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Road Trip From SD to San Fran

Any must eats along the I-5 from San Diego to San Francisco? We're taking two days to drive up and would love to include food highlights along the way.

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  1. My parents went on a short trip to Santa Barbara last week. I told them to be sure to check out La Super Rica in Santa Barbara - a place I have yet to even visit. Last weekend, when I visited them my mother could not stop telling me how amazing it was. [Mind you - I have taken these folks to most of the places for mexican in SD] She told me that she kept on telling my dad as they were chowing down there, "alex would be in heaven."

    Need to get there soon.

    O yea - danish bakeries in Solvang.

    1. Not a food highlight, per se, but Santa Rosa is home to Russian River Brewing, and they make some of the best beer on earth (and no, that's not hyperbole).

      5 Replies
      1. re: Josh

        SR and RR is an hour north of SF! Good stuff is right.

        1. re: kare_raisu

          Thanks to you both. Will try to hit Santa Barbara, am definitely acquainted with those Solvang bakeries (as well as the breakfasts), and doesn't Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives) have a restaurant in Santa Rosa? Thanks again.

          1. re: SDgirl

            I just moved back down to SD from santa rosa. He does have a couple of restaurants in SR - Tex Wasabi's - a texmex/sushi restaurant - if you believe that is possible and Johnny garlics. I never ate at either though/

            1. re: SDgirl

              Bear in mind that Santa Barbara and Solvang are accessible from the 101, not the 5. The 5 takes you through Bakersfield and the like, where you can get "New World" Basque food... I've been a few times (Benji's and Woolgrowers) and it doesn't quite do it for me.... the kind of family friendly comfort food place that you bring grandma to. That is, if grandma enjoys eating pickled tongue.

              Mr Taster

          2. re: Josh

            I'll second this statement -- really some of the best beer on earth. Damn. Now I'm thirsty...

          3. Grazing is pretty slim on I-5. You won't see Santa Barbara. The only place of note, and it is pretty good, is Harris Ranch right off I-5 at the junction with hwy 198. It's in the middle of nowhere. It is a large restaurant and motel attached to a large cattle raising--beef producing operation. I have found the food there to be consistently good. Way further north there is a Pea Soup Anderson's, but you won"t find much more than diner fare on I-5 between LA and SF. Go for Harris Ranch and tell us what you think.

            1. slo_ted makes a good point. Are you really planning on taking 5 all the way, or coming up on the 101? (IMHO an much better choice.) There are lots of good suggestions on the board here for SB/SLO/PR eating.

              19 Replies
              1. re: dockhl

                Well, we were planning on taking the 5, but maybe now we need to rethink that. Harris Ranch sounds intriguing, though. This trip is about dropping our oldest off to begin her college career at the University of San Francisco. Hubby and I are looking forward to many years of exploring the city and everything between here and there (and beyond -- like Napa, etc.), so there will many chowing opportunities. I don't think we'll be hitting Santa Rosa this time, but a beer that is the best on earth and a restaurant with "garlic" in it's name are definitely worth putting on our list of things to try.

                1. re: SDgirl

                  Oh god please don't come up the 5! If you don't do the 101, then at least do 99.... there are some worthwhile eats in Bakersfield & Fresno... but really nothing along the 5.

                  Some casual places I think are special:

                  > Take your pick from San Gabriel / Monterrey Park Chinese
                  > Birrieria La Barca in El Monte (Camarones a la Diable, Birria, Molcajete)
                  > Monte Alban in West L.A.
                  > Double Cheeseburger & Chili Cheese Fries at Dino's (Lincoln Heights)
                  > Ceviche at El Oasis in Whittier

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    Okay, you all have convinced us. We will go up on the 101 and maybe cut across at Paso Robles in order to visit some of the wineries. I've listed all of your suggestions; we'll plot a course and hit as many as we can. Thanks to all of you! Cheers!

                    1. re: SDgirl

                      FYI.... after the wineries I would suggest you hang out in the Santa Maria area for a couple of hours... Highway 46 is not one you want to have a little bit of a buzz on... the locals call it Blood Alley (crazy truck drivers making passes on rolling hills). The local Pistachio & Almond processing company loses a handful of employees every year.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        Thank you for the warning. The 46 doesn't sound like anything I would like to attempt in any state of consciouness. We'll take that into account when make our plan of attack.

