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The impossible: top-notch cuisine with oceanfront view?

(first-time caller, long-time reader)

This may be an impossible request, but: I'm looking for Michelin-caliber cuisine with an oceanfront view anywhere in California. I've been researching carefully from Mendocino south to Big Sur, and have only found a handful of options which come close to the level I'm hoping for.

I've followed this board's recommendation for years, and haven't seen a thread which really captures this request. Most of the recommended small town restaurants seem to feature fairly old-fashioned menus and don't emphasize the kinds of ingredients and flavors which one might find in, say, San Francisco.

My wish list:

-- directly on the ocean or an oceanfront bluff
-- patio or terrace for outdoor dining
-- locally sourced seasonal ingredients, line-caught fish, grass-fed beef, etc.

Here are a few contenders to set the tone:

-- Sierra Mar restaurant at Post Ranch Inn (ate there recently, some dishes excellent)
-- Beach Club at Pebble Beach (never eaten there, but obviously great views)
-- La Costa Nera (won Bib Gourmand rating this year, haven't been personally)
-- Pangaea, Gualala (now closed)
-- Sea Ranch Restaurant (have read mixed reviews)
-- Timber Point Inn, Jenner (also mixed reviews)
-- Ravens' Restaurant, Mendo (anybody been?)

Non-contenders include:

-- Restaurant at Ventana Inn (too far inland)
-- Nepenthe (great views, but very mediocre food)
-- Passionfish (solid food, but no views)
-- Moss Beach Distillery (overpriced, old-fashioned menu)
-- Café Beaujolais, Mendo (apparently nice food, no views)

Any advice or ideas, other than to give up? Have I missed any gems?

Thanks in advance!

701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Sierra Mar Restaurant
Highway 1, Big Sur, CA

Beach Club Cafe
3089 Norm Niver Rd, Thermal, CA 92274

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  1. Nothing in Santa Barbara south or north meets your criteria. Julienne in downtown is our only LA city class restaurant, though we have several others that are very good. But all downtown. How about a catered dinner on some wonderful sea side bluff?

    Just back from a hike to Oso Flaco Lake State Park north of Guadalupe and the board walk out to a stunning ocean view and they have a viewing platform that could work as a dining table for two, with a bit of wind in your hair probably but what a gorgeous ocean bluff view and what a gorgeous walk through mounds of wild flowers shrubs to get there.

    2 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Don't know about Michelin caliber on the coast.. I do know about views. check these out
      La Petite Rive , Little River
      Ledford House, Albion
      Albion River Inn, Albion
      These are south of Mendocino. Ravens in Mendocino ,Big River doesn't serve seafood at all. I think It may be vegan, so I haven't been.
      Ate this summer at Timber Cove Inn, the place has been revamped,nice ocean views with tasty seafood. Check the respective websites.

      La Petite Rive
      7750 N Highway 1, Little River, CA 95456

      Ledford House
      3000 N Highway 1, Albion, CA 95410

      Albion River Inn
      3790 N Highway 1, Albion, CA 95410

      1. re: ambercontegssa

        Michelin! The Ledford House!?! We suffered through a meal there just last week. The entrees for dinner are in the 23-30 range and were so ill-prepared neither of us ate our food. (ie rancid-tasting tartar sauce) We had been sent there by friends of the owners, so all we could do was pay and leave and avoid any mention of how miserable the meal was. To make matters worse, a big, old fat cat lodged itself under our table. The waiter asked if he could just leave it there. We demurred, but the couple at the table beside ours panicked and left immediately, as the husband was extremely allergic to cats. The decor, food, and service was possibly the worst I've experienced in a very long time.

    2. foodwithaview, I too have searched for the perfect marriage of view with memorable food, often to no avail. Your post reminds me of an old friend who told me years ago,"Life is a series of compromises and until your realize that, you'll be hitting your head against a cement wall." As I've grown older, I've come to terms with her meaning.
      Now, sitting at Nepenthe, or others you mention, nibbling on an ambrosia burger enjoying a bottle of wine with the one I love...priceless.

