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Advice for London (UK) family visiting Pismo / SB / Ventura?


This is not a run-of-the-mill request for information. I'm bringing my wife and kids (aged 12 and 9) to the coast next month. We've been before - and love the area.

I'm not looking for advice about 'fine dining' restaurants. This is much more about establishments where we can eat well, where the food is reasonably priced and where there is 'cooking' - as opposed to hearing the dreaded 'ping' from a bank of microwaves....

If you have any family-friendly favourites (breakfast, lunch or dinner) in the three towns then I'd love to hear from you. Coming all the way from London - and with limited time available - any advice which helps us avoid making mistakes and might point us in the direction of great spots would be very welcome.

Worth saying that 'atmosphere' (great views, general ambience etc) is high on my partner's list of things to look out for. So when I say 'family friendly' I'm not talking about fast-food, plastic chair chains etc. Not that any ChowHounds would offer such places up....!

Thank you very much in advance.


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  1. Some of my own favorites that can meet some of your criteria - you usually don't get views and "dives" together; with views and setting you get mainly tourist mundane for the most part:

    Pismo Beach: The Philthy Phil ribs at MO'S; HOTLIX for dessert take-aways; DOC BURSTEINSs Ice Cream

    Ventura: OLDE TOWNE section of downtown Ventura - Main Street near the historic Mission Santa Buenaventura has multiple choices; MAI'S Hawaiian and Vietnamese on outer Main Street

    Santa Barbara: endless choices - sorry, but need more info about time spent here, types of food you are looking to try, price range, but if you search this California forum you will come up with many oft-repeated choices, particularly at the SB HARBOR of STEARNS WHARF which offers you the best views. Hope you can try LA SUPERICA TAQUERIA which started the whole fresh Mexican trend in our town, this is the one that was Julia Child's favorite discovery.

    Try family friendly Hendry's Beach (aka: Arroyo Burro Beach) at the ocean end of Las Positas Road for the BOAT HOUSE - if you wan wait for their Happy Hour half price specials after 3pm, you can get some great deals, views and indoor outdoor seating

    MCCONNELS ICE CREAM In Santa Barbara is the stuff of legends, hope you can try it at least once. If you remotely get lonely for fish an chips, MAC'S on Lower State Street tries to do in the best English style and even adds deep-fat fried candy bars which we are told is "very British".

    South of Santa Barbara: try the little town of Carpinteria to the south of Santa Barbara - many family friendly choices off Linden Avenue, GIANFRANCOS is our favorite

    LasConchitas -between Ventura and Santa Barbara: SHOALS RESTAURANT/ Cliff House Inn -directly off Highway 101 but a quiet and dazzling world apart when you sit at their poolside outdoor tables looking out at the ocean with the waves and the palm trees -stunning views, but only mediocre food but well worth the over all experience for the best way to fee you are in coastal California. You can pick burgers, sandwiches and salads and not go wrong here.

    SANTA BARBARA: This only scratches the surface here - there are few really bad restuarants in this area, no real "goungers" that oversell hype for price, most are child friendly, the menus will be diverse enough to match most tastes, so pick almost any of them that you like by the setting and the way it appeals to you can you will not walk away feeling taken with any of them. You may not hit those we locals feel are the top-rated choices but you will find many that give you a feeling for what we have here locally.

    Here is a link to our most comprehensive Santa Barbara dining reviews that you can browse to see what might appeal to you and then we can give you some local insights about the choices - good list of everything we have, though I find the actual reviews to be mixed and not as discerning as what you will get from Chowhound regulars: http://santabarbara.com/dining/

    5 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Thank you!

      I thought - from reading previous posts - that I might hear from you. And I really appreciate your thoughts and comments.

      You've asked for a bit more background....

      Pismo - we've only ever driven through before. We're staying for two nights at the Cottage Inn By The Sea.

      SB - we've been a number of times in the past, although this time we're actually staying in the town (three nights at Brisas By The Sea) whereas we've only visited before (staying further south). Have eaten on the pier (wharf?) before - but know that it can be patchy and some places are much better than others. Trying to avoid the tourist traps...Have eaten at Paradise Cafe (the patio ticked the 'ambience box). The Shoreline was a nice lunch spot. Have heard very good things about the Boathouse. And McConnells...! Their Peppermint Stick ice-cream is one of the reasons we're coming back!!

      But your advice is so useful - last time we visited Carpinteria we eat at a Chinese (can't - or don't want to - remember the name) - simply awful. Keen to avoid mistakes like that....

      We're staying a week on the beach at Faria - outside Ventura. Open to any suggestions - we'd be BBQing a lot, but breaks for the cook (me!) would be welcome. Last time we eat at a new place on the pier (sorry - wharf) called Eric Ericssons which we liked.

      Thanks for the pointers. A combination of a washed out 'summer' in London - and the threat of Olympic meltdown means we are really, REALLY looking forward to this trip.

      1. re: MisterGash

        It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the Sidecar Restaurant in Ventura is excellent.

