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Aug 5, 2006 03:54 PM

California Driving Trip

Hello! Longtime reader, first time poster.

My husband and I are flying from Kansas City to Monterey, CA., to pick up a car to drive back to KC in a couple of weeks.

We'll be in Monterey for a few days, then we're taking the 1 to Santa Barbara, staying a night there, then cutting across, north of LA to the 15 on our way to a night in Las Vegas and stops beyond. We are anticipating long, lazy drives with frequent side trips.

We're adventurous eaters, and I have already culled from this long lists of potential restaurants to try in the cities we're staying in overnight. I'm looking for "must stops" along the way, be they bakeries, farms, restaurants, etc.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations!


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  1. Give us a few more details, DB, and we can be of more help. E.g. which places of interest you've found? Some confuse Hwy 1 (winding scenic route down Big Sur, by Hearst Castle, to Morro Bay) with the 101 freeway (Paso Robles, SLO). From Santa Barbara, unless you plan on back tracking north to take 166 over to Bakersfield (or the more adventurous route through Ojai) you'll need to post requests for that portion on the LA Board (Ventura, Pasadena, etc.).

    1 Reply
    1. re: PolarBear

      Good points. Also Hwy 1, while beautiful, is also slow. If it were me taking Hwy 1 - I would go Monterey to Hwy 46 to Paso Robles and do some wine tasting and overnight there. Paso has plenty of fine dining. It's easy to go east on 46 out of Paso. But perhaps OP has Santa Barbara plans.


    2. As you drive along the Big Sur coast, if you want to stop for food, I'd rec passing up Nepenthe and stopping at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. The place is quiet, quirky and delightful. Food is very good. Not so swarming with crowds as Nepenthe, etc. (No tour busses!)

      As you leave Big Sur proper, you'll drive along the coastal marine terrace to the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek and the little town of Cambria. An old mill town turned artist colony, there are plenty of shops, galleries and restaurants to keep anyone busy for an afternoon. (The French Corner Bakery, oo, la la!)But I'd suggest taking the short drive through town and heading up Santa Rosa Creek on SR Ck Road, winding up the beautiful riparian corridor to the original farmstand of Linn's. Fresh berry pie and outstanding preserves at a low-key farm location. Lots of goodies for chow-related momentos. I like the small individual pies, fresh or frozen. Ollalieberry is what they're famous for. (note: their restaurant in downtown Cambria suffered fire damage and will not be open for a while yet. But they hope to have one up and running in a temporary location in a month or so, around the corner on Bridge St.


      Twenty minutes' driving south along 1, the highway turns inland at the fishing port of Morro Bay. Along the harbor's piers runs The Embarcadero, and there are several great places there to get fish and seafood fresh off the boats. Giovanni's is a local favorite for wild fish. They have a takeout-only restaurant and a fresh fish market. Very good quality in both. There are several other spots for fish&chips along the waterfront as well. I favor the Lil' Hut at the Tiki Hut restaurant for a quick bite, with its patio seating right over the docks. Next door is the Thai Boat, quick and tasty Thai food with a few tables for indoor or outdoor dining.

      At Morro Bay Highway 1 leaves the coast and turns inland to San Luis Obispo, where it joins Highway 101 and runs south to Santa Barbara pretty much contiguously. In San Luis (say Loo-eesse)the best chowish bets are the Farmer's Market downtown on Thurs evening and Big Sky Cafe for (B-L-D), good chow boasting local ingredients. For fine dining, The Park, Buona Tavola, and Koberl at Blue are good choices. 1 breaks off from 101 south of SLO in Pismo Beach, and runs parallel to the ocean through Pismo Beach, Oceano, and Gualalupe before heading southeast through the Lompoc hills, joining 101 and going through the Gaviota Pass to the coast again.(I'm describing this geography because the side trip will cost you time. If I read you right, you're going from Monterey to SB in 1 day? That's six hours at the wheel.) That said, there ARE dining spots worth trying on the side route:

      In Pismo, Splash Cafe is worth a stop for chowder, etc. 5 minutes south in Oceano, Pier Ave leads to the beach, where you'll find Arnie's, an ATV rental place which also has good clam chowder. Eat parked in the lot right ON the beach!

      Two minutes south of Pier Ave is the town of Oceano--good Mexican food at La Tapatia Market and Tauqueria, at Hiway 1 (Cienega) and Front St., right across from the tiny Catholic church. Across Hiway 1 from the packing sheds. Great burros and seafood coktails, along with many Mexican favorites.

      Crossing the Nipomo Mesa, 1 parallels the famous Pismo Dune complex before dropping down into the verdant Santa Maria Valley (broccoli capital of the world)and into the farming town of Gualalupe. Several old-time Mexican restaurants here, none very special. The Far Western Tavern is a local favorite steakhouse in the century-old downtown along the main drag. Great rib-eye steaks in an old-time steakhouse atmosphere. Just at the south end of town at the intersection of Main street and 1 there is usually a taco truck serving good quick snacks.

      South of this town, 1 travels through some vineyards and cattle ranches before rejoining 101 south of Buellton. No chow there except in Casmaila, well west of 1, where you'll find the original Hitching Post Tavern and restaurant. A great 'meat palace'. Instead, I'd rec turning east from Guadalupe on Main Street, through the town of Santa Maria (good Mexican food at the corner of Blosser and Main at El Toro) to 101.

