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Apr 14, 2008 02:02 PM

Gems for a California roadtrip?? Any Advice?

So, a friend and I are both graduating in May, and for a little break from real life, we've decided to take about a week and drive the California coast...America's greatest road trip, right?

Anyway, neither of us are from Cali, but we are flying into LAX, renting a car, and heading North towards SF. We have no particular destination, and we are going to be camping most of the way, while looking for fun hiking, biking, or other outdoor adventures.

Along the way, I am desperate to find some of California's greatest food and wine surprises, and I'd love to hear any and all advice ranging from farmers markets, to seafood, to taco stands, to BBQ places, to vineyards. to whatever. Really, we're just hoping to have a great, relaxing trip free of chain restaurants!

The only thing on our schedule so far: spicy tuna rolls at Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo, the best sushi I've ever had.

Any advice?


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  1. Well, that all depends on what you're looking for, as far as food.

    In Santa Barbara, you should stop at Freebird's. It's the college hangout for everyone with burritos, and I'd say it's amazingly delicious. It's fun, and I'd say it's worth a stop.

    In Santa Maria, you should stop and get some Santa Maria-style barbecue. It's the best meat you'll ever have. Unfortunately, it's only easily available on Saturdays and Sundays (just drive on Broadway and someone will be selling it). If you really want to go all out, you could drive slightly out of your way to Casmalia and go to the Hitching Post, probably the best restaurant there is for SM-style barbecue.

    If you eat either in Santa Maria or Santa Barbara and decide to keep going, I suggest waiting for dessert until you reach the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. Get the the Toffee Crunch Cake, you won't regret it.

    Of course, all along the 101 (the route I'm assuming you'll be taking), there are In N' Outs (you have to eat there if they don't exist in your home state), and other quick places to stop in. As far as San Francisco, there are too many places to recommend. I really like Woodhouse Fish Company near the Castro for seafood. The Mission is filled with amazing taco stands. Berkeley is Indian food heaven, as far as I'm concerned.

    Hopefully this will be a good starting point for you.

    1. If possible try to be in San Luis Obispo on Thursday night. Several blocks of the main downtown street are blocked off for the weekly farmers' market. Besides produce there are several barbeque places which have booths plus other food places. At every intersection there is some type of entertainment which can range from a rock band to a puppet show.
      Before or after the market you could visit Taste which is a downtown tasting room for the Edna Valley wineries (south of SLO). I personally perfer visiting the actual wineries but this gives you a "taste" of what they have. North of San Luis Obispo is Paso Robles where there are over 100 wineries. Check to get an overview. In downtown Paso Robles I like Oddessy World Cafe for fresh sandwiches, soups and salads. If you want something more upscale then Artisan is a very good choice.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sgbslo

        How fun! I will pray for excellent weather for you guys.

        Santa Barbara Country Camping- Refugio and El Capitan State Beaches are reservation only- but if during the week- its a good chance you can drive in and get a spot, Gaviota State Beach is first come first serve- all great beach camping!!! Bring your own provisions- no store (except for the North side of El Cap, but it is $$). Cachuma Lake= great camping= great grill open 7 days a week.

        Jalama Beach is awesome, but if you only have a week, probably a litle out of your

        Wineries close off the hiway in Santa Barbara County...Hwy 101 has Mosby, Alma Rosa....Hwy 154 has Gainey, Roblar, the town of Los Olivos has 15 or so tasting rooms at this point, and Orcutt has several too- Costo de Oro right on the 101/Stowell in Santa Maria.

        Have a safe trip, a great trip and enjoy the scenery!!

      2. Highway 1 is incredibly beautiful and you should make sure you drive it at least once. It's worth it. In the Monterey area there's Passionfish. Do a search of the board.

        1. Poke around the lush citrus belt of Highway 126 and visit Hozy's for breakfast in Santa Paula on your way out of LA and then over to Highway 101 North and Santa Barbara. Stop off on Main Street in Old Town Ventura for appetizers before you try La Superrica Tacos (#15 Special is my favorite - be sure to slather it with lots of fresh pico de gallo tomato, onion and jalapeno salsa) on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara for lunch.

          Out to Rancho Sisquoc for some wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley, after polishing off a few danish cookies and pastries in Solvang for early afternoon tea. Then up Highway 101 again to Matthews for dinner in Paso Robles and call it at least one culinary exploration day in California.

          Approximately 200 miles from LAX (really best done in two days)


          1 Reply
          1. re: glbtrtr

            In the Sisquoc area(just east of Santa Maria, along the river at the base of the hills) try the newly opened tasting room for Riverbench Vineyard. 2 Chardonnays and 2 Pinots being poured, oak and stainless fermentation on both. Beautiful grounds and revamped Craftsman bungalow tasting room. Just north of Rancho Sisquoc chapel on Foxen Cyn Road.. Gracious tasting room hosts. Beautiful large-bowled tasting glasses. Classy and understated. Enjoyed a tasting this past weekend, will be back.

            Lunch at Chef Rick's in Orcutt, just about 1/2 hour west from the winery. Great food with a Cajun edge. A master of sauces. Lunch is dinner menu selections ala carte and less expensive. In the same center as Rick's, a new Italian deli, La Rocco's. Serving real Sicilian pizza with a good cheese selection in the coldcase and hot deli sandwiches and cold grinders and mufflatta . Open for 6 weeks. I walked in last Saturday and got to meet the whole family; even got a recipe tip from Nonna! Espresso drinks but don't look for frappacinos! Lovely fresh pastries--the best cream puff I've had in a long time, crispy shell, thick and creamy whipped heavy cream. m-m-m-m-m.

            A quick stop--1 blockoff 101--at Arroyo Grande's Grand Ave exit will bring you to Doc Berstein's Lab for super-premium ice cream. Lots of inventive flavors. Doc's Java is my favorite. Strong coffee flavor with caramel and dark choc bits. oh yeah.

            p.s.: get a good up-to-date detailed map now, and start searching town names from your route on this 'California' board (except LA and SF which have their own boards) You'll find so much more info than we can add in this one post. Remember to search local newspaper webpages for events which might impact lodging and dining choices. The coast is a favorite tourist weekend destination for Californians as well as others. Events abound in the fair weather months. psst: Arco AM-PM has the cheapest gas in the state, as well as corn dogs and sodas, and MAPS. Be prepared for $4 gas soon.

            Chef Rick's
            4869 S Bradley Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93455

            Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab
            124 W Branch St, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

            Riverbench Vineyards
            6020 Foxen Cyn Rd, Sisqouc, CA

          2. If you are in the Santa Barbara area on a Saturday or Sunday, you MUST stop at the Cold Springs Tavern. It's north of Santa Barbara on hwy 154 (State Street). What a treat! Don't miss it.

            A fun experience would be to rent ATVs and drive on the giant sand dunes at Oceano. You can actually drive your car on the beach, but be careful to go when the tide is low and the sand is damp (not soft). If you do get stuck in the sand, someone will pull you out.

            You can rent kayaks in Shell Beach and Morro Bay.

            While in SLO county, be sure and have Santa Maria Style Barbecue, it's a regional specialty you will get nowhere else. (You can find it many places--street corners, car washes.)

            Another thing is to have clam chowder in Pismo Beach. Splash Cafe on the main drag in Pismo on the way to the pier is a funky locals favorite. Walk to the end of the pier.

            Go inland at Pismo Beach (Price St. exit) to 227 and visit some of the wineries of the Edna Valley.

            Have a wonderful time.