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Lunch recommendations for drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz

Arriving in San Francisco on Friday, September 12th at 11:30am. Plan on driving from SFO to Santa Cruz and need some lunch recommendations. Doesn't need to be fancy or ridiculously cheap, just worth my time and money. I've identified some spots in Santa Cruz, but unsure how long the drive will take (i.e. I don't want to eat lunch at 2pm). Can anyone suggest some places just off the Highway that might be worth hitting for lunch if we just can't wait until Santa Cruz? Looks like my route will take me on US-101, CA-85S and CA-17 before arriving in Santa Cruz.

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  1. San Mateo, Palo Alto, and Mountain View all have lots of good places to stop along 101 and 85, depending on when you get hungry and when you actually get out of SFO after navigating baggage claim and the rental cars. Search for those cities for ideas. It would also help to know what type of food you like or dislike, and where you are coming from so you can get things here that you can't at home.


    1. I'd suggest you take a different route: 101 to 92 to 1 south to Santa Cruz. It's a very pretty drive, it's only a little longer (and 17 over the mountains is not fun), and there are places to stop for lunch in Half Moon Bay and Pescadero.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I'll second that route suggestion, especially since it won't be on the weekend so traffic should be OK on Hwy 1. Searching will get you many suggestions for Half Moon Bay and Princeton-by-the-Sea (just north of Half Moon Bay). In Pescadero (just off Hwy 1 south of Half Moon Bay) is Duarte's, a history-steeped roadhouse type of place with OK to very good food depending on what you order.

        Duarte's Tavern
        202 Stage Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060

        1. re: Mick Ruthven

          I agree with Ruth and Mick, go highway 1 but keep your eyes on the road -- most of the time. At Duarte's the artichoke or green chile soup is great -- you can order 1/2 of each if you can't decide. I love the ollalieberry pie. Very informal place. It's located inland from Hwy 1, just turn left inland when you see the Pescadero sign. You go a mile or so and the town is about 1 block long.

          1. re: Mick Ruthven

            Duarte's is about an hour from SFO. Second on the half-and-half soup. Read some of the past reports to know what to avoid.

            Definitely 1 over 17.

          2. re: Ruth Lafler

            I also agree with that route, and those suggestions of cities to stop. Though, if you're hungry when you land, there's some good dim sum in Millbrae off 101 shortly after you leave the airport.

          3. If you get out of the airport by 12:30 with your car, etc, you'd probably be best served by something close to the airport. Santa Cruz is easily an hour from SFO on a clear day. One extremely convenient just-off-the-highway stop on 101S from the airport is El Metate on Harbor in Belmont. This is an excellent taqueria (35 feet off of 101, 10 mins south of airport). Non-chain, huge turnover, and gets you on your way. Excellent salsa bar and the best house-made chips in the area.

            The drive from SFO to Half Moon Bay, as some others have suggested, is only about 25 mins. Try Pasta Moon in that town.

            1. As mentioned, there's a few very good dim sum places close to SFO.

              Besides taking Hwy 1 to Pescadero and Half Moon Bay, you could also hit some taquerias in Redwood City and San Carlos. Taqueria La Bamba is 3-5 mins off the freeway in Mountain View...on the divey side but exceptional carnitas.

              5 Replies
              1. re: ML8000

                I appreciate all of the suggestions and will do some additional research into the alternate route outlined above. We are from Cleveland, so just about anything you have in Cali is something we don't have here. The dim sum and taqueria ideas are of particular interest to me, but we'll go for just about anything. Thanks again!

                1. re: ladybugthepug

                  Assuming you're heading back to SFO, you might hit the dim sum on the way back. If you have time and want to try one of the best haute places on the West Coast (maybe the U.S.), look up Manresa in Los Gatos on Hwy 17 between Hwy 101 and Santa Cruz. It will be worth it.