                      2. re: SDgirl

                        I am so glad you are doing the 101. I have done both the 5 and the 101. I much prefer the 101. Where are you planning to overnight?

                        1. re: Enorah

                          Don't know yet. Do you have any suggestions?

                          1. re: SDgirl

                            Do you like camping? I think its a little cold right now but in a month or so... Big Sur would be extraordinary experience (I am assuming you have never been)... of course that would require you to shoot up PCH after San Luis Obispo or so.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Oh Lord have mercy no! What you should know, Eat Nopal, is that roughing it for me is no 24-hour room service or towel heaters in the bathroom. My husband, on the other hand, loves camping and has probably done just as you suggested (his family owns a home in Cambria), so there's no need for me to mention your post to him.

                              1. re: SDgirl

                                We must be dopplegangers. I've said for the last twenty or so years: "My idea of camping is to stay at a hotel with no room service". Sadly, that's not my wife's idea of camping... "We" recently decided to "compromise" and buy a RV...

                                On the other hand, Detjen's in Big Sur is very, very close to camping...

                                1. re: SDgirl

                                  San Luis Obispo is a wonderful, cozy central coastal town with a charming downtown with lots of good restaurants. If you can manage to get there on a Thursday night, you can experience their nighttime farmer's market.

                                  Mr Taster

                              2. re: SDgirl

                                You could stop anywhere from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles, depending upon how you wanted to break up your drive. Buelton is about the midpoint. Lot's of interesting things to do around Buelton, it was the center of the movie Sideways.

                        2. re: SDgirl

                          My .02 - drive to Santa Barbara for lunch (at La Super Rica) and stop in San Luis Obispo for the night. Next day, stop in Big Sur for lunch (at Nepenthe or Big Sur Bakery) and on up to the City. I think the road across at Paso Robles is pretty hairy - and it's a pretty long trip. We considered going out that way when we went through there last fall, and decided we didn't have time. (We're also from San Diego.) We did 2 nts in Santa Barbara, 1 in San Luis Obispo and 3 in Big Sur, and then drove all the way home in one day. It was a fantastic trip. http://aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com/2007...

                          1. re: Alice Q

                            "I think the road across at Paso Robles is pretty hairy - and it's a pretty long trip. "

                            46 west? Beautiful road, recently repaved, takes 1/2 hr........gorgeous scenery (bucolic countryside as opposed to seaside) and a much easier drive than going up the coast through Big Sur. (This is right before you get to Cambria, not all the way up into Big Sur)

                            Maybe this isn't what you meant?

                            1. re: dockhl

                              I think she means going west from Paso Robles past Lost Hills to I-5 (that is definitely longer than 30 minutes.... and I believe still referred to as Blood Alley by its commuters)... not going from PCH to Paso Robles on 46 West.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                "I think she means going west from Paso Robles past Lost Hills to I-5 "

                                That would be traveling east, just to pick a nit.

                                1. re: PolarBear

                                  =) I should have looked the direction of sunrise.

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    yes, 46 east from Paso to 5 is nasty, and boring, and dangerous.....

                      3. Hi SDgirl..
                        We are doing the same trip in September so I await your report on some great gems on the 101..
                        Friends love having lunch at the Post Ranch Inn or Nepenthe in Big Sur..


                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          Big Sur is a pretty big detour off 101. It'd probably add a minimum of four hours to your drive. Not that it isn't worth doing, but you should plan for it. And if you've never been to Hearst Castle, you'd probably want to do that along the way (but you have to make reservations far in advance now...) which would add two or three hours minimum. I've never done SLO to Monterey on hwy 1 in less than most of a day. It's not a fun drive at night or in fog.

                          Drinks on the deck of Ventana on a clear day is pretty special. Staying at Detjen's is a trip. To me, Nepenthe's food was just OK, I don't get what the fuss is about. Without the view, it's not someplace I'd consider going back to.