        1. re: MisterGash

          You are staying in a great location, but it does put you down in the "tourist trap" area, but we really don't have exploitive tourist places like other localities. Ours are more mundane and unexciting that true culinary insults.

          My only avoid at any cost restaurant that might qualify is Enterprise Fish down your way, but it has so many local fans I just stay away myself. On Bath and Montecito Streets just up away from the ocean where you will be staying is RUDY'S - a casual Mexican takeaway with tables that I found good and fresh, as well as a few other casual restaurants locals like for eating and drinking in that small "strip mall" area.

          EMILIO'S is also close by on Cabrillo Blvd heading west and have had often many memorable meals there but also inconsistent ones delivered with a bit of attitude, but you might want to check it out for N. Italian. It is lovely little place.

          STELLA MARES is another lovely choice down that way past the Bird Refuge which finally had its stink problem mitigated - due to no rain and groundwater aeration it left a penetrating stench for a week or so just recently- you could smell in from the freeway driving with your windows closed. Poor Stella Mares because the views across this normally bucolic Bird Refuge are part of its French County charm.

          While you find the Peppermint Stick at MCCONNELL'Sto be worthy of a trip, you just might find their Brazillian Coffee Chip to be worhty of checking multiple listing for a home purchase and obtaining a green card so you could eat it everyday. Glad you discovered and fell in love with our local treat. I am expecting to learn more about our town after your next explorations because you do like to get around like we do in this town.

          Our own local favorites cluster around the Loreto Plaza Upper State Street area which meets few of your criteria for views and ambience, but we have some wonderfully diverse and excellent choices in this mini-uban cluster: RENAUD'S French Bakery and Cafe, VIA MAESTRA 42 Italian deli and cafe; BRUMMI'S German and beer; Giovanni's hard core great pizza parlor pizza, and CROCODILE for a surprisingly stylish setting and menu located within a large motel complex for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

          SCARLET BEGONIA is Victoria Court is a new favorite for breakfast and lunch or brunch.

          1. re: glbtrtr

            McConnells is the Eighth Wonder - no doubt about that. And all those names - especially Scarlet Begonia - seem to have been cropping up regularly in recent posts, so that little zone is great trip. There are free bikes at the hotel - so I hope that we'll be able to get about easily. The 'make a reservation' point was well made - I am under no illusions, we're turning up at the busiest time of the year and are prepared for that.

            Still rainy in the UK. Expect any exterior Olympic footage you get to see populated by many umbrellas...!

      2. For Pismo, try Lido in the Dolphin Bay. Never had a bad mea here (though you pay for it)

        Nearby SLO also has a few options. Korberl at Blue is very good. They describe themselves as Wine Country Cuisine.. A bit more reasonably price is Big Sky. Always a good option for lunch or diner. A nice spot for lunch or breakfast on the weekend is Novo. Great setting overlooking the park\stream that runs through middle of town.

        1. You may know this already, but do make reservations in advance for any nicer coastal restaurants. Everyone wants to go to the same few and during the summer they get a huge surge of reservations/walk-in customers.

          1. Garden Market Cafe in north Carpenteria (Padara Lane offramp) is a nice deli serving well-made soups and sandwiches. Local wines. Lovely patio out back (though you can't see the beach, you can smell the waves) CC accepted.

            From Highway 101 southbound exit at Padaro Ln/Santa Claus Ln, bear to the left on Santa Claus Ln, where you can park along the street. Walk across the train tracks (be careful!) to get to the sand. The beach there is lovely and uncrowded. Directly across the freeway from "Greenhouse Row" and Seaview Gardens Nursery.

            In Summerland, just south of Santa Barbara/Montecito area, there is a great little burger shack Tinker's, on the 'main drag' (street)
            2275 Ortega Hill Rd
            Summerland, CA 93067 CC.
            805) 969-1970

            Downtown Carpenteria has nice shops and cafes and is worth a stroll to investigate.

            see alsohttp://chowhound.chow.com/topics/858007

            My mom was born in London so I say 'hello dears!'
            gasbuddy.com is a good website to save $$ for more chowing out.
            AMPM mini mart and gas stations have the best prices

            1. There are several interesting places discussed for Pismo Beach in this post:


              My personal fave breakfast joint is the Honeymoon Cafe.

              I hope you enjoy your trip.

              1. Thank you to everyone for getting back to me . There are some great suggestions here and I'm very grateful.

                And Toodie Jane - when you're paying $8 a gallon (and we are in the UK) then filling up in the US is actually enjoyable!

                6 Replies
                1. re: MisterGash

                  Does this mean instead of bringing back California wine, you are going to bring back bottles of California gasoline?

                  1. re: glbtrtr

                    Haha. If only the airlines would let me...

                    I remember filling up in Big Sur. This guy came up and asked me where the nearest fuel station was either north or south. "Anywhere else just so's I don't have to pay these prices" he said. "These prices" were so cheap by comparison to London that I felt like taking the nozzle out of the car and just spraying it around to show him how much I didn't care what it was costing me.....And, just in case you were wondering, $7.70 of the eight bucks goes straight in tax. What a joy.