      1. Geoffrey's in Mailbu at least has the seaside, bluff top setting, but you will need to check the LA board for the food: http://www.geoffreysmalibu.com/

        It looks like they try to do things right, but a lot of LA is style over substance so you need some confirmation.

        1. Thanks for the tips! I'll keep you posted as my search progresses.

          glbtrtr: Catering is certainly an option, good point. Also, thanks for the Geoffrey's note: looks promising! A little concerning that they serve Chilean Sea Bass, but I'll check the LA board for advice as you suggest.

          ambercontegssa: Agreed, those 3 establishments have great views. Glad to hear a positive review of Timber Cove; I'll drive up and check it out. Thanks.

          Ravens is vegetarian, I believe, not vegan; has anybody dined there? Veggie is not a problem for us.

          Gail: thanks for the words of wisdom... Nepenthe is gorgeous, and a great place to relax, agreed. Personally, my favorite coastal scenery is far away from buildings and people. In this particular case, I'm a dedicated foodie planning a dinner for an ocean-loving partner, so figured it was worth a quick check to see if I was missing some hidden gem.

          1. I'm afraid your "top notch" qualifier may be the deal breaker. If willing to accept very decent (at least the last couple of times we were there) try the Mussel Shoals restaurant in the Cliff House Inn.


            1 Reply
            1. re: PolarBear

              I love the setting of the Mussel Shoals and think this place is a real sleeper for its ocean side ambience. But agree, "top notch" would not describe its food so glad to hear it has moved past pleasantly okay and into something a bit more inviting. But it is a very worthy stop for the grand combo of pretty okay food basics and treasured little special oceanside setting on the long Highway 101 drag between LA and SB.

              Palm trees and the gentle crash of waves on a sunny south facing poolside setting outdoors under patio umbrellas really says this is everything one expects to find along the Southern Californian coastline.

            2. I haven't been in a while, but how about Pacific's Edge in Carmel at the Highlands Inn. Recent reviews seem to be more favorable and you can't beat the view.

              Pacific's Edge Restaurant
              120 Highlands Drive, Carmel, CA 93923

              1. Last weekend I worked the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival and had my share of enjoying the views at Pacific's Edge, Ventana Inn, and Nepenthe. I'm sorry that I didn't take the opportunity to check out Post Ranch Inn while I was down there. The most magical view for me was the sweeping panorama from Ventana's patio. Also the seats at Ventana are super comfortable for staying outdoors. I didn't stay for dinner that day so can't comment on the kitchen, I just know that it has been completely redone after a fire. The sunset viewed from Pacific's Edge was also breathtaking. The locals mentioned that winter is the most fog-free time in Big Sur, if you're open to changing your dates.

                Pacific's Edge Restaurant
                120 Highlands Drive, Carmel, CA 93923

                1. Welcome. In San Luis Obispo county: meal catered by Chef Megan Loring of Neon Carrot, eaten picnic style on top of the dunes on the sandspit in Morro Bay Estuary about 5 p.m. nowadays, to catch the sunset.. Don't get more romantic and wild than that. Take the the clam taxi across the bay from the embarcadero in Morro Bay. Megan may actually be able to arrange for a dinner on board a boat in the Bay--if you're really serious about the romantic part of the equation. Don't know what your budget is. But it would definitely be the memory of a lifetime. http://theneoncarrot.com/The_Neon_Car...

                  Now, re: your request for Michelin quality food ala blufftop.

                  Most of California's truely scenic non-urban coastline is understandably far from any big city and the wealthy population which can make it pay to serve that caliber of food. The coastline itself has been protected from exploitative commercial developement by strict rules of the California Coastal Commission. So a 'blufftop restaurant' doesn't just get built by anyone who wants to have a million dollar view out the dining room window. Which is great! Otherwise the lovely and wild coast would be clutttered from here to eternity with "posh blufftop Michelin-rated restaurants."

                  That said, there are plenty of existing fine restaurants in our coastal towns which could be the backdrop for a romantic meal. Most serve locally caught fresh fish and Hearst Ranch local grass-fed beef. Our local market farmers can supply everything from exotic mushrooms, artisan cheeses, award winning wines, organic olive oils, organic veggies and all manner of seasonal fruits. SLO county has many microclimates which make it one of the most varied growing regions in the state, from wheat to artichokes, from cherimoyas to strawberries, wine grapes to yuzu. Chance are if you want to eat it, we can grow it.

