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Feb 25, 2009 06:06 PM

Road Trip through California

We're flying into San Francisco on March 6th and then immediately driving out headed to Yosemite for a few days, down to Sequoia and King's County and then over to the coast around Santa Barbara and then heading up the coast and ending the trip back in San Francisco. We'll be travelling for 15 days.

We're from Canada and haven't been to California before. The goal of the trip is to just drive and end up where we end up so we're not making any reservations. However, I am doing research to make sure we don't miss anything we want to see.

Regarding restaurants, I need some ideas. We love food. We love all types of restaurants from greasy, amazing hole-in-the-walls to a good steakhouse, to ethnic food, to you name it, if it's we good, we'll like it. We like to find unique, local finds as well. We can't break the bank but it doesn't all have to be cheap.

I know this is a really broad request but would really love a list of favourites that are just too good to miss. Thanks for your help!

Okay, I'm going to admit that I can't wait to get to Pinkberry (discovered it in NYC) and really want to try In 'N Out Burger. On the opposite side, I'd love to go to Chez Panisse but not sure if DH could handle it (nor our wallet!).

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  1. When you got to In N Out, ask for the brger ANIMAL STYLE, they will grill onions, it makes it taste even greater!

    1. Can you give us your road routes? I'd rec 101-80-880-58--5-120 to Yosemite. (keep in mind, chains required in mtns--several feet new snow expected next week. While Travel by itself is not a topic allowed on these food boads, weather might influence where you'll be needing chow advice!

      You could easily spend days in each of your locales with the rec's you'll be getting. You might consider searching (above) on the California board for cities and towns along, as well as, your selected route. (ie: Paso Robles Dining, I-5 eats, or Santa Ynez Valley wine tasting/lunch ) That way you'll get more detailed info, rather than the shotgun approach from hounds for the wide area you'll be traveling. Here's an excellent (though somewhat dated) example of a thread about I-5 which runs down the west side of the San Joaquin Valley:

      Wishing you the best of weather and dining on your trip!

      7 Replies
        1. re: toodie jane

          that's ...880-580-5-120, NOT 880-58....etc. BIG DIFF, sorry.

          1. re: toodie jane

            Not that this post is about the road route, but 101-80-880-580 is a very long circuitous route. I'd recommend 101 South to 92 East, over the San Mateo bridge to Hayward and then 880 north to 238/580 East. The OP could easily cut an hour off the trip. There are lots of restaurant choices in the Millbrae/Burlingame/San Mateo area if needed after landing at SFO.

            1. re: rednails

              Oh boy, have I got a great rec in Hayward - Emil Villa's BBQ on Mission Blvd, this one is the original. Grrrrreat. It goes back decades and makes something worth going through Hayward for. Otherwise, you are pretty much entering a culinary dead zone.

              1. re: rednails

                Yes, thanks for the correction, rednails. (Of course they will probably be starving after their flight; views do not fill the tummy!) KDL, you will find more specific discussion about the area around the airport and across the Bay on the 'San Francisco Bay Area' board, if you want to do any further reseach.

                I asked a friend of mine who lives in Oakhurst about the 120 route to Yosemite and she agreed with Greg below to use the 140 through Mariposa route. but still likely to encounter snow. I'd like to hear more from Greg about food choices in that area, too--hint, hint.

                The area around the Sierra foothills is pretty lighlty reported on in this board;sure would appreciate your posting about anything you find. I find that collected paper to-go menus or business cards not only make nice scrapbook souveneirs, but help jog my memory about places where we've stopped to eat and want to recall (or forget) for the next trip!

                1. re: toodie jane

                  Word is six feet of new snow above 7K ft with this new storm. Be sure and carry chains and add this number to your cell phone: 800-427-ROAD (7623)


                  Here's a few previous threads. Once you're out of the flatlands heading for Sequoia/Kings Canyon, there is little to nothing to be found. Out of Fresno the town of Sanger is about your last chance, Three Rivers outside of Visalia might have something, try searching the CA board back about 5 years or so.


                  1. re: toodie jane

                    Hi Toodie, if you like I can get my wife to work on those Menus, she is 5th generation Mariposa and knows the area well. As for myself I just plain old love food so my palete isn't as refined as some, thats why I find this site so great!
                    I can give you information on anything from Modesto to the Park, as I grew up and worked ambulance in Modesto forever before moving. I also know the 120 route pretty well too.
                    My chosen route from the bay area would be 580 over the altamont pass, 205, 120, 99, 140 (at Merced). 140 takes you directly into the park at about 2500' and climbs into the valley which is 5000'. There was a recent landslide on 140 a few days ago, now clear and the huge one was bridged last year (dont think it happens all the but do carry chains.

