Boba and the City: Crawling San Francisco’s Best Bubble Tea Joints
Forget about real estate and tech bubbles. San Francisco is in the midst of a boba bubble.
When it comes to high-quality milk tea, bubble tea, or sweet tea boba, San Francisco is a gold mine. Nearly every major commercial corridor in the City has some sort of tea or boba joint.
But, is it possible to try them all? Yes. Yes, it is.
Shake things up and skip your regularly scheduled pub crawl for our full day #SFGuide Boba Crawl. Ready… set… CRAWL!
9:00AM: But First, Boba
Our journey to boba nirvana begins at 9:00AM for breakfast. San Francisco is a fast-paced city with long days, and longer nights. We need caffeine to get by. Thankfully, boba tea is caffeinated, so there’s no need to fret skipping your morning pour over or latte.
$ | 8 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
Get your day started on the right food with Boba Guys — easily San Francisco’s most popular destination for boba. Their quirky mascot, a boba-slurping aardvark, combined with their delicious drinks and beautifully designed outposts, helped launch Boba Guys to the #9 spot on the list of San Francisco’s Most Instagrammed Restaurants, and #1 for boba. Not only are their locations beautifully styled, but their boba drinks consist only of the highest-quality, organic ingredients. To top it off, each bottle of Boba Guys’ Pure Milk Tea contains 45mg of caffeine — the perfect amount to keep you alive, awake, and alert, while avoiding an afternoon crash. Our favorite location is on the ground floor retail level of the beautiful 8 Octavia in Hayes Valley, but Boba Guys has two other locations in The Mission (3941 19th Street) and Union Square (429 Stockton Street). Boba Guys has also opened shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side (23 Clinton Street).
Order: Strawberry Matcha Latte with Boba, or Dirty Horchata with Boba
Hours (8 Octavia Location): Tuesday-Thursday: 9:00AM–9:00PM, Friday: 9:00AM–10:00PM, Saturday: 12:00–10:00PM, Sunday: 12:00–6:00PM, Monday: Closed.
Honorable Mentions: Need a light breakfast to pair with your morning cuppa boba? Stop by Blue Bottle’s Linden Alley location (315 Linden Street), La Boulangerie on Hayes (500 Hayes Street), or Hayes Valley Bakeworks (550 Gough Street). All three locations offer a variety of breakfast and lunch pastries crafted perfectly to go hand-in-hand with your boba smoothie or milk tea.
11:00AM: Keep Calm and Have Boba For Brunch
San Franciscans love their brunch. And let’s face the cold, hard truth: We don’t just brunch for brunch anymore. Instead, we seek out aesthetically pleasing, artfully designed, Insta-worthy meals for brunch. For the brunch segment of our Boba Crawl, it only makes sense to feature the most beautifully presented boba in the City.
$ | 341 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
With instantly recognizable take-home milk glass jars, Plentea joins Boba Guys on the list of most Instagrammable boba joints in San Francisco. With unique flavors like Lavender Lemonade, Sea Salt Crema, and Red Bean Matcha Slush, Plentea’s drinks are not just beautiful — they’re delicious, too. Want a 10% discount? Bring your jar back on your next visit!
Order: Sea Salt Crema Oolong Tea
Hours: Monday-Friday: 11:00AM–11:00PM, Saturday & Sunday: 12:00–11:00PM
Honorable Mentions: In the mood for Chrysanthemum Tea with real chrysanthemum heads and clear bobas? Check out Steep (240 Ritch Street). Or, for the best matcha tea latte you’ll ever see or taste, swing by Asha Tea House (17 Kearny Street).
1:00PM: A Boba Pick-Me-Up
Are you prone to the afternoon slump? Get a sweet, refreshing boba pick-me-up to accompany a late lunch on the Inner Sunset’s Irving Street corridor.
