around the city. There are also lots of rooftop gardens in the Financial District since builders are required to provide a certain amount of green space. These are often marked by small plaques near building entrances. Ask at the front desk of the building how to access the garden, since usually they aren’t marked very well.
San Francisco Bike Map & Walking Guide – Shows all the bike lanes and bus routes well, and steep graded streets.
Walker’s Map of San Francisco – Trails of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. It’s sort of a topo map lightly showing the hills and all the parks and trails.
If you just need a regular city map, check these ones out. You can also get a map at the tourist office or hotel.
The Mission is a really fun part of town and rather large. You can easily spend a day here. There are excellent murals, Dolores Park, tons of cafes, restaurants, and taquerias, and some good shops if you’re gearing up for your Burning Man outfit. As with everywhere in the city, there are cool events all the time. Search online or look at the bulletin boards and posters in windows for current events. Many are free.
Dynamo Donut and Coffee – 5 Stars
This place opens at 9 am on Sundays and I arrived too early. The street was quiet and with nothing else to do, so I walked on. They also have a location in the Marina District. According to a sign on the door they have 10-12 types of donuts per day, and every day is Bacon Donut Day. What else could you possibly need to know?
Update: I went back on another day. This place is my favorite! It’s the only one with a garden patio. The donuts are among the most expensive at $3 each. But, they’re delicious and the flavors are unique. The staff is nice and smiles.
Indoor seating is limited and there are no windows, so limited natural light. The patio is peaceful and beautiful. You can see the kitchen area. Bathrooms for customers.
The Jelly Donut – 4.5 Stars
This place is a great neighborhood shop. Come here for local flavor. The staff are super friendly and chat with everyone, including babies in strollers. Even at 8:30 am, there were plenty of people coming in. I bought a jelly-filled donut, because what else are you going to get for your first time at The Jelly Donut? They also gave me 6 donut holes for free, probably leftover from yesterday, since they were dry.
Sadly, jelly was only in half the donut. On the upside, the jelly-less dough is soft and delicious. It’s dense to fill you up, but not heavy. Great! This actually turned out to be one of my favorite donuts of the day.
Plenty of fresh pots of coffee! 8 or so, with all the creamer and milk options a non-coffee drinker like me can imagine. (Yes, I’m the person who didn’t know fat-free half-and-half existed until I accidentally bought it for a brunch full of coffee drinkers and got some fairly snide comments. Seriously? I thought half-and-half was half fat and half milk—how the f*** do you make it fat-free????)
The tables were clean. I didn’t check on customer bathrooms, but the staff was so friendly, I bet they’d let you use it if you asked.
From here, I walked to the 24th Street BART Station and took the train a few minutes over to Civic Center BART Station.
The Tenderloin gets a bad reputation for being the most dangerous part of the city. Just keep a safe distance from the people shooting up their drugs, but generally those people are pretty sedated and don’t bother anyone apart from maybe yelling something non-sensical at you.
The walk from Civic Center BART Station to Donut Stop #1 is about 15 minutes straight up Larkin Street, which is a sloping uphill walk. Plan on longer for sightseeing at City Hall (its domed building is beautiful and tons of people get married inside), the Asian Art Museum (step inside the gorgeous entryway, even if you don’t pay admission), or The Tenderloin generally. There are monuments, art displays, tons of ethnic restaurants to scope out, hidden gardens, and more. If you’re looking for Authentic San Francisco this will be your happy place– it’s not gentrified by all the techies yet. Some of the best restaurants and hole-in-the-wall places in the city are here. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see everything from Afghan to Vietnamese and Yemeni. There are also some great bars and hotels in all price ranges.
I always enjoy Larkin Street. The people high on drugs have always been harmless in my experience, so just keep aware of your surroundings. I’ve come here several times over the years and never had a bad experience, although I know men who have (my theory is that solo women are better at being aware of their surroundings). There tend to be a lot of cops in this area, so it’s always seemed safe enough to me. However, I wouldn’t walk around alone at night. A place here and there along your walk might reek of urine, so get ready for that shock to your senses.
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse – 2 stars
Whoa! The line was about 40 people long when I arrived at the opening time of 9 am on a Sunday. They’re fashionable right now with something called a cruffin (croissant-muffin, perhaps?). Their branding is high-end with glossy snow white boxes embossed with metallic gold lettering and a beautiful storefront.