              2. >>>down to Sequoia and King's County<<<

                Must echo TJ's comments, Sequoia and Kings *Canyon* Nat'l Parks are accessed through either Fresno or Visalia, which in turn are on your route out of Yosemite on Hwy 41 S. You'll have dining options in Oakhurst, perhaps somewhat limited, but then a plethora of choices just one hour further in Fresno, and another 45 minutes south on Hwy 99 in Visalia. The General's Hwy does connect the redwoods just an hour east of Fresno to the Giant Forest that is accessed through Visalia, IF it is opened, which it often is not in winter.

                Kings County should not enter into your itinerary unless you are visiting friends/family there since it is fairly isolated located in the west side of the SJ Valley.

                Do a little map research, keeping in mind winter driving conditions in the mountains and we can be much more helpful.

                1 Reply
                1. re: PolarBear

                  Good route that will also take you through Coarsegold and I hate to admit it, but Chukchansi Casino (you cant miss it on 41) has lots of great food choices, including Japanese cuisine. I live in Mariposa and work full time in Groveland (though Im currently deployed to Kosovo with the Guard) so whatever route you take let me know. My personal preference this time of year would be to avoid Hwy 120 (main Yosemite route from the San Francisco area) because you have to cross 7000 ft to get into the park. Use Hwy 140 through Mariposa, go out 41 through Oakhurst. Nice tour that way...but 41 can be snowy too.

                2. Los Banos: WoolGrowers An amazing Basque place, serving up food family style.
                  Merced: Sam Cafe Fairly fantastic mix Asian food, great pad Thai
                  Mariposa: River Rock Inn, great amazing lunch sandwiches
                  Yosemite: Definitely the hotel restaurant at the Ahwahnee, curry pizza is pretty good too
                  Santa Barbara: Edomasa for sushi. Absolutely amazing.

                  If you go far up enough (up by Napa) I would recommend Ad Hoc.'s great.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: lecommis

                    someone in another thread mentioned a dress code for the Ahwahnee, can anyone expand on that ?

                    1. re: toodie jane

                      It used to be jackets required for dinner, iirc, but the rule was relaxed for the Sunday brunch.

                  2. Here are some suggestions for the Southern part of a California trip coming across from the Sierra's to the coast north of Los Angeles:

                    Highway 126 crosses from Santa Clarita US interstate Highway 5 over to the older coastal Highway 101 at Ventura is a beautiful agricultural valley that will get you out of the Central Valley to the coast between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The Santa Paula Valley (Heritage Valley) is the citrus capital of the world and if you hit it during lemon/orange blossom time you are in for a rare treat.

                    The funky little town of Santa Paula midway on Highway 126 in this valley, often used for old time movie sets, has some local mom and pop restaurants and the historic Glen Tavern Hotel and can be worth a day's stop for regional exploring or a place to recharge your batteries and learn not all of coastal California is a megaopolis. Hozy's is a unique restaurant in this town, but also a wide choice of family Mexican places as well.

                    Then as you work your way up the coast to Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez, plan a lunch or dinner stop at GiannFranco's on Linden Avenue in Carpinteria, about 20 miles south of Santa Barbara on Highway 101 - Siciilian Italian, small family run and fresh and unique daily specials with inspired touches that puts this aspect of Italian cooking into an entirely different category than Northern or Southern.

                    If the day is beautiful and you want to sit and soak in the sun at a wonderful ocean side road stop, there is also the Shoals Restuarant in Mussel Shoals/Las Conchitas, also south of Santa Barbara about midway between Ventura and Santa Barbara. The waves crash and the palm trees sway and even though you are right off the freeway, it feels like it is miles away. Food is okay here and the setting more than makes up for its fairly standard but very adequate fare. Salads, sandwiches, burgers, this is just a lazy, sunny spot for poolside dining.

                    Old Town Ventura on Main Street has a lot of small restaurants and a nice sidewalk street buzz - my favorite is Capriccio for Northern Italian. Or further down on Main Street is Mai's for Vietnamese and Hawaiian - best spring rolls in these parts and great teriyaki sticks.

