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Diving the Coast from Santa Barbara to Mendocino

We will be driving the coastal route in early September from SB all the way up to Mendocino and then down through the wine country. Along the way we're looking for good inexpensive to moderate places to stop for lunch and dinner. We love eating outside or places that are just funky and easy. Seafood, Mexican, Italian, American, Asian, you name it we like it.

Some of the places we'll be are:
Santa Barbara
Pacific Grove (Monterey Area)
Boulder Creek (Big Basin Area)
Pt. Reyes

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  1. In Pacific Grove a dinner at Passionfish is highly recommended. Creative dishes using sustainable seafood are the specialties there. Also great salads and appetizers. Extensive, interesting, and reasonably priced wine list.

    If you are in PG for lunch, Red House, Taste, or Grill at Point Pinos are all good choices.


    1. For Pt. Reyes and the wine country you'll need to post on the SF Board. For the others a search on this board will give you tons of specific recos for those areas. That said, in Santa Barbara La Super Rica, Altamirano's, and El Bajia (all on Milpas) are great inexpensive Mexican cuisine, Brophy Bros. at the harbor for moderate seafood, also a place at the end of Stearn's Wharf which I can't recall the name at the moment.

      In Cambria, the Main St. Grill in West Village for burgers, ribs. My other favorites are Black Cat Bistro (WV), Wild Ginger in East Village, or Sea Chest on Moonstone Dr. for seafood.

      Before Cambria you'll go through Morro Bay, Taco Temple is the fave on this board for innovative CA-Mex, up the street is Chapala for authentic inexpensive Mexican. Hoppe's in Cayucos is a nice dinner place with a good wine list.

      Since you're heading up Big Sur, there's been several recent threads on that area.

      Have a great trip and be sure and report back.

      1. The Hitching Post II made famous in the movie Sideways, but fabulous! And when passing through Pismo Beach, stop for a cup of clam chowder at Splash Cafe. I would kill to know how to re-create this. Rich, sinful, fabulous!

        3 Replies
        1. re: Jesdamala

          A word of warning since it's the height of tourist season. I tried to stop for a cup of their chowder yesterday (Sat.) around 2pm thinking the lunch hour(s) might have settled down, wrong. Traffic was close to gridlock, did find a parking spot about five blocks away, but the line at splashes had 30-40 people in it, some saving spots for rather large groups. It was 45 min. by the time I got back on Hwy 101 to Arroyo Grande, with no chowder. Will save this for the off season in the future. A friend here tells me that the place across the street (Brad's?) serves the exact same chowder, can anyone corroborate thate?

          1. re: PolarBear

            If you get desperate for Splash's clam chowder, it is available fresh frozen. Splash will send it to you UPS next day air. It is fairly pricey, but greatly appreciated by Splash devotees.

            1. re: Margot

              Also, there is now a Splash Cafe open in San Luis Obispo on Monterey Street. While busy, it is not as busy as the one in Pismo and is bigger and cleaner. Probably doesn't have exactly the same atmosphere as the Pismo location, but does have the same food if that is what you are after.

              Splash Cafe
              1491 Monterey St
              San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
              (805) 544-7567

        2. For Santa Barbara, based on your description of fun & funky & moderate to inexpensive.

          I would go for La Super Rica or El Bajio mexican on Milpis. If one just for uniqueness I would pick La Super Rica.

          Seafood: Santa Barbara Shellfish on the end of the pier or substitute Brophy's if you want more of bar.

          1. Not an eating recommendation, but I'd recommend visiting Handley Cellars in Anderson Valley in Mendocino County.

            1. In Cambria one of my favorites is Robin's Restaurant. It's a home that's been converted with lovely outside dining. The food is new American with many organic options. I've been a number of times for dinner and brunch and have always been delighted. It's more on the moderate end as far as pricing goes. If it’s a weekend I’d make a reservation or you may have to wait. If you go, check out the garden across the street at the Heart’s Ease, that little block is so charming lot’s of artist studios. Enjoy your trip!

              4095 Burton Dr.
              Cambria, Ca 93428
              (805) 927-5007

              1. Just north of Santa Barbara in Los Olivos I highly recommend both Patrick's Side Street Cafe and Brothers Restaurant at Mattei's Tavern. When you are in Sonoma, try John Ash Restaurant at the Vintner's Inn located in Santa Rosa.

                1. Stop at the Oakville grocery and get some upscale lunch supplies (Healdsberg one seems bigger, also in Oakville)

                  Sonoma - Girl and the Fig

                  1. Between Santa Barbara and Cambria we usually stop in Orcutt for lunch at Chef Rick, always top notch.


                    1. my 2cents for inexpemsive to moderate spots from Santa Ynez Valley to Cambria:

                      in Buellton, Patticakes for b'fast breads. Just east of 101 on 246. Just past the Long's center on the right.

