There have been many a day when I’m scrolling through Instagram and see an aesthetically, on point photo of coffee or a cozy nook, and I think, “omg, I need to go to there.” And then I click on the geotag and lo and behold, it’s of course, in San Francisco. I bookmark them and move on with my life, because honestly, I’m not in SF as much as I wish I was. And so my collection of aesthetically pleasing San Francisco coffee shops continues to grow and gather dust. This is what inspired this list tbh, because I wanted to make myself feel better and know that there are other cute coffee spots in the Bay Area that I can easy drive to – I mean look, Fremont now officially has three! And yes, I’m not counting Suju’s because their coffee tastes like dirt and I’ve been kicked out of there before. Granted, my friend brought in pizza like an idiot, but still.
I’ve been visiting different coffee shops since last summer, back when I had originally thought of making this list. Some of them were planned visits – I’m always bookmarking different places and I try to plan outings around places I want to go to. A few of them were more spontaneous. I’ve visited a few more awesome spots since I worked on this (and gathering video content for a video that may be up one day when I get time), but I like a nice number like 12, so I just kept it there.
Now without further ado – the list!
1. Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar (Berkeley, CA)
Bartavelle opened during my final semester of college, and I was super pumped to see a coffee place that had a parking lot! That is a rarity in Berkeley. Bartavelle descends from California food royalty – from Chez Panisse. Yes, Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, and it inhabits Cafe Fanny’s old space. Tucked in between Kermit Lynch and Acme Bread, the owners are a mother and son team. Chef-owner Suzanne Drexhage is formerly from Chez Panisse and Kermit Lynch, and manager Sam Sobolewski, is formerly of Blue Bottle. So you know we’re in for a good time.
The coffee and wine bar is pretty small with a few stools inside and a couple of tables outside, but I like the dysfunctional space. It feels so quirky and Berkeley to me. They switch up the roasters they use and occasionally branch out from local coffee roasters. The menu has avocado toast and other great options like the Persian breakfast. I love the vibe of Bartavelle – it’s like stumbling upon the ultimate hidden gem even though it’s rightfully gotten the accolades it deserves.
2. Cafe 4 (Hayward, CA)
I came through on a hot Thursday afternoon, ready for my coffee fix. I was excited about visiting a bright and airy cafe, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was such a big place! There is plenty of seating outside and SO much space inside -it’s truly designed to be a gathering spot, whether it’s to study or to socialize. I love the ceiling to floor windows that bring in so much light, and it was even more spectacular on such a sunny day. The Cafe is a part of the church’s complex, and it does lead into the other church buildings. However, it doesn’t feel like the cafe is trying to impose any of the church’s beliefs on its customers, and that I appreciate. It’s designed to be a place to promote and keep their community together.
Cafe 4 serves Verve Coffee and they also have different pastries and sandwiches to eat. I’ve had Verve at several different places, and have made it at home, but Cafe 4’s is a little on the stronger side. It definitely got me wired and ready to go for the day.
3. Inklings Coffee and Tea (Pleasanton, CA)
Inklings is adorable from the moment you walk in. It felt like walking into someone’s cozy, book filled library. The artwork around the cafe is all book related, whether it’s textbook pages, portraits of authors, or shelves and shelves of books. The name comes from the formal literary discussion group at Oxford known as the Inklings in the 1930s and 40s. Members of the group included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. Their portraits are hanging in the coffee shop.
Like this informal gathering, the cafe also encourages that atmosphere as a meeting place for their local community. Inklings primarily serves Stumptown, whether it’s on draft or pour over. They rotate different flavors out and also have seasonal favorite drinks such as a Caramel Bourbon Latte and a Blueberry Mint Latte when I went in during late fall. also did feel very encouraged to get some reading done because of the cozy library feel. There are also other hidden nooks to sit in, whether you’re looking to read or get some work done.
I’ve been going to Devout when they were still selling off of their cart inside of their incomplete shop. Devout Coffee started in 2013 with two brothers using a barbecue converted into a coffee roaster in order to roast and create quality coffee. Knowing that finding a good coffee shop was about 30 minutes in any direction (San Francisco and San Jose), they decided to shake up the coffee scene in their own town of Fremont. Originally selling it off of a cart in Niles, they then opened the store front close to two years ago.