                  1. re: ladybugthepug

                    Dim sum is a good idea if you're hungry right off the plane (which you probably will be if you're on Eastern Time). Hong Kong Flower Lounge is really easy to find, since it's right on the corner of two major streets. Since you're from Cleveland, I'm going to even more strongly suggest you take the Hwy 1 route. Why come all the way to California and drive through miles of suburbs on ugly freeways when you can drive along the ocean? Hwy 17 over the mountains is scenic, but the road and traffic conditions are so awful that you really can't enjoy it, while Hwy 92 takes you up and over the mountains very quickly, and then it's flat and fairly straight (in addition to being scenic) all the way. There's a good taqueria -- Tres Amigos -- right on Hwy 1 in Half Moon Bay, if that appeals to you. But if you have the time, Duarte's is very atmospheric (get the half-and-half soup, some sanddabs or petrale sole, and the ollieberry pie) and Pescadero is a beautiful little town that has managed to survive without becoming a tourist trap.

                    Hong Kong Flower Lounge
                    51 Millbrae Ave, Millbrae, CA 94030

                    3 Amigos
                    270 Cabrillo Hwy S, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I wouldn't go so far as to say hwy 17 is "awful," but it certainly is the commuter route, not the scenic one. Unless there's traffic. Then it's awful. =)

                      In Pescadero, the grocery store deli makes great sandwiches, and they sell their famous artichoke/garlic bread. Yum.

                    2. re: ladybugthepug

                      ladybugthepug, you'll be driving past several thousand restaurants in an hour of driving (for example, my town, Palo Alto, has about 300 in the city limits - we're about 30 minutes south of the airport, and we're not even a good eating town, compared to San Mateo, Millbrea, and Mountain View). The number of Taquerias in Redwood City is astonishing. To make the best of this list, consider being a bit more specific in what you might enjoy. And the seaside places in Half Moon Bay and similar can be quite nice.

                      Given your interest in dim sum and taquerias, I'd suggest looking up San Mateo, which has good Dim Sum in Joy Luck and Taquerias in La Cumbre and Pancho Villa. (I'd put Joy Luck above the Millbrea places just because it's more accessible to the uncommon dim sum eater, but read up on Millbrea too).

                      The other strength is real down-home chinese in San Mateo, places like Shanghai East, Little Sheep hot pot, Everyday Beijing. These places are not exactly "accessible" - Everyday Beijing, for example, is pretty much all chinese language, and Shanghai East it's best to be able to tell the Shanghai style dishes from the northern fare.

                      But really - more info, better rec.

                  2. There are many great dim sum places in Millbrae which is the exit right after SFO.

                    1. I feel obligated to chime in here. I do this drive often so I just have to mention that if you are looking for a scenic drive by all means take Hwy 1. However if you are just trying to get to Santa Cruz and you would like to do so in a timely manner do not fear Hwy 17. At the time of day you would be driving the 17 is not a problem, it is not scary at all and it is beautiful as well.

                      Taking the 1 will extend your trip by at least a half hour or more, which will be well worth it if you have the time and most importantly are feeling up for it after your flight. The drive down the coast is stunning. A stop at Duarte's would be nice but will delay you even more.

                      If you're just trying to have a simple lunch while on the way to Santa Cruz and you don't have the time for the scenic drive take the 101-85-17 route and stop at La Bamba in Mountain View. I have never been but the suggestion of El Metate seems like it might be a good one as well.

                      Whatever you do, enjoy it.

                      1. ladybugthepug,

                        I too recommend driving down the 101 then to 92 then get on the 1 south. The drive down 101 to 85 to 17 is pretty lame. Especially the 17 if you're not prepared for the twists and turns. Santa Cruz is my alma mater and I fell in love with it when I first arrived from NY to visit the school by driving down the 1. There is nothing more refreshing than that drive after a long crowded flight.

                        I definitely agree with Duarte's however, i have only gotten the artichoke soup and the ollalieberry pie. Tres Amigos in Half Moon Bay is also a great taqueria. Further down in davenport there is the Davenport Cash store. Great views. I'm not sure how the restaurant is doing as far as quality since it's been a few yrs but i remember they had some delicious soup and home baked bread.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: trolley

                          Thanks again to all who've given feedback...we're traveling to Santa Cruz so that my husband can go to the Patagonia outlet. After that, it's on to the Jabberwock Inn in Monterey for 2 nights, then we go back up on Sunday to stay at the Washington Square Inn in North Beach area of San Francisco for 4 nights. Since we're in the San Fran boards, might as well share the homework/planning I've done for the rest of my dining. Monterey/Pacific Grove: Passion Fish and Montrio
                          San Francisco: Gary Danko, Nopa, Boulevard, Perbacco; Oakland/Berkeley: who knows, but have ruled out Chez Panisse.

