Differences out here are something we embrace. While eating artichokes may seem bizarre to folks outside of our borders, we like a side of quirky and fun with our dining experience. Northern California is world-renowned for our fresh, healthy food and “California Cuisine.” We’re born with foodie DNA. Which means we are always up for the adventure of trying something new.
Here are a few restaurants in no particular order that might add a little flair to your next meal.
1. Forbes Island, San Francisco
If you want to dine like James Bond, call self-made millionaire Forbes Thor Kiddoo. The 72-year-old sea captain will fetch you from the cotton-candy-eating crowds at Pier 39 and ferry you past barking sea lions to his floating Forbes Island, with palm trees, waterfall and lighthouse. A 100-seat restaurant, decorated like the inside of an 1810 sailing ship, with a fake fireplace, bar, a wine cellar where Tony Bennett once crooned, plus a boudoir with a velvety bed that serves as the ladies' powder room. Yes, please.
2. Opaque Dining in the Dark, San Francisco
Ever dined in pitch black darkness--on purpose? Here's where you can pay for that experience. Opaque is the first "dark-dining" restaurant that encourages patrons to experience more with their senses by eating without sight. The servers are visually impaired as well. I have no words...would love to hear yours.
3. Fanny Ann's, Downtown Sacramento
Walk into Fanny Ann's Steamboat Saloon and walk back in time. There are five stories of eclectic antiques and old-time history to keep you busy for hours and hours. Food there is just as unique; with a peanut butter cheeseburger on the menu, there just has to be something for you there.
4. Taco Bell, Pacifica
Order your Enchirito with a side of nachos and step outside on a sandy beach and eat up. This is not your mama's Taco Bell.
5. Madison Bear Garden, Chico
Madison Bear Garden, formerly the Lusk House, located at Second and Salem, is the iconic Chico restaurant that proudly boasts it has never charged a cover. Before putting random stuff on the walls was trendy, the Bear (as it is locally known) had more assorted junk hanging around than you can shake a stick at. This place is worth a visit for the sensory overload, if for no other reason.
6. Fosters Big Horn, Rio Vista
Foster's Bighorn Bar and Restaurant was established in 1931 by Bill Foster, designed as a trophy haven where the public could view the animals of the world. Foster passed on in 1963, followed by his wife in 1975, but current management maintains the exhibits and atmosphere.
This famous collection of wild game trophies shows off 300 wild animals, birds, and fish. Just their heads, natch. High-ceilinged, yet gloomy, claustrophobic -- the vague musty flakings of big game kill still in the air. Moose and snarling wild boar heads stare down bar patrons. We hear the food is pretty dang good, too!
7. Samoa Cookhouse, Samoa
One of the last of the logging-style cookhouses. This one isn't as odd looking as it is sitting here. Folks are seated communally, kind of like a cruise ship experience but way cheaper.
8. Sam's Anchor Cafe, Tiburon
Need to dock and dine? Sailors all know Sam’s Anchor Café in Tiburon; it’s practically an institution. Sam’s serves up traditional seafood dishes along with beautiful views of Angel Island, Alcatraz and the San Francisco skyline. Tie up at the guest dock and dine al fresco on their popular waterfront deck. Sam’s is especially known for its cioppino. Giada De Laurentiis featured Sam’s cioppino recipe in an episode of Giada’s Weekend Getaways - so you know it's good!
9. Brainwash Cafe & Laundry, San Francisco
One of the most creative cafes in SF. It is a great lunch and breakfast place with coffee and a laundromat attached. They do open mic nights as you do laundry - brilliant!
Add these to your dining-bucket list. Better yet, share some unique dining spots in your neck of the woods. This list is a little Bay Area heavy, but hey, it’s the area that steps outside of their comfort zone more often. What say you Northern California? Anyone else up for a little odd-dining?