                      Chef Rick's or the Wine Cottage in Orcutt, both excellent values at lunch.

                      In Santa Maria, drive west on Main about 5 minutes to the corner of Blosser and Main. El Toro Mexican deli and Carniceria Su Mesa both have down-home Mexican food for takeout. On opposing corners. Any strawberry stands you see will have delicious ripe berries till Sept.

                      Paco's in Nipomo does a good hamburger or grilled chicken sandwich. Fries are great. If you're there at dinner, try the baby back ribs. Very good. Super friendly staff. Mexican food is not authentic, but tasty. Try a local Firestone Ale.

                      In Arroyo Grande, stop for a sweet snack or dessert in the village at Doc Burnstein's. Excellent ice cream made there. Very rich and creamy. The coffee flavor-OMG!

                      The Steaming Bean on Shell Beach Rd, (take Mattie Rd exit in SB) has good coffee--grab it to go and drive 1 block downhill to Shell Beach Park at the cliff tops, or drive down SB Rd to the Shell station, turn left and drive 1 block to the little park and watch the surfers from the blufftop while you enjoy your coffee.

                      From 101, Avila Beach Rd takes you into the village of AB--keep driving past the town to the far pier. Park at the base and walk out to Pete's Pierside for some awesome fish tacos and cerveza or fish & chips. The red potato fries melt in your mouth. Watch the seals from the outside patio.

                      SLO is 10 min north of Avila. Linnea's Cafe downtown on Garden St. serves serious coffee and has extremely reasonable and delicious veggie lunch options. Desserts are excellent. Big Sky Cafe is also downtown on Broad St. always gets good mentions here. Fresh locally-sourced foods open B-L-D 7 days. If you're in a hurry, eat at the bar.

                      SLO is where Highway 1 breaks off on its own again (Santa Rosa St exit from 101) It heads out to Morro Bay for the trip up the Big Sur coast. Take the South Bay Blvd. exit before entering MB and drive a short distance to the first right. This is the entrance to MB State Park(no entrance fee). Drive about 100 yds to the exit on the left to the marina. The Bayside Cafe serves lunch and dinner with a varied menu--I love to stop for lunch for the great views, bayside quietude, and tasty sandwiches. The artfully crafted underwater mural is a plus. I highly rec this stop!!


                      In Cambria, Robin's for sit down lunch or dinner offers a menu with influences from all world cuisines. Fresh and light flavors. Excellent desserts. Dining inside or on a vine-covered deck overlooking the gardens.

                      Get baked treats at The French Corner Bakery, at the corner or MAin and Burton in 'East Village.' oh,lala

                      Last food stop before the twisting turns and steep cliffs of Big Sur is Ragged Point Inn. Haven't eaten there. Perahps others have and can advise. Lovely spot to stretch the legs and get coffee. here is a chart with info on the coast: http://www.raggedpointinn.com/directi...

                      have fun!

                      1. Thank you all, this is great information. I'll be sure and report back on just how fat I've gotten enjoying all this great food.

                        1. Make sure you stop for breakfast in Santa Barbara and eat at Sambos you'll be able to eat outside, great food, wonderful staff...but when driving up north, at pismo beach you should stop for dinner (or lunch) at a place called F. Mclintocks. You'll see on the right side of the freeway, when you're in pismo beach, a huge cowboy telling you to exit. Exit then...the whole thing is the atmosphere. If you have kids they will absolutely lve it. Waiters will pour water from atop stools blindfolde into your childs glass as it's balanced on his/her head. The kids steak is a great deal. there is unlimited onion rings, potatoes (that are quite good), garlic bread, baked beans, etc. Nice size portions and a beautiful view of the ocean.

                          1. We used to really like McClintocks about 20 years ago, but they raised the prices, reduced the portions, and it just seemed like the quality went downhill a little. We've never been back, just wondering if any other hounds have done any recent sniffing, hate to be missing out on something based on our long ago experience.

                            Right after abandoning McC we discovered Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe, well worth the little side trip off 101, and still have Jocko's in Nipomo to try for dinner when they fire up the oak BBQ.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: PolarBear

                              Agree with Polar Bear regarding McClintocks.....also liked it 20 years ago, and even though quality did seem to slip would still stop by from time to time, and it only seemed to get worse. And it was such a zoo.....long waits, loud. Have not been back for 5 years or so. Like Jockos or Far Western much more.

                            2. In Monterey a very good, inexpensive place for lunch is Randy's on 10th St. They have a picnic table outside, but I'd recommend getting one of their great sandwiches to go and eat it down the street in El Estero Park which has a picnic area with plenty of parking. Randy's is open only M-F.

                              1. You have all been so kind, thank you for the great suggestions!