After standing in line for a while, a staff person came to the back of the line and advised us that there are actually two lines: one for the cruffin, and one for everything else. And, the ‘everything else’ line was non-existent, so I walked right in! There is a nice display of various pastry. The two donut options were filled with homemade peach-ginger jam filling or grapefruit, and I don’t like grapefruit.
For $3.80 I was disappointed. This donut was not my favorite, but twice the price of any of the other seven places visited that day. The sugar sprinkled all over the donut made everything messy, and I realized why the donut is served in a cup! The filling shot out the back hole, when I took a bite near the front hole (hm… now that I’ve written this, it sounds super gross). The filling is the consistency of baby food—gooey. The filling flavor was unique, a homemade peach jam with a ginger kick. However, it wasn’t worth $3.80, considering the dough is soft and delicious, but not any better than at The Jelly Donut.
Service was the worst of all seven places visited this day. When I looked at their website later and saw that they’re from Los Angeles, the fancy packaging made sense. No one said hello to me or smiled or seemed the least bit friendly. First, I was waiting in line for a while before a staff person came and explained to us that there were two lines. Then, when a few of us went to get into the second line, we were obviously confused at the door, and the staff person there was unhelpful. Then, it’s not clear that once you’re in the shop, you’re only supposed to talk to one of the staff people.
Definitely come if you want a cruffin or a fancy vibe with expensive cars pulling up in front of the shop. But, if you just want a yummy donut and a nice vibe, skip it. By the way, if you order just a donut, you get it in a hot pink paper bag with white lettering. No shiny box with gold lettering!
Other locations are in Los Angeles (2) and Seoul. No seating. No apparent bathrooms. It didn’t seem like they sell coffee or any other drinks.
Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop
After waiting a few minutes in the huge line at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, my partner in donut consumption and I decided he could run down to Bob’s while I waited in the line. So, I didn’t visit Bob’s myself, but I’ve stepped inside once before in the past.
As I was walking alone through the Tenderloin to meet up, I called my donut consumption partner and a lady in a wheelchair called out to me. I ignored her since it just seemed like she was calling out to me since I was the only other person nearby and there wasn’t actually anything urgent. Plus, she could see I was on the phone. Well, that didn’t suit her and she screamed after me that I am a slut.
When I met up with my partner a few minutes later, I told him the story, and that’s how we came up with the idea that I’m a donut slut. Yay for me and donuts!!!
Anyway, at Bob’s he’d chosen a $1.75 cake donut covered in crumble. It was really delicious! Of course, the crumble went everywhere, but we were eating it on a street corner and had plenty of napkins.
Plenty of seating at the diner counter. Not sure about the bathroom. They’re open late at night, too.
Intrepid Tours offers tours all over California and the USA. Click the picture below for more information.
We got on a bus to get here from the Tenderloin, passing by Japan Town. The bus ride takes a while, but I kept myself entertained by watching out the window and an adorable dog in a bag in the seat across from me.
All Star Donuts on Clement Street – 5 Stars
Another neighborhood place, similar to The Jelly Donut, but with much more variety of donuts. I got the donut with maple glaze and lots of bacon topping. There are also tons of different self-serve hot coffees.
This place seemed more like an all-day café, because they also served sandwiches, and had cases full of juices, soda, coconut water, and even cups of chopped fresh watermelon. The staff were really friendly, and let us use their bathroom, even though we had to walk through their kitchen.
The customers ranged from families out for a treat with their kids to retired people enjoying a coffee in a cozy atmosphere to single people stopping in for a breakfast sandwich.
Plenty of seating at tables and bars with window views.
$5 minimum for credit card. The friendly and nice staff let us use their bathroom. Plenty of seating.
The Golden Donut – 4 Stars
So many donut choices. I bought a glazed buttermilk donut. So fluffy and good flavor! This turned out to be my favorite donut—sweet, but not too sweet. Moist dough inside, but crunchy on top, instead of just 1 texture everywhere.
Plenty of seating at tables and bar seating along the huge floor to ceiling windows, in case you prefer watching what’s going on in the street or want full natural light for reading. This neighborhood place had people just relaxing on a Sunday morning.