                          1. re: mikec

                            Hey mikec..
                            My apologies..I was thinking of highway 1..and yes, Nepenthe's for the view not the food..
                            Have you been to Post Ranch Inn for lunch? Is Ventana better..

                            1. re: Beach Chick

                              Haven't been to the Post Ranch Inn. From what I've heard, it's fairly spendy. I've only had drinks and appetizers at Ventana a couple of times, don't really remember much about the apps, but it's also on the expensive side (though not quite as expensive as PRI).

                              I suspect you could do a search here and get some better opinions than mine on both.

                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                Hi Beach Chick - I'd also recommend the Big Sur Bakery for lunch. Any chance you could get a massage at Esalen and check that place out? If so, you can check out the cliff-side mineral baths and eat lunch there - it's a fun experience.

                            2. re: Beach Chick

                              Beach Chick, we won't be going until the first week of August, but I will be happy to report on the highlights, although some of us might not even remember this thread (like me).

                              1. re: SDgirl

                                Have a great trip and hopefully I'll remember and you'll have some great gems SDgirl!!

                                Thanks mikec..I might have to see what all the fuss is about at PRI or Ventana..
                                We are staying at the Carmel Highlands for 3 days in September..

                                1. re: SDgirl

                                  Beach Chick can jog your memory with a post requesting a recount of your trip; we'd all enjoy hearing about it.

                              2. In SF, on Haight, the Pork Store Cafe has excellent breakfast and lunch offerings. Had an omlette with sun dried tomatoes, artichokes and feta, yum! Look'em up.

                                1. If you have decided to take two days and travel 101 instead of 5, I'd rec a good SEARCH of this California board typing in "101 SD to SF". You will get innumerable posts about all the communites, not just SB, Santa Ynez, SLO, Paso, etc.

                                  There are some gems in the upper (southernmost end) Salinas Valley and Salinas area (don't miss Melanie Wong's epic posts about Salinas' taco trucks) fruit stands in Gilroy, etc.

                                  If you decide to split off 101 at Salinas and drive 1 up through Watsonville, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, you'll find fruit stands galore and some ususual eating spots.

                                  Or you can continue up 101 and for the area north of Salinas, search the SF Bay Area board for San Jose and the Penninsula for some finds.

                                  There is a goldmine of info already here waiting for you to discover!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: toodie jane

                                    Thanks cstr and tj. Your recs are on our list and I'll do the board search.

                                  2. Stop by at San juan batista (off 101 between Gilroy and Salinas)

                                    Great place to strech your legs and get a fantastic sandwich at the small bakery on Third street.

                                    Right across from the German beer garden.

                                    Then walk over to the beautiful Mission San Juan Batista and have lunch.

                                    (They filmed Hichcocks classic "Vertigo" there.)

                                    Very relaxing, cute town and non turisty.

                                    They have really cold beers and other tasty treats at the bakery too!

                                    Interesting link:


                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: Mission

                                      A beer garden, huh? This one goes straight to the top of the list.

                                      1. re: SDgirl

                                        If you end up driving through the Capitola area, I highly recommend a quick stop by Gayle's Bakery. It's one of those places the locals love and the food is excellent.

                                        Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria
                                        504 Bay Ave, Capitola, CA 95010

                                        1. re: fatgirleats

                                          Also if you end up taking the I 5 you can stop by the Bastille in Hanford which is inside an old jail and the food is simple and tasty.

                                          113 Court St, Hanford, CA 93230

                                          1. re: fatgirleats

                                            Thanks! Our list is getting really long. We never would have found these places without everyone's help.

                                            1. re: fatgirleats

                                              P.S. Just went to Gayle's website -- I do believe we will go out of the way to get to this place. Yummy!

                                              1. re: SDgirl

                                                I love Gayle's. Everything there is really delicious. It can be busy, but the line moves fast. They have a lot of people working behind the counter.