                          To be honest, my biggest meal of the day is dinner and I get cranky if I don't eat dessert. Lunch for me is typically something on a smaller scale (exception: lunch at Jean Georges in NYC), like soup and a sandwich a falafel or a slice of pizza. I'm not a vegetarian but am allergic to chicken. Biggest thing for us is that we are traveling from Cleveland (no kids) and our trip is primarily food focused...we want something worthy of blogging about but we don't want to overdo it at lunch at the risk of ruining our appetite for dinner.

                          1. re: ladybugthepug

                            i can't speak for any of the other restaurants on your list but i think it's safe to skip boulevard. it's pricey and food is meh. i think it had reached it's peak back in 2000. don't miss the farmers market at the ferry plaza.

                            1. re: ladybugthepug

                              Since you mention Jean Georges, food focused traveling and you're going to drive right by Los Gatos on the way to SC (or back), I'd stop at Manresa for dinner.

                              Many think (including myself) Manresa bests even the French Laundry at this point. Might be the best California has to offer. It will be worth the stop.

                              1. re: ladybugthepug

                                That's not a list of restaurants I'd choose if I wanted something worth blogging about. Not that they're bad, but they're very mainstream and safe. For a little more uniquely San Francisco, how about Coi instead of Gary Danko? La Ciccia instead of Perbacco? And for something completely unique, Jai Yun.

                                I'd suggest stopping in Millbrae for dim sum, then since you're a dessert person, stopping for ollieberry pie at Duarte's. Alternatively, since people are giving thumbs down on Tres Amigos, there's a decent taqueria/Mexican convenience store in the gas station in Pescadero (across from Duarte's). Tacos from a gas station in a small California farm town sound like something worth blogging about.

                                1. re: ladybugthepug

                                  For your Berkeley/Oakland picks, try Wood Tavern, A Cote, or Pizzaiolo. They all have great, interesting, and very Bay Area kind of food that will be different from where you'd get at home, and the desserts at all three are good (A Cote has the best, then Wood Tavern, and at Pizzaiolo, get whatever dessert comes out of the wood oven). You could also try Ici and Sketch in Berkeley if you're an ice cream person, as well as Bi-Rite Creamery in SF. You can get something at Tartine in SF for a late breakfast/light lunch, go to Bi-Rite Creamery up the street for a lunchtime ice cream cone, and be all ready for a great dinner. As for your SF dinners, I agree with Ruth's suggestions -- Aziza, La Ciccia, and Canteen are more interesting than the ones listed above, though I'd keep Perbacco (and of the four, the one that I'd definitely drop would be Boulevard, the food is fine, there's just many other good options).

                                  1. re: ladybugthepug

                                    While your husband is checking out the Patagonia outlet, you could sneak over to the River Cafe & Cheese Shop a few yards away! =)

                                    1. re: operagirl

                                      Sounds yummy! Note, however, that Santa Cruz and Monterey are discussed on the California board.

                                      River Cafe & Cheese Shop
                                      415 River St Ste K, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

                                  2. re: trolley

                                    Tres Amigos in Half Moon Bay is not very good.

                                    Unless your a stoned surfer or tourist from Kansas.

                                    However they do give you large portions of C- food for the money.

                                    But it's really bad Mexican food for California.

                                    Sadly...I have eaten at Tres Amigos many times over the last 20 years.

                                    And it did not get better after the super remodel.

                                    1. re: Mission

                                      I used to love Tres Amigos when I was younger and, it enjoyed a sort of cult status among my peers. I went back recently and I totally agree with your sentiments, it really wasn't that good. I remember it being much better, and I even visited the newer Tres Amigos in San Mateo recently and it was as good as I remember the half moon bay location being in my younger days... Go figure

                                  3. You could try Ramen Halu which is considered by many hounds to be the top ramen shop in the bay area. Its just off of HWY280. ramenhalu.com