Restrooms are open and obvious here. Cash only. Across the street from Joe’s Ice Cream, homemade ice cream (hint!). If you’re driving by car, street parking looked to be safe and pretty easy in this neighborhood.
Perfect for the tourist visiting only one donut shop. It’s near Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park, which I’m sure are also on your list of things to see while in San Francisco.
You’ll get to see both the Inner Sunset (inland) and the Outer Sunset (closer to the beach) with these donut shops.
Twisted Donuts and Coffee – 4.5 Stars
Wow! Of all the places I tried, Twisted Donuts in the Outer Sunset has all the most variety of interesting items and flavors.
There are donuts with everything from Captain Crunch topping to bacon and jalapeño. We got two items, neither donuts, and I didn’t love either of them. I got a cream filled puff for $0.75, which I thought might have some yummy cream inside. However, it seemed more reminiscent of Cool Whip. Not my thing, since I really love fresh homemade full-fat whipped cream. The cream is so sweet. 1 bite was enough for me.
Also, I got a $3 thing that seems to be called Nutella Fruiritto (it was hard to read the cursive writing on the board). It’s a fried flour tortilla with Nutella inside and nuts on top. It was super sweet— perfect for sharing, since it’s big and too much for me (especially after all the other donuts I’d already eaten). Since we couldn’t finish it, I shared it with neighbors the next morning, and they loved it.
Although I wasn’t a fan of the items I’d ordered, a couple of women at the table next to mine were munching on donut holes they seemed to enjoy. They told me they’d gotten blueberry donut holes. Next time I’ll try those instead!
Seating for about 15 people at tables. Restrooms. Drinks. Zagat 2017 plaque was at the front door. I’m not sure if this is an award or just recognition.
Donut World – 4 Stars
I took the bus here and we passed the brightly colored church of St. Anne. Donut World is in a great place for neighborhood sight-seeing. It’s on a busy neighborhood street corner with lots of restaurants in the area— gelato across the street and down the block there’s a brewery and restaurant with fabulous looking pizza and a neighborhood farmers market.
This corner shop has plenty of window seating. Since this was our final stop of the day, and we were feeling pre-diabetic and pretty much over the whole donut tour thing, we read our free weekly newspapers for a while. Finally, I asked, “maybe we should try our donut holes?”
Glazed donut holes are 25 cents each, while filled holes are 50 cents each. The raspberry jam-filled hole was great, but the cream-filled one was a bit dry. We decided that maybe the dough had absorbed the cream, since it was getting late in the day. Regardless, it was the perfect sized snack for the last donut stop of the day (and the month!).
Plenty of seating at tables and at diner-style bars by the windows. Drinks and sandwiches, croissants, bananas, hard boiled eggs, and more. ATM machine in the store.
Embarcadero Donuts (Fisherman’s Wharf)
I didn’t try these donut shops, since they are out of the way from the places listed above. Online these places are recommended. Both are along The Embarcadero and you can walk between them making stops at the Exploratorium and Coit Tower:
Donut Farm, in the Ferry Building.
Trish’s Mini Donuts, at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Things to Bring on Your San Francisco Donut Tour
Bring your Clipper Card, use a City Pass, or buy a day pass for Muni. For BART, buying a card at the station is easy. Just pay the exact amount you want at the machine (accepts cash, credit, and debit). Don’t give money to any person– tickets come out of the machine only. Buses accept cash, Muni Pass, Clipper Card.
Cash. Some donut shops are cash only, or have credit card minimums.
Travel thermos for your coffee or water bottle. Save the environment, and keep your coffee warm as you roam from one donut shop to another.
Sunscreen, sunglasses, comfortable shoes. There’s a bit of walking involved getting from Donut to Donut, and even more if you sight-see along the way.
Layered clothing. In case you haven’t heard the supposed Mark Twain quote “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”, it can get cold any time of year, but warms up in the afternoon. S.F. is known for the micro-climates. Some areas are consistently foggy, while others are sunny. Locals always carry a light jacket and tourists shiver in July. However, if you really want that fleece jacket with the Fisherman’s Wharf logo, go for it! They’re cheapest in China Town.
Extra money. There are some really great looking restaurants near the donut shops, so you might decide to stop in for brunch or lunch. Also, you might find yourself in a neighborhood’s farmers market or museum.
Click the icon on your phone and you may get a discount code depending on the current promotion.