                                        2. I have made that drive hundreds of times. I live here in SD county and was born and raised in Central CA. If you go up 101, when you get to Santa Barbara, turn right at SR 154, San Marcos Pass Road. This will take you up over the coastal range and into the Santa Ynez Valley. As you drop over the summit look for Stage Coach Rd. and stop at the Cold Spring Tavern (http://www.coldspringtavern.com/) for lunch. If you have already had lunch but are looking for dinner in that area (you are probably 5 hours out of San Diego by now), continue on 154 to Los Olivos and stop at the Los Olivos Cafe. They filmed the dinner scene in "Sideways" there. Or you could go left at the fork in the road toward Solvang/Buellton and stop at the Hitchin' Post (also featured in "Sideways"). Getting back on 101 is extremely simple from either place.

                                          If you stop in Paso Robles and want dinner, there are many places to choose from, most are in the center of town. Villa Creek (http://www.villacreek.com/) is excellent, Bistro Laurent http://www.bistrolaurent.com/) is right across the street. Nearby is Artisan (http://www.artisanpasorobles.com/). All have excellent tasting menus that can be paired with local wines. For breakfast, go where the locals go, Joe's Cafe.

                                          Have fun and plan to go back many times over to get to the place you missed the first time around.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: araknd

                                            If you're going as far as the Hitching Post, you may as well go up to Jocko's in Nipomo for steaks that kick the buttocks off the stuff they serve up at the Hitching Post (and at a fraction of the cost). Just be sure to go for dinner, because they do not fire up the red oak pit for lunch.

                                            Mr Taster

                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                              I so want to try Jocko's some day. I have heard yummy things about it.

                                              1. re: Enorah

                                                So, the original point of this trip was to get the older daughter off to college in SF. I wasn't expecting such a large volume of responses from everyone. Hubby and I have begun to lose our focus because of all your wonderful suggestions, and I think this last one by Mr. Taster has pushed us over the edge. We're actually talking about saying goodbye to the child a day early so we can fit that red oak-fired steak into our itinerary. Too bad it isn't in the same vicinity of that beer garden Mission recommended. Actually, it's probably just as well that all the recs are spread out, that way we'll keep moving up the coast instead of becoming entrenched in one area, having totally lost our focus and being overcome by a gluttony-induced stupor. Maybe we'll extend the trip -- after all, there will still be all those SF eateries to explore when we get there. If we get there.

                                                1. re: SDgirl

                                                  Just a few tips for Jocko's....

                                                  1) Stand out by the red oak pit and watch the guys cook the meat. It's a religious experience.
                                                  2) Make reservations, but still expect to wait. At times that I've gone without reservations, it's a 2 hour wait. With reservations, probably 30-45.
                                                  3) They will direct you to the spencer steak, which is a delicious choice. A friend of mine ordered the filet mignon once and it was delicious but far inferior... not enough marbeling to carmelize to a char. The massive pork chops are excellent, juicy & huge too, but is not traditional Santa Maria BBQ meat cut (this would be tri-tip and top sirloin.) But if you feel like busting up tradition a bit (and have a huge appetite), get a spencer and pork chops and share. You can't go wrong with either one.
                                                  4) Unless you're a huge eater, even the small spencer steak is good to share (total cost, if I recall, is $23... that includes all the fixins... beans, salsa, salad, dessert, potato, garlic bread, etc). You can pay an extra $6 "split plate" fee which gets the second person their own round of the above-referenced sides, which is more or less the standard "set up" for Santa Maria style BBQ.
                                                  5) You only get one complimentary veggie relish tray... additional ones are a pricey $3! (My friends and I once made the mistake of chowing down through several of these veggie trays once and getting $12 sticker shock.... could those veggies possibly be worth 1/2 the cost of a steak dinner?? No way!)

                                                  I love this video.... you'll soon see why :)

                                                  Mr Taster

                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                    Lord have mercy, it's Wilford Brimley as a young man! There's something about a man wearing a 10 gallon hat and an apron at the same time. And that mustache! Not to mention the smoking bbq! There's got to be a Super Bowl commercial in there somewhere.

                                            2. re: araknd

                                              The food at Cold Spring is just so-so... but the adjacent biker bar is pretty cool... you can catch some good blues, beer & the Tavern's food.

                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                I cannot attest to the quality of the grub, but it is still definitely worth a stop even if you don't consume anything. It's really beautiful there and feels as if you've stepped back into time.

                                                Mr Taster