                  Good luck! let us know how it goes...

                  1. I lived for ten years in San Diego. It always got me that al fresco dining was so damn hard to find there. Finally somebody told me it was real estate. The cost. Ocean views go to the highest bidders, and those usually are not the best restaurants. In San Diego my favorite almost-Michelin star typed places were George's Bar and the Lodge at Torrey Pines (lots of golf course, tiny bit o' ocean). Personal non-Michelin fave: Don Bahia in Bird Rock. Now I live in Sonoma County. Great dining with an ocean view is just as damn hard. But my current fave is only bay-view and it too would be non-Michelin, except the best oysters maybe in the world: the Marshall Store, Marshall CA. Tomales Bay oysters fresh or bbqed.

                    Marshall Store
                    19225 Hwy 1, Marshall, CA 94940

                    1. While RP Inn is not Michelin quality food, it is very fresh, quite good, reasonably priced; it's not "right on the edge of the cliff" but has lovely views from its patio of a sweep of green lawn bordered with flowers and of the sea beyond cliff's edge (and you can stroll down there for a great Big Sur view. Lunch at this spot is a great beginning to the Route 1 drive north, or a good rest at the end of the drive south from Carmel to San Luis Obispo.

                      Ragged Point Inn
                      19019 Highway 1, Ragged Point, CA 93452

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: granfran75

                        You should seriously consider Studio @ the gorgeous Montage Resort in Laguna Beach. The setting is stunning, set on a bluff overlooking the ocean, food is amazing and the service is of the highest qualities. We also loved Navio @ the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay. Beautiful setting overlooking the ocean and on a golf course. Food was delicious and service first-class. Enjoy! :)

                        1. re: syrahgirl

                          Just a friendly reminder, the op is looking for venues between Mendocino and Big Sur, Laguna Beach is out of scope for this thread and this board. Keeping the focus of discussion within the thread and board context is part of what makes Chowhound useful.

                          Laguna Restaurant
                          7770 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95823

                          1. re: The Chowhound Team

                            You may have missed this sentence in the OP's first paragraph:
                            " I'm looking for Michelin-caliber cuisine with an oceanfront view anywhere in California. "

                            While it is technically true that Laguna SF and SD fall within the parameters of their local boards, since we are talking about the entire narrow coastal strip as a topic, it makes sense for anyone meeting the requirements of the OP's objective to post here. It would NOT make sense for the OP to have to make four different posts on four separate boards, unless he wanted to pinpoint those specific areas. My 2 cents for making sense.

                            1. re: toodie jane

                              Actually, the OP did make individual posts on separate boards to conform to site rules.

                      2. Thanks everybody for the great recommendations! Though I seldom head south of Big Sur, when I do I'll certainly check out the recs here... much appreciated. Neon Carrot catering is a fun idea!

                        I also definitely will plan romantic trips to Pacific's Edge in Carmel and Navio at the Ritz Halfmoon. Dramatic views for sure.

                        In the end, for this particular occasion we selected Murray Circle at Cavallo Point. Not ocean-front, obviously, but my partner was happy enough with the views and the food is solid.

                        Thanks again to everybody and I'm looking forward to surprising her with meals at some of these coastal gems in the future!

                        Pacific's Edge Restaurant
                        120 Highlands Drive, Carmel, CA 93923

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: foodwithaview

                          We did the tasting menu at Navio and brought in our own bottle of wine to accompany dinner, I'm sure you will love it! :)

                          1. re: foodwithaview

                            foodwithaview, would you please report back on Murray Circle? I've been reading about it and its Michelin*. Are you also staying at Cavallo Point? It's owned by the same people as the Post Ranch in Big Sur. Sounds great to me!

                          2. We were at Highland's Inn in Carmel in December. The view is quite dramatic. We thought the food was excellent, but I can't remember what we had. The view in the bar is equally breathtaking....enjoy a drink by the window as you watch the sunset...hard to beat!