Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > California >
May 24, 2009 08:47 PM

Great Food in a scenic setting on PCH between LA and Monterey

My wife and I will spend four days in October driving up the coast from LA to SF and would love some recs that we may not find in the guide books. We haven't firmed up where we'll be spending the nights but have narrowed it down to Ojai, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Pismo Beach, Morrow Bay, Calabria, Big Sur, and Monterey. Any lunch or dinner recs are gladly appreciated. Happy to reciprocate to anyone heading to Cape Cod in the future!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Around seven years ago we hit a fabulous sushi place in Santa Barbara, all eclectic type maki rolls, really interesting American take on sushi. The place was really crowded. I have family, in the restaurant business, in LA and I'll see what they think. Your one highly organized dude to be already thinking ahead to an October trip. Surely, you hold no fears of the creek rising unexpectedly. Nice.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Afar

      That was probably Arigato - stylish, popular place on the 1200 block of State Street with wonderful sidewalk tables. Used to be a tiny place behind Victoria Court, but moved out front now. Yes, if you like sushi and small plates Japanese, this is a wonderful choice. When a lot of State Street restaurants were down during the early economic hysteria, Arigato still had its loyal crowds who appreciated you still got value here, even in down economic times. And it is pricey.

      1. re: Afar

        lol get around I see....Thanks for the rec. Unfortunately, the wife is not the sishi fanatic that I am, so it's unlikely I'll get my sushi fix this trip. It's okay, as I get to San Francisco once in awhile and gourge myself there!

      2. Suggest you take Highway 5 from LA up to Santa Clarita and take the West Highway 126 turnoff and drive through the very lovely, historic Santa Paula Valley to reach Highway 101.

        This is the citrus capital of the world and is full of lovely orchards of oranges and lemons and roadside fruit stands. The cute little town of SANTA PAULA makes a good stop to explore the small downtown restaurants or the historic Glenwood Tavern, which used to attract the old Hollywood stars when this town was used for movie settings.

        CARPINTERIA, just off Highway 101 south of Santa Barbara has a small little gem of an Italian restaurant on Linden Avenue - Gianfranco's which is very creative and a local treasure. Don't confuse it with the "steak and ribs" italian right across the street. This is a charming little town too that has many smaller dining options which have a lot of local appeal, often over-shadowed by its more glamorous neighbors Montecito and Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley.

        If you take Highway 154 out of Santa Barbara into the SANTA YNEZ VALLEY, you will find the wonderful old Cold Springs Tavern for electic California cuisine and delicious chili off Stagecoach Road, and then Grapalo's for Northern Italian in the tiny town of Santa Ynez on the road into Solvang off Highway 146, which a stop at least for Danish pastries and cookies is in order in this Danish themed town. And spending time exploring the beautiful vineyards around Santa Ynez is worth it too -- my own favorite is the drive out to Rancho Sisquoc winery before you head back towards Santa Maria and highway 101.

        A detour off Highway 101 into GUADALUPEoff Highway One is a must for the chili relleno's at La Simpatia on the main drag or a good steak at Far Western Tavern a few doors down in this little, old faming town. Further up Highway One is funky little BAYWOOD PARK, where there is a popular Thai take-out and serene lagoon views near Montano D'Oro park and dunes.

        Also, I think you are looking for CAMBRIA, not "Calabria" as you move up Highway One. There are some wonderful restaurants now in PASO ROBLES and the Peachy Canyon Drive from Paso Robles out to Cambria/Cayucous through the wineries there will be beautiful with the fall colors when you are here in October.

        it will take a lot of sorting out, but this forum is full of good suggestions if you do a search for the towns you want to visit and you will dine happy all along the way if you take the time to listen to the wonderful collected wisdom of the regulars here. They have sent my on many a happy road trip to new discoveries and I have lived in this area for decades and I end up discovering new places and road trip adventures all the time here.

        SANTA BARBARA has so many dining choices it is hard to make any one stand out without knowing more about what your dining tastes might be - but if you search the postings here you will see often the same places recommended over and over again which can help you sort things out.

        Old Town VENTURA on Main Street has a nice collection of small restaurants and sidewalk sittings for a nice, lively street scene. No chains here which plagues most of the rest of the choices along the highway in Oxnard/Ventura.

        PISMO has the legendary Mo's BBQ and McLintock's, where it is best to sit at the bar and order their potato skillet and steak tips appetizers for a delicious full meal for two. Stop by anytime at Chef Ricks when passing NIPOMO on Highway 101 - their Jack Daniel's Pecan Pie or their Coconut pie is worth a trip even if you can't make it for dinner or lunch.

