Food Tours are Fun for Locals and Travelers Alike
Food tours have been on my radar since the 1990’s when a dear friend took me to San Francisco to enjoy a morning of food tasting in the Little Italy neighborhood, better known as North Beach. We enjoyed Italian coffee, pastries, breads and pastas as well as learned the history of the neighborhood and the stories behind the businesses and the foods we were enjoying. The tour was led by the Food Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. I was hooked. Since then I’ve done food tasting tours in Seattle, Portland, Hawaii, New York and Tokyo. The June edition of Westways, the magazine for AAA members in Southern California, had a nice article called The World on a Platter. It highlighted how food tours can bring local culture to your table. And I realized with our eight-year anniversary approaching, it might be fun to talk about how our Hollywood Sites & Bites tour was born in August 2010.
Food tours can vary in length, I’ve been on those that were as short as 2.5 hours and as long as 6 hours. It’s like a progressive meal, we call ours “lunch in a grazing fashion”. Typically your ticket price includes all the food and drink you will be served, but there are opportunities to purchase more adult beverages and/or little goodies and gift items along the way. On our Hollywood Sites and Bites Tour, your ticket price also includes gratuities for the servers when we have actual table service at our various tasting stops. So our ticket price of $99 for our 4-hour tour is really a good value, in my humble opinion. Trish your tour guide is also your driver (that’s me!). We spend the first hour on a historic walking tour along Hollywood Boulevard and the remaining three hours I will escort you in our air-conditioned Toyota Sienna to the tasting stops which are located from East Hollywood to West Hollywood and everywhere in between.
Food tours are almost always walking tours, where a company chooses a very walkable neighborhood that is dense with good restaurants. In our case, the heart of Hollywood does have several casual eateries but they are places you could find on your own and not necessarily unique to Hollywood. On our Hollywood Sites and Bites Tour we like to tell a “Hollywood story” highlighting family-owned restaurants, the oldest and newest restaurants, celebrity-chef-owned restaurants and more. It’s also important to feature the foods that the restaurant is known for, while making sure those items are easily shareable and also have accommodations for vegetarian guests. We are so pleased that Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream and Greenblatt’s Delicatessen have been tasting partners on our tour since the very first day. Since then we’ve added Grub Restaurant, Mozza2go, John Kelly Chocolates, Confection Co-op, and Loteria Grill. We are very proud of our tasting line-up and we know that we are only as good as our tastings. So we keep our ears open to our customer comments. Sometimes guests can’t pick a favorite food because we serve such a variety of sweet and savory items, which makes me feel good, knowing they liked everything we served.
In 2008 and 2009 Matt and I both lost our jobs when the economy took a nose dive. I attended the International Tour Guide Institute in San Francisco earning a certificate declaring me an official Tour Guide. After working for many other tour companies, my entrepreneurial husband suggested we start our own company and build our own brand. So with a loan from the “Bank of Mom and Dad” we bought a vehicle and built a website. Matt was the original driver of our 14 passenger van and actually he was the brains behind the “Sites and Bites” moniker. Research told us that more than 10 million visitors a year come to Los Angeles to see the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre, so we knew we needed to make our first tour Hollywood based. The other two food tours companies in town lead their guests in walking tours, so we decided to do something different, which is why we do a combination of walking and driving, sightseeing and food tasting. Reviews on Trip Advisor tell us we must be doing something right. Our guests continually mention how much they enjoy getting both historical tidbits and food tastings, all with a private guide who does the driving so they don’t have to.
Whether joining our Hollywood Sites and Bites Tour or a food tour in another city, a few helpful suggestions are to eat a light breakfast so you’re not too hungry or too full before the tastings even begin. Bring an open mind and be ready to try something new. Recently a guest told me his biggest happy surprise on our tour was how good the coleslaw was (we serve it as a side with pastrami on rye). Also bring your camera for those Instagram moments! So whether you take one of these tasting tour in your own town or while you are on a faraway vacation, food tours really are fun for locals and travelers alike.
By Trish Procetto