                    1. re: MisterGash

                      Hope you take your family to Avila Valley Barn (animals to see and touch- tractor rides-fruit & baked goods- and an ice cream parlor!) and please visit (also in Avila) Petes Pierside on the Port San Luis Pier, for wonderful fresh seafood.

                      Enjoy your visit!

                      1. re: OldJalamaMama

                        When is the best season to see the barking and basking sea lions on the Port San Luis Pier - that is an added bonus when dining on the wharf.

                        1. re: glbtrtr

                          No lions lounging on the pier, but there are usually sea lions swimming down near the Old Port Inn at the end of the pier--there's a fish processing place/store there, so maybe they get tidbits. Please park at the parking lot at the base of the pier. You'll see and smell more during the short walk out and save the pier from stress. Only about 10 spaces at the end anyway, almost always full.

                        2. re: OldJalamaMama

                          it appears pete's has sold again, and the menu has changed a bit. Not as good as in the past, but still OK. Worth a stroll out the pier for the view and snacks.

                  2. Not about food, but while you're staying in Pismo, take a half day to drive up Highway 1 to see the elephant seals north of San Simeon. (You asked about barking sea lions, which is why I mentioned this.) If you've never seen them before, you'll be astounded.

                    Okay, and for food, try lunch at Sebastian's Store in old San Simeon. Great sandwiches and hamburgers, beer and wine available.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: judybird

                      Sebastian's is good, but often very slammed--expect quite a wait after ordering. miniscule "kitchen". Repeat: but good.

                      Avila Barn to my mind is sort of a faux farm. Not the real deal, but idealized in a sort of Disneyland fashion. Romantisized.and designed to capture dollars to the max. Animals in tiny pens with no relief.

                      There are a couple of very small but REAL farms for visiting down 101 about an hour or so, before 101 passes from farmland to the coast, just above Gaviota Pass. About 10 minutes south of Buellton (don't even think about stopping there at Anderson's) there is a wonderful blueberry farm (U-pick and sale-ready) and also the Peace Farm, just about 50 yds to the south of the blueberry farm.. Both are on the east side of the highway, with left turn lanes, just signal well in advance. here's a link to the blueberry farm: http://www.edhat.com/site/tidbit.cfm?... The Peace Farm is set off the road on a small lane, has a giant peace sign on the barn. Resident cat sleeps "guard", goats, chickens roaming freely, lovely produce abounds, and there are several crops that you can pick yourself (U-Pick). This is The Real McCoy, as we say, not 'designed for tourists, but a working farm selling only what they grow. Strawberries like you can't get elsewhere!

                      as far as petrol, why pay more if you don't have to?

                      1. re: toodie jane

                        Our family loves Pea Soup Andersons...I grew up here and while I can admit there are more fancy places- you can get a good meal- and even a great Cobb Salad at PSA. Love the burgers, the pea soup, the sandwiches and to repeat- the Cobb Salad has the best caper vinegrette EVER. Best place to take kids after a movie- let them sit at the Copper Counter and Moms can have a glass of wine while the kids have Betty's Spaghetti and a chocolate milk shake!

                        1. re: OldJalamaMama

                          OJM--perhaps Andersons has updated the menu and kitchen since I was there several times in the 80's and 90's. It wa pretty ghastly then. Even the pea soup was very poor.

                          If the OP does make a stop at the Madonna Inn, I must rec the banana cream pie. Outstanding.

                          On the whole, prefer hole-in-the-wall locals' places over kitsch and camp. More thrill to the hunt, I suppose!

                      2. re: judybird

                        On a Friday mid-afternoon last month, Sebastian's was slammed, but the weather was great and there was plenty of room outside at the picnic tables. While waiting for our tasty & very generous sandwiches & salads, we enjoyed our wine tasting at the Hearst Ranch Wine Bar that shares the premises & did a bit of shopping. We were so full afterwards, we opted out of our previously planned dinner back in Cambria. I'd do it again if time is not an issue.

                      3. Everyone has given you great rec's..
                        I would add..

                        The Chase on State in SB...the best calamari picatta..cheap too..lunch or dinner
                        Renauds for their croissants..SB
                        La Super Rica..one of the best taco shops in SB
                        Cold Spring Tavern up the hill...great for lunch
                        Madonna Inn...lunch and a wild place..especially for the kids and the bathroom
                        The Nugget in Summerland...best Patty Melt and bloody mary..

                        1. Brilliant! Thank you everyone! We love the elephant seals - maybe a bit too far on this trip (we're more likely to stay closer to Pismo / Avila / SLO for the short time we're there. ToodieJane's farms sound well worth a visit.

                          A place we like in Ventura is Cafe Nouveau for brunch. But TripAdvisor reviews suggest it is closed (a fire?). Does anyone know if it is set to reopen. And - if not - any brunch style recommends?

                          Still raining in the UK.....

                          1. Ventura gets covered in the Los Angeles Chowhound forum.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: glbtrtr

                              That's good to know. Thank you. I'll take a look over there. Thanks to you guys we've got some great recommends for Pismo & SB.