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Coastal Road Trip: Carmel, Cambria & Santa Barbara. Need restaurant suggestions!

Over Easter weekend we're flying from Dallas to SFO and taking a road trip from SFO to LAX, stopping for three nights along the way. I'm looking for the best of the best restaurant recommendations in each city at any price range. We'd prefer to do walking distance from the places we're staying (listed below), but it's not mandatory. We like all cuisines and great wine lists (or places that are BYOB).

Carmel: La Playa Hotel
Cambria: Fog Catcher Inn
Santa Barbara: Bacara Resort & Spa

We've never been to any of these locations, and I'd love to eat somewhere with a fantastic atmosphere in addition to amazing food.

Thanks for the help!

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  1. In Cambria, IME the Black Cat Bistro is the "best of the best" all around for food, wine, service and atmosphere. You could walk it from the Fog Catcher Inn, but it would probably be better to drive since it is across Highway 1 in the village of Cambria.

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    Black Cat Bistro
    1602 Main St, Cambria, CA 93428

    1 Reply
    1. re: PattyOh

      Here's a little more info from a recent thread on this area:

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/771174

    2. My favorite places in Carmel are Cantinetta Luca for Italian, breakfast at Katy's, both in the village, also the restaurant at the Mission Ranch Inn in back of Carmel Mission for basic American fare. Another great breakfast spot is First Awakenings in Pacific Grove, a couple of blocks from the Monterey Aquarium.

      The village is just a short walk from the La Playa, but it's on an incline with no sidewalks or street lights, so do be careful if walking after dark.

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      First Awakenings
      125 Ocean View Blvd, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

      Cantinetta Luca
      Dolores St Carmel-By-the-Sea CA, Dolores St Carmel-By-the-Sea, CA

      Mission Ranch Restaurant
      26270 Dolores St, Carmel, CA 93923

      1. RE Santa Barbara, I don't believe there's anything within walking distance of Bacarra other than what is on site. Recent threads are giving Julienne high praise, plan on trying next visit.

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/771018

        Others I can vouch for, Petit Valentien, Jade and Brummi's on upper State St. Bouchon has always been very good. Do a search on this board, many threads. Happy dining, and please report back so we can help others.

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        Bouchon
        9 W Victoria St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

        4 Replies
        1. re: PolarBear

          There is also some road work being done on the Bacara Hotel location exit in Santa Barbara. You are well outside of town there and their in house restuarant Miro gets inconsistent reviews. If it is not too late to change your Santa Barbara hotel reservations, you might want to stay at the San Ysidro Ranch for the best hotel and onsite Plow and Angel restaurant combination at the very high end of the scale similar to Bacara, but older and more intimate.

          There is nothing in Goleta which is your closest town. You might want to explore the rustic Cold Springs Tavern up Highway 154 in the mountains just for its historic appeal alone, which is on your way back down into Santa Barbara -- about equidistance from Bacara and downtown. Yes, for the best I will second Julienne which is worth the drive back into downtown Santa Barbara -- worth the journey type restaurant. The rest of the restaurants also recommended will be our own local favorites as well, but not at the same level as Julienne.

          Plus do not leave town without stopping for the croissants (and anything else on their menu) at Renauds, either at the Las Positas Road Loreto Plaza off ramp off Highway 101 or their smaller spot downtown across from the Arlington Theater in the 1300 block of State Street.

          Those all would be the best we can offer you as you enjoy your wonderful California road trip.

          1. re: glbtrtr

            Whatever happend to El Encanto? Seems like renovations have been going on for years. Used to love having a glass or two of wine and some apps taking in the great view from their patio. Recall them serving a decent lunch as well, but that was years back.

            1. re: PolarBear

              Construction stopped totally leaving and empty shell and nearly a total tear-down of the former property due to the down-turn in the economy affecting luxury travel. The Orient Express group are the owners so this was just one more boarded up property awaiting changing economic times. There are signs of life up there again and some serious neighborhood concerns also had to be settled regarding placement of the industrial equipment that supports the hotel and restaurant. This long as been a local favorite for the very reasons you stated: a verandah meeting point for drinks and lunch and an elegant retreat in the evening for dinner. We all look forward to seeing this beloved spot open again, and hope the welcome mat remains open for locals as well as the very high end crowd it intends to also attract.

              1. re: glbtrtr

                Hopefully they'll save a couple of bar stools for us "low-enders". ; >P

        2. Take Note:
          Highway One is now closed for an extended period due to a landslide north of Gorda.
          I could be one to two months. You will need to travel Hwy 101 south from Carmel area
          to Hwy. 46 West to Cambria.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bruce in SLO

            YES this is a serious closure--even locals cannot use Hiway 1. Do not attempt to take any small county roads across the ridge crest--they will be in bad shape too. In summer, it's another matter, but not during winter. Hard for even 4WD. http://bigsurkate.wordpress.com/

            Best route from Carmel this time of year is Highway 1 north to Monterey, exit at Highway 68/Salinas (head east), to the intersection of Blanco Rd, where the fields turn to suburbs; turn right and follow to 101 South. Cheap(est) gas is near the vegetable shipping sheds at Work Rd. Try the Jalepeno Cheetos at the AM/PM.

            Follow 101 south through the incredibly green and lush Salinas Valley (check out chowhound posts on the tiny valley towns of Soledad, Greenfield, King City for snacks and local treats & Santa Lucia Highlands wines) In about 2 hours you will come to Paso Robles. Lots of good eats around a cute town square park with wine tasting too.

            Head south on 101 about 2 miles from downtown to Highway 46 West, which takes you through rolling vineyard & ag land to the coast over the spine of the Coast Range. At the top you'll see spectacular vistas of the coast to the south (use pullouts, please!). About 8 or so more miles and you hit the jucntion of 46 & 1. Turn north, it'll be about a mile to Cambria.

            Our local year-round farmers markets are renowned for fresh produce, cheeses, seafood, breads. meats, etc. Here's a link if you choose to peruse:

            http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com/index... (select counties Monterey and San luis Obispo

            )

            see the top 3 chowlinks below this thread for dining hints about Cambria.

            I'd make reservations NOW for Easter weekend as some smaller dining places will be closed on Easter Sunday. The Central Coast is a tourist destination for families during Spring school break and many places are already likely to be full. Most restaurants stop serving after 9 pm. The Big City, your chosen area is NOT... ;-) Chow will be scarce Sunday w/o res's, except for fast food, chains, and taquerias.

            glbtrtr, what's the Easter Sunday dining scene like in SB? I've started a new post about general Easter weekend dining availability: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/773302

          2. In Carmel, one of your most expensive options with world class food and service would be Aubergine, at L'Auberge B&B. Not quite as pricey but with wonderful contemporary Italian is Cantinetta Luca.

            http://www.laubergecarmel.com/restaur...

            http://www.cantinettaluca.com/

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            Cantinetta Luca
            Dolores St Carmel-By-the-Sea CA, Dolores St Carmel-By-the-Sea, CA

            1 Reply
            1. re: RevrendAndy

              You will love La Playa, we have stayed there twice now! A couple of weeks ago we enjoyed a great meal at PortaBella on Ocean Ave. We also really like Grasing's Coastal Cuisine, Bouchee, Casanova and Anton & Michel in the Courtyard of the Fountains. If you don't mind a short drive to the Carmel Highland's area, Pacific's Edge @ The Highland's Inn is outstanding and you will have beautiful views of the ocean here. Enjoy! :)

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              Grasing's
              Mission and Sixth, Carmel, CA 93921

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