        Take the SEE CANYON turnoff for their rural apple farms south of San Luis Obispo heading towards San Luis Bay, and then go on out to the end of the San Luis Bay drive-on pier for some seafood and wonderful ocean views and tons of barking sea lions up close and personal right there on the steps up to the pier.

        Happy travels.

        7 Replies
        1. re: glbtrtr

          Wow! Thank you so much for the recs. I truely appreciate the time and effort in your response. I'm a semi-regular poster on the New England board and this is my first foray here. I've scanned many posts and am starting to sort things out. The trouble we're having is deciding where to overnight on our four nights. We leave our in-laws in Palos Verdes Estates on Sat. morning and fly out of SF at 1:00 on Wed. afternoon. My original thinking was to avoid the 5 and hit the coast right away south of Malibu and drive up from there. We do want to cut inland at some point to see some central wine country. Just not sure where to do it. Of course, we're also trying to maximize our chowish pleasures along the way.
          Thanks to you, and all others, for their kind responses.

          1. re: CapeCodGuy

            You get around Santa Barbara you might want to switch to the 101, its quicker and the 1 doesn't really border the ocean north of there until you get up to the central coast area and then the 101 are fairly close. The 101 and 1 are the same when you get to Pismo Beach for a while. Along the 101 you'll be close to the wineries.

            1. re: monku

              The drive on Highway One from Santa Monica to Port Hueneme is pretty spectacular but you will need to check out the LA section for chowing on this stretch. Even though I suggested routing you through the Santa Paula Valley on 126 to Oxnard/Ventura, this would be a hard call. Only a few hours up to Santa Barbara from Palos Verdes so you might not want/need to eat until you get to Santa Barbara for lunch, depending on when you leave.

              A splendid roadie stop just north of Ventura on Highway 101 (now also Highway 1 too) is the Shoals Restaurants at the Cliff House - food is so-so, but the poolside patio right on the ocean is really special on a warm day if you want to soak up some California sunshine, eat light for lunch and not waste your appetite for dinner, which would be a good stop then for Santa Barbara after a few hours touring the city.

              Then the next day I would drive out Highway 154 through the Santa Ynez Valley via the back roads after seeing Solvang, - a good Danish breakfast at Paula's Pancakes if you get an early start (about a hour out of Santa Barbara) or pick up some picnic stuff at the Los Olivos market, or hold out for some chille rellenos at La Simpatia in Guadalupe which puts you back on Highway One and then on up the coast through Baywood Park and Cambria and driving Peachy Canyon Road for more wineries and a stop in Paso Robles for dinner.

              Then on up to Monterrey/Carmel, and out of my recommendation zone but don't bother with the french-fried artichokes in Castrovile unless you want to ruin your appetite for the rest of the trip. If you can swing by Pismo Beach on your way back down the coast, be sure to try Mo's for BBQ.

              Have I lost track of the days here? This is an intensive driving, sight-seeing and dining itinerary and picking only part of it will give you a good sample of wining and dining in this area no matter what.

              A very early (7am?) Wednesday start can get you back to LAX by 11am if you head straight down 101 to the 405 in Los Angeles and then to LAX but if you have to drop off your car, it may take longer. Usually the traffic mid-day is not too crazy getting to LAX. It takes about 5 1/2 hours to drive from Santa Barbara to SF and about 2 1/2 hours to get from SB to LAX if this helps plan your Central Coast dining adventure.

              1. re: glbtrtr

                Actually, we're driving one way only, so that's four nights on the way up the coast, leaving LA area on Sat. morning and arriving in San Fran for a 1 PM flight on Wednesday.

                So far, we're most unsure as to where to stay our first night. Some have suggested Ojai but that's only 1 1/2 out of LA. There's a cliff side house we can rent for one night in Big Sur for night two. Possibly someplace in Monterey/Carmel-by-the-sea for night three. And lastly, we may splurge for a night at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, although not sure of that choice either.

                1. re: CapeCodGuy

                  I think staying in Santa Barbara or the Santa Ynez Valley would be a good choice for your first night - only two hours or so from LA, but there is a lot to see in just this area for at least a day. And then drive up to Big Sur. I can see your dilemma -- and what a lovely one to have -- too many choices, too little time but you almost can't lose no matter which choice you make because they are all good possibilities. There still must be some "x" factors that could tip your decision based upon your budget, tastes, interests.

                  Not sure Ojai (charming as it is) is worth an overnight stay. SB would be a more interesting choice to just be out and walking or sightseeing along with the whole area around it, including drives to see the mansions and gardens in Montecito, as well as the rural charm of Santa Ynez wine country.