When you step inside, it feels like you’re in the city at higher end coffee spot. They’ve renovated the walls from the bright and airy walls to dark walls with minimal decor. They have nice wooden tables, a comfy couch, and outlets for chargers. I love the minimalism look they have going, but I’m also a sucker for hipster aesthetics. Their coffee is strong but it’s high quality; though bitter before adding sugar, it’s deceptively smooth. I always end up really wired by the time I leave!
5. Slapface Coffee (Fremont, CA)
Fremont’s really on the come up – we now have cool coffee shops! While Devout is that super hipster, sleek coffee shop that you would find in San Francisco, Slap Face is that whimsical, kitschy hipster coffee shop you would find in Berkeley. When you walk in, you’re greeted by the shiny espresso machine and two floors! I love that there’s a bunch of seating place with ample outlets. They’re open late, which makes it a great place to study. The decor is eclectic, with its Japanese art inspired wall mural to the bank vault seating space at the back of the shop.
They brew Chromatic Coffee and have some special drinks like the Red Velvet Latte, which is true to it’s name – it comes out red and it has hints of that light chocolate flavor. But what really sets Slapface apart to me are their community events. From latte art competitions to salsa nights to karaoke, they’re always inspiring creativity in the community.
Though Local 123 doesn’t exist anymore, Highwire Coffee is in its place. I still wanted to include it because it was probably the first ~aesthetic~ coffee shop I went to – I wanted a picture of that mural – which Highwire has retained. And it was the one time I actually sat down to do homework at a shop!
I’ve heard great things about Highwire and they’ve retained the essence of Local 123. The inside has a bright and airy feel while the outside is a quaint patio. Since they have several locations, I plan to hit up Highwire Flowerland one day! They serve their coffee off of a trailer in a garden. Aesthetic to the max!
Grounded Coffee Bar (Fremont, CA)
I already knew about two hipster coffee shops in Fremont (Slap Face and Devout), so when I came across Grounded Coffee through social media, I was really intrigued. I was initially a bit confused at the location, but I was correct in thinking that it is inside of a church. The building on the outside is a dated, large office building, but inside it’s very pristine and modern. There was a sermon being broadcasted live (I assume the sermon was happening in a different part of the building) on a screen in the lobby/coffee bar area.
I ordered an iced Vanilla latte since it was one of the hottest days of the year. The coffee was perfectly sweet so I didn’t feel the need to add any more sugar. You could also see the flecks from the vanilla bean in the drink, so you know they’re using quality ingredients. The beans used for all of the coffee drinks are from Worth Coffee Roasters, which is actually a coffee roaster in Fremont!
6. Mints & Honey (San Carlos, CA)
Mints and Honey is a little cafe on El Camino Real, and you would almost miss it unless you were going out of your way to go to it. El Camino has a bunch of random shops, restaurants and motels, so it’s a hodgepodge of things. When you first enter, it’s this open space with long tables to accommodate groups and a space for kids. We saw a bunch of little kids running around and playing with toys. They also have this kitchen and event space with cake trays for private events.
There are cute window spaces and a few tables, but there’s also a bunch of space outdoors. I personally really loved the geometric light fixtures they have hanging and all of the succulents that brighten up the space. The cafe has a bunch of options for dining with coffees, teas, and food such as avocado toasts and waffles. Mints & Honey uses locally sourced ingredients such as Sightglass Coffee, Clover Organic Farms for milk, and more. The backyard patio is so adorable! This spot is ripe for instagrammable moments, deliciously sweet coffee, and amazing waffles.
7. Mademoiselle Colette (Menlo Park, CA)
When you walk into Colette, you’re greeted with a multitude of pastries. This is the spot to get quality French pastries, including Kouign Ammans! Both the owner and pastry chef are French trained chefs and have worked in Paris. There are several tables towards the back of the restaurant near the kitchen window. It’s a really cute, calming area with the bright aesthetic that opens up the spot as well as the light fixtures and the bench seating with pillows. There’s also more seating in the back patio, in addition to several tables and benches out in front.
I ordered a latte, and my friends ordered iced lattes. The coffee was pretty good, and I didn’t feel the need to add sugar to it. I’m not sure if they have a special blend or what brand of coffee they use, but they sell packaged beans and teas at the cafe. It kept me going for a late night of work, so I was satisfied with my drink! In addition to the pastries and coffee, Colette serves small but hearty bites, such as Smoked Salmon Tartine – which is definitely worth a try!