                    I like old historic Highway 99 if you are going north or south in the Central Valley of California, between SF Bay Area and Los Angeles. The southern end Highway 99 town of Kingsburg had a large Scandinavian population and is decorated with Swedish motifs and has some specialty restaurants, like the Pala Horse on the main street. Before 11am, you can get Swedish pancakes, or after a Swedish plate lunch as sell as Swedish retail products.

                    I personally never understood the appeal of an N'Out Burger and would personally save your burger lust for the Pug Burger at the Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara, even though I am not crazy about their brand of pushy service, the Burger is worth fighting for there. There is also a new PinkBerrys in Santa Barbara, but why anyone would pass up our own incredible pure ingredients McConnell's icecream for chain glop alternatives, I will never understand.

                    Jill's Place in Santa Barbara gets the best ratings for steaks and Holdren's comes in right behind. And prime rib and old fashion meat palace style restaurant always goes to the Tee-Off for a brand of old time funk also in Santa Barbara. Jade (California fusion) and Brummis (German) in the San Roque section of State Street in Santa Barbara are consistently good and low key.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: glbtrtr

                      "There is also a new PinkBerrys in Santa Barbar, buty why anyone would pass up our own incredible pure ingredients McConnell's icecream for chain glop alternatives, I will never understand."

                      I was thinking, yesterday, of driving to Santa Barbara just for the McConnell's but then I told myself to stop.
                      I swear I dream about the place.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        What is your favorite flavor? I stop at Brazilian Coffee Chip or Island Coconut and can't seem to get out of my lovely rut. This affliction has been going on for over 30 years!

                        1. re: glbtrtr

                          My favorite is the Vanilla Custard. Have you ever tried it? I just never try new flavors because I'm so addicted to it. Once I've had the small size (?) I can't eat anything else.
                          I can just imagine the Island Coconut though (yum) and the Brazilian Coffee Chip...oh dear!
                          Thirty years is a long time and if I lived there I'd be the same exact way.

                          1. re: latindancer

                            There was a branch of McConnells in town once that sold "seconds" which meant something was not 100% right according to them and sometimes it meant the pints got crystals from probably melting and refreezing.

                            Sounds terrible, but because their ingredients are so premium and so good, even seconds were first rate. And they only cost a dollar or so a pint, What a deal that was. It was pot luck and not all flavors were available but it did get me to branch out a bit when these were available. Alas, no more and now a single cone costs more than a whole pint of "seconds".

                            Yes, my DH loves the vanilla and he never tries anything else either.

                          2. re: glbtrtr

                            If you like coffeee ice cream, stop at Doc Bernstein's in the village of Arroyo Grande for his Doc's Java, which sounds very similar to the BCC. It's a treat for coffee lovers. It's sta-rong.

                            Great description of the Santa Paula Valley and Ventura/Santa Barbara area. No matter how many posts come up about SB, there is always something new coming up! I love it.

                            1. re: toodie jane

                              Toodie, you know I will follow you anywhere for food suggestions after your total Guadalupe chile relleno winner, so what offramp and/or directions in Arroyo Grande for Doc's coffee ice cream office - the best medicine for sure. Thanks.

                              1. re: glbtrtr

                                Southbound exit Grand, left (east) over 101, keep left when the road "Y"s (into old town), it'll be on your left.

                              2. re: toodie jane

                                Here is a link for the "Heritage Valley and some restaurant info as well as picture of the historic Glen Tavern, which has its own restaurant too:

                                1. re: glbtrtr

                                  man alive-- I can smell the blossoms now!! what a fantastic link--thanks!

                              3. re: glbtrtr

                                According to a list that St. Peter checks at the Heavenly Gate, the correct order at McConnell's is two scoops of Turkish Coffee ice cream in a chocolate-coated waffle bowl, or, if you absolutely insist, one scoop of TC and one scoop of your previous favorite (the chocolate flavors are great complements to the coffee). Unlike their other excellent coffee flavors, TC has a noticeable caffeine kick and, most especially, a great texture from the fine-ground turkish coffee powder stirred generously throughout. I live 214 miles from Santa Barbara and rarely get to McConnell's more than once or twice a week ;-), but I invariably order their Turkish Coffee ice cream. Are ya listening, Pete?

                                P.S. A new McConnell's has just opened (or is about to open) in Ventura on Main in front of the mall, but I haven't stopped there yet.