                  1. re: CapeCodGuy

                    Traffic out of L.A. and up the coast always takes longer than you might expect. I'd underestimate how far you want to travel for your first day, especially if you want to save time to chow!

            2. re: glbtrtr

              re: glbtrtr: Chef Rick's is not (sob) in Nipomo, but about 15 minutes to the south in Orcutt, at the south end of the Santa Maria Valley. Coming north from Buellton in the Santa Ynez Valley, pass through Los Alamos; after about 5 miles, take the Clark Ave exit west. At the first major intersection, go through, and then take a right into a strip mall parking lot. Chef Rick's is at the far end.

            3. la super rica taqueria in santa barbara on milpas street is legendary... and worth the stop if you haven't been.... jacko's steack house in nippomo is light years ahead of mclintocks for steak.... they have the best red oak grilled steaks on the central coast... and it has been around for a long long time... i don't know cambria that well.. but the "grill" on the north end of town is always good for chicken ribs etc... the big sur bakery in big sur has stellar food... a little pricey but incredible... fresh fish... wood oven pizza.... etc.. etc... nepenthe in big sur has the history... the ambrosia burger and the view... let me know what you did... and what you liked...

              3 Replies
              1. re: panahead

                That's Jocko's (not Jacko's) in Nipomo, and agree, it is worth a detour off 101 but how can you choose between Chef Rick's and Jocko's when you hit that town?

                Agree McLintocks in Pismo Beach off 101 is a hassle with too long a wait and too high of prices and too huge of portions if you are a regular dinner. But for a quick (hearty) road snack, the bar serves the generous appetizer dishes cheaper, better and faster and it's kind of fun. That was some good chowing there with the skillet and steak pieces for the price.

                I always recommend the Nmber 15 Tocino special at La Superica on Milpas Street (off ramp from 101) in Santa Barbara. Hot, gooey melted mexican cheese with lush fried juicy bacon strips scooped into three fresh, fresh. fresh tortillas then topped with copious pico de gallo salsa and you have a taste of heaven. (IMHO - others have their own favorites and perfectly reasonable dislikes about this place, but I know of no other place that serves up such a delicious #15 special. Yum)

                1. re: glbtrtr

                  Jocko's for sure....detour? What a half mile from the freeway?
                  McClintocks don't forget the "Turkey Nuts".

                  1. re: monku

                    The "Turkey Nuts" quite frankly are overkill gut bombs -IMHO not worth wasting the calories or appetite on this silly named junk food

              2. On the Monterey end of things, Passionfish in Pacific Grove (it abuts Monterey) is a board favorite with emphasis on sustainable seafood prepared in different and interesting ways - also a giant wine list with bottles priced at retail (search the board for more details).

                As glbtrtr notes, you will also be close to Paso Robles, a vibrant vinyard area with numerous excellent wineries, restaurants, etc. Personally, I would opt for an afternoon and evening there, but it depends on your interests and schedule.

                1. My favorite Big Sur lunch is to stop at Big Sur Bakery. You can either eat there or grab food to go and head up to Pt. Lobos.

                  Nepenthe is typically overpriced, but has a beautiful view. My SO and I often split an appetizer with some soup for a light and inexpensive lunch.

                  Enjoy your trip!

                  Big Sur Bakery
                  47540 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

                  Highway 1, Big Sur, CA

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: dustchick

                    Awesome recs all....keep them comin'!!!

                    So, if you had to pick four stops for the night along the way, which would you choose?

                    1. re: CapeCodGuy

                      We did the same drive but in reverse to you. I recommend driving over highway 154 to santa ynez valley and doing some wine tasting at los olivos and eat lunch/dinner at the Ballard Inn. No view, but inspired food in a romantic setting. if you like bbq, try hitching post instead. can catch up the 101 and head to paso robles by dinner. eat at Villa Creek. head directly west and meet up with highway 1. There was a great sandwich shop in cambria, can't think of the name though, to pick up picnic food. Love the restaurant at Post Ranch Inn. I stopped by on my drive for an afternoon snack and it was totally worth it. In monterey we stayed in pacific grove and had a pretty good dinner at passionfish. that's about it.....

                      1. re: smile81

                        Ballard Inn gets great reviews here, that would be a very good choice for the first night out. Lunch in SB, and then a lovely evening and stay in Santa Ynez.

                        1. re: smile81

                          Yes the deli near to the Sow's Ear in Cambria does great soup and sandwiches.