8. Backyard Brew (Palo Alto, CA)
I’ll admit that the hanging umbrellas is what drew me in – they remind me of the hanging umbrellas in Portugal – that and the fact that it was this hidden outdoor coffee shop in Palo Alto. It’s an in alley near Terun, and the only way you really know it’s there is because of the sign! You walk down the alley, and people have written what things alongside the walls. It’s a cool outdoor patio with music playing, games to play, tables to hang out, and of course, the umbrellas. The owner of the shop wanted to design a space that takes you away from the bustle of Palo Alto and have a space to escape your worries.
They serve coffees, teas, and house made lemonades, of which I got to sample – and they were delicious. I ordered an iced Nutella mocha which was very sweet but their coffee was smooth and addicting. I see that they’ve made changes to some of their decor, so I want to come back to see what else they’ve updated – it’s a cool spot to come hang out!
9. Manresa Bread (Los Altos, CA)
In an ideal world, I would have gone to the flagship restaurant, Manresa, Chef David Kinch’s 3-star Michelin restaurant in Los Gatos. But, I don’t make the kind of money you need for those 4-dollar sign restaurants (…yet). So, I went to the next best thing – Manresa Bread, the bakery that grew out of the restaurant, with two locations in the Bay Area (Los Altos and Los Gatos, respectively).
10. Alexander’s Patisserie (Mountain View, CA)
I used to work within walking distance, so I’ve visited Alexander’s a lot. When I was in need of coffee for an early morning or a late night, grab an elegant pastry for a last minute birthday, or if I’m honestly bored tbh, I took a short walk over to their shop. Alexander’s has that influencer aesthetic – there’s marble tables, quilted booths, geometric rose gold shapes, and succulents. And then there are all of their pastries that they make in house – from macarons, cakes, to chocolates.
I think everyone needs to come in at least once – order a latte or a flat white or one of their seasonal creations – and order a couple of pastries! They serve Stumptown, which I think is better as a Flat White than a latte, and stronger. Their macarons are perfect, their changing creative pastries are divine, and their Kouign Ammans are also delicious. Can you tell I’ve tried a little of everything at this point?
11. Chromatic Coffee (Santa Clara, CA)
I’ve known about Chromatic Coffee and their cafe for a few years now, but I really started following them around the time they made San Jose Sharks themed lattes when the Sharks had made it to the finals! I was sad that I missed out on that but I did eventually make it in to have some brunch. The inside is minimal but inviting, and they support the community with different events like Harry Potter trivia night to allowing local and aspiring artists showcase their art in the shop.
They sell a variety of different blends and have several coffee options on the menu. Like the coffee and food that rotates, they also serve and rotate beers for those interested. Chromatic serves Manresa Bread pastries, as well as seasonal brunch that chnages monthly. While the coffee was fantastic (as expected), I keep coming back to this Germolata And Avocado toast I had! It was so flavorful and balanced, while the pancakes were fluffy. It’s such a great spot that has a little bit of everything you want from a coffee shop – ambiance, coffee, food, and people.
12. Academic Coffee (San Jose, CA)
I first visited Academic Coffee when it was operating as a pop up inside Five Points, a bar in Downtown San Jose on Santa Clara Street. The bar itself was really cool and also aesthetically pleasing – it fit in with their “academic” theme. It feels very old fashioned with the old books, statues, and exposed brick and their own shop is totally the opposite – in the best way possible. Academic Coffee is minimal and bright. I’m in love with the mural that’s the focal point of the cafe. Their own shop’s aesthetic looks like something that would be up in the city – which makes it even cooler that it’s in DTSJ, which is growing and changing as well.
Their Mint Iced Latte is fantastic – and this comes from a Philz’ Mint Mojito fiend. They rotate their roasters, and I had Temple Coffee at the time, which was smooth af. The mint was nicely dispersed throughout the drink and wasn’t overpowering. There was no bitterness and no need to add any sugar. They also serve local pastries like Third Culture and Alexander’s.
Hope you all enjoyed this list! I think there’s a little something for everyone here – whether you want to be incredibly hipster, a little kitschy, or just focus on getting quality coffee. Let me know what you think of these spots or if you have any aesthetically pleasing shops that are your favorite – it could be in or out of SF! Be sure to drop it in the comments. 🙂