$ | 1916 Irving Street, San Francisco, CA 94122
Tpumps is a quick-serve boba joint offering completely customizable teas, boba drinks, and smoothies with a wide range of flavors and toppings. Because of its “Free Upgrade Tuesday’s,” high-energy atmosphere, and naturally sweet drinks, Tpumps is a popular hangout for nearby high schoolers. (Going at or around 3:00PM is not recommended.)
Order: Passion + Peach + Strawberry Black Tea with boba, no milk, less sweet
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11:00AM–9:30PM, Friday & Saturday: 11:00AM–10:30PM
Honorable Mentions: Sometimes the only thing that can quench your thirst or pick you up in the afternoon is a nice, fizzy soda. The Richmond’s Bubblecup (1900 Clement Street) sells a variety of flavored sodas with boba, creating a unique, yet addictive, drink that leaves a bubbly-chewy sensation in your mouth. It may sound strange, but it’s so good.
3:00PM: Afternoon Tealight
With the afternoon slump in full effect, it’s time to get you re-energized and satiate your craving for a midday snack.
$ | 6050 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94121
Known for jam-packed (literally) cups of jellies, beans, and puddings, Bambu is the go-to place if you want a chewy, slushy, and filling “drink.” With over 90 desserts and drinks to choose from, including chè, boba milk tea, Vietnamese espressos, exotic fruit smoothies, and seasonal drinks, few concoctions are ever recreated at Bambu. Founded in San Jose, this Bay Area original boba joint has expanded across the nation with over 50 locations in nine states.
Order: The Bambu Special
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11:00AM–10:00PM, Friday & Saturday: 11:00AM–11:00PM
Honorable Mentions: So, you don’t want your drink to be your snack? Here are a few places where you can get a snack with your boba fix: Fifty/Fifty Coffee and Tea (3157 Geary Boulevard), Teaway (2250 Irving Street), Mr. T Café (4689 Mission Street), and Eggettes (3136 Noriega Street).
6:00PM: Boba For Dinner?
It’s dinnertime. You don’t want just any old boba to continue your liquid and boba diet. You need the best there is. Behold…
$ | 3620 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Whether you like your boba creamy or sweet, juicy or tea-y, Purple Kow has it all, and does it all well. With a perpetually out-the-door line, you know there has to be something good inside. Once you beat the crowds, you’ll find the funky interior to be comfortable and inviting, and the large variety of drinks irresistable. Purple Kow certainly lives up to its motto: “A place for comfort, dessert, coffee, and tea.”
Order: Literally, anything. You can’t go wrong.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11:00AM–10:00PM, Friday & Saturday: 11:00AM–12:00AM
Honorable Mentions: Other straight-up amazing boba places include Share Tea (5336 Geary Boulevard and 135 4th Street) and TJ Cups (2437 Noriega Street).
9:00PM: A Boba Nightcap
Our boba crawl concludes at 9:00PM, where authentic boba spots and comfort food reign supreme. It’s not yet time to call it a night, so let’s head somewhere that’s open late and great for a group hangout.
Wonderful Dessert & Cafe
$ | 2035 Irving Street, San Francisco 94122
Branded as San Francisco’s “OG” boba joint, this cash-only shop is a tried and true classic. Wonderful Dessert and Cafe’s simple menu features cheap drinks and a variety of candies and treats, including eggs and garlic bread. The best part? Wonderful is open till midnight every day, satisfying our late-night boba cravings.
Order: Classic Milk Tea with a Tea Egg
Hours: Daily: 11:00AM–12:00AM
Honorable Mentions: Some other great late-night boba joints include: Little Sweet (3836 Geary Boulevard), Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe (393 7th Avenue), Rockit Swirl (2810 Diamond Street), BB Tea Station (1314 Noriega Street), Tea FM (1353 Taraval Street), and HiTea (776 Broadway Street).
And with that, our Boba Crawl is over. Tag your best boba photos with #SFGuide on Instagram to be featured on @49MilesSF.