      There are two ways to get to SB from here:
      1) Go east on Main across 101 and turn south along the river to take the leisurely Foxen Canyon Wine Trail to highway 154 in Los Olivos, just east of 101 and just north of Solvang. Many little towns here worth exploring for food and wine. Then head over 154 past Cachuma Lake to Santa Barbara.
      2)Turn south onto 101 and stop at Stowell exit, go east over the highway to the Gold Coast Market where you can taste wine and buy the BEST Santa Maria strawberries. At the last SM exit, turn right on Clark Ave to the large shopping center on the northwest corner. Chef Rick's Ultimately Fine Foods serves lunch and dinner daily except Sunday. Outstanding food prepared and served by a dedicated team. 5 minutes further along Clark into the town of Orcutt and you'll find Wine Cottage Bistro; the menu features pairings of local wines and fine food. Both are WELL worth the short side trip from 101.

      10 minutes south of Santa Maria on 101 is the town of Los Alamos and great artisanal wood-fired pizza on Fri and Sat nights (only) at American Flatbread. (Los Alamos is about 1 hr north of SB.)A few more miles south and you're in the Santa Ynez Valley wine country, 1/2 hour north of SB. I'm sure others more knowledgeable will chime in on the best tasting room bets.

      Have fun and safe travels to you! Take LOTS of water with you when travelling through the desert!!

      1 Reply
      1. re: toodie jane

        Terrific post, TJ, chock full of great tips. I need to file this one away for future reference.

        Here is some detail on the Hitching Post, Buellton location (which was the location used for "Sideways").

      2. Wow! Thanks for all of the advice. I'm taking copious notes!

        This is all a part of MINI Takes the States (, so some of the route is predetermined, although we are more than willing to go off the route to find great, memory making stops and good food. We'll be on California 1 down the coast through the cities of Big Sur, San Simeon, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Santa Maria, Solvang and Santa Barbara. I have La Superica on our short list there. We have plans to hit a big-box store early in the trip to pick up a cooler, lots of ice, and water for the road.

        From Santa Barbara, we've mapped out the next leg to Vegas as CA 101 to CA 33 to CA 150 to CA 126 to Interstate 5 to CA 14 to CA 138 to Interstate 15, driving through the cities of: Santa Barbara, Ojai, Santa Clarita, Palmdale, Victorville, Barstow, Primm and Las Vegas.

        Thanks for the advice to post to the LA board, which I will do, and I'll post Southwest for our stops beyond LV.

        You guys rock.


        1 Reply
        1. re: SundanceKC

          Thanks, DB. Santa Clarita would be on the LA Board, a search there will give quite a few hits, the rest are on the CA board (again search by name) except Primm and LV which are on the Southwest Board, personally I would keep going to Vegas unless starvation was setting in.

          Leaving Monterey/Carmel you'll be in the "village" of Big Sur in about 45 min. Breakfast or lunch at Deetjen's or the Big Sur Bakery. A few more miles south is Nepenthe, great for the view and a drink, possibly an app or basket of fries.

          Another couple of hours (slow & winding) to San Simeon, nothing really chowworthy here but Cambria (just south) has a number of options. Creekside Gardens for breakfast, Main St. Grill in West Village for good burgers, ribs. Sea Chest for dinner on Moonstone Beach, or two of my faves, Black Cat Bistro (W. Village) or Wild Ginger (E. Village). Hoppe's in Cayucos another 12 or so miles down Hwy 1 is always a good bet and decent wine list.

          In Morro Bay the board fave is Taco Temple (lunch or dinner) for a CA twist on Mexican, a couple of blocks north is Chapala for some authentic Mex. cuisine. For upscale there's Windows on the Water in MB with a view of "the rock".

          Search the board for SLO, there's a ton of posts. I don't find a whole lot of exciting places around the 5 Cities area (Pismo, Shell, and Grover Beaches, Arroyo Grande and Oceano) but another half hour down Hwy 101 is Santa Maria if you're into BBQ tri-tip or some great steaks. Just south in Orcutt is Chef Ricks, hard to beat.

          If you're into the Sideways thing, search for Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Buelton. Also Santa Barbara area is well documented, if the lines are too long at La Super Rica, Altamirano's is a couple of blocks away, or El Bajio a couple more. Have a great trip and be sure and report back.



        2. In a Mini? what FUN......
          OK , let me help with the last stretch, Ojai to Los Vegas. This is a pretty bleak area, Chow-wise.
          I have a suggestion in Palmdale, about the half way mark. Check out the Vallarta Market at 1803 East Palmdale Blvd. They have a juice bar with fresh fruit and liquados, and a taqueria in store, with down home style Mexican basics. No , it's not Superica...but in this area it is a lot better than the chains which are the only other option...
          heres a link, and note, there are 2 Vallarta Markets in Palmdale, the larger one has more food selections and the Juice bar...

          1. When you take Highway 150 out of Ojai south and back to Ventura Oxnard, you pass through the sleeper of a little town and the beautiful green valley of SANTA PAULA, long a site of oil and citrus wealth.

            Called the Citrus Capital, it has some beautiful mansions in the tree lined streets hills over-looking the dusty but reviving downtown. SANTA PAULA COFFEE is a good wireless coffee stop on Main Street. Also a selection of mom and pop independent restaurants on Main Street - nothing great but nice to support local businesses.

            LOGSDON'S RESTAURANT at the Santa Paula airport consistently gets good reviews. Another dining special is to take a slow trip on the Western and Fillmore train and wine and dine while you view this lush valley right through the heart of it:

            Pick up some lemons and avocados at LIMONERIA MERCANTILE on Hwyway 126 at the east end of town, also the site of the weekly Farmer's Market that has take away food on Wednesday's evenings, besides having the lowest gas prices in town. Steve McQueen and Ali Magraw had a ranch near the airport.

            This is old California at its best.