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Bike trip - recommendations

Hi everyone,

In a few days, some friends and I will begin a long bike ride from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, through Pacifica, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Big Sur, Ragged Point, Morro Bay, Santa Maria, Solvang, and Santa Barbara.

It's taken me hours to read up on all these different places on the Chowhound boards. We are from Toronto; I imagine we will be looking for very fresh food, in adequate portions (given our mode of transportation!), mostly brasserie/bistro instead of extremely formal or expensive. Where possible, I'm sure we would prefer places which reflect the local colour or feature some kind of beautiful view.

Some places that stood out to me as I've been reading include:

- Phils Fish Market; Central Texan BBQ
- Saturn Cafe; Linda's on Seabright
- Campagno's Deli
- Wild Plum Cafe
- Restaurant 1833
- Big Sur Bakery
- Nepenthe
- Giuseppe's Express
- La Bicyclette
- Shawn's (Morro)
- Windows on the Water
- Paula Pancakes; Los Olivos; Panino; Hitching Post; Red Barn
- The Tamale Shop

I am not as worried about finding good places in San Francisco or Santa Barbara as we'll have some time on both ends of our journey, but can anyone chime in on anything we should not miss on our trip? It would be good to know which places definitely require a reservation. We may be somewhat at the mercy of our bike route.

Thanks, in advance!

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  1. Pismo Beach (between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara where HIghway 1 and Highway 101 meet) has many very good, down-home casual spots - We especially like Mo's BBQ Philty Phil ribs, but there is also Splash for clam chowder as well as Doc Bernstein's Icecream and HotLix salt water taffy in dozens of flavors for quick energy boosts. A little detour out to the pier San Luis Bay is also a great coastal experience.

    If your legs are up to it, taking Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass into Santa Barbara instead of along the coast on Highway 101 takes you past Cold Spring Tavern on Stage Coach Road which is a legendary "biker" stop (motor, not pedal) and a beautiful highway to traverse anyway - caution - narrow and speedy. This was the historic pass used by the Missionaries and later stage coach and horse travellers, hence this historic half-way tavern still in operation. Lovely country.

    1 Reply
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Thanks for this! I believe we already planned on taking that route into Santa Barbara and it's good to know what's available. I will make sure we keep our eye out for the spots you mentioned at Pismo Beach. We are so excited!

    2. When you get to SB, the local University (Univ of Calif at SB - UCSB) is a very bike intensive campus and you can get all sort of bike help if you need it at this point in the small little enclave next to the University called Isla Vista - which has lots of casual student restaurants .... and bike and repair shops.

      1. From north to south:

        Santa Cruz:
        Aquarius restaurant in the Dream Inn, good food great view of Monterey Bay and the SC wharf.
        Cafe Brasil - breakfast, brunch on Mission
        Gabriella Cafe on Cedar, small, very good bistro/brasserie type
        Bonny Doon Cafe in the newly rising "wine ghetto" of West SC
        Oswald on Soquel and Front for probably the best (and priciest) fine dining

        A few miles south in Capitola take the cable car down to Shadowbrook for a cocktail or glass of wine on the river deck, skip the food.

        Moss Landing Cafe and even Sea Harvest I think are getting more love on the board than Phil's Fish Mkt.

        If you hit Marina around breakfast time on a weekend don't miss Tico's at 330 Reservation Rd

        Sand Bar 'n Grill on Wharf #2, Lou Lou's Griddle in the Middle for breakfast a few door down

        at this point you'll probably want to hug the water around the peninsula, through the Del Monte Forest, and Carmel.

        Passionfish in Pacific Grove for dinner.

        19th Hole at Pebble Beach for great views, lunch, glass of wine

        Carmel - Christopher's has been getting a lot of love, Mundaka for tapas

        Cambria - Black Cat Cafe, Wild Ginger

        Cayucos - Hoppe's or the more formal Cass House

        Morro Bay - Taco Temple (for their specials, not everyday Mexican fare), Beach House Bistro, Bay Cafe (inside the State Park and nice back road route over to Montana de Oro, then back through Los Osos to SLO rather than Hwy 1)

        Avila - Pete is no longer at the Pierside, we were a little disappointed last visit, get some fresh oysters from the little place at the base of the pier and find a scenic place to shuck

        Shell Beach/Pismo Beach
        Breakfast - Seaside Cafe and Bakery, Zorro's is pretty popular
        Ventana has a great view for lunch or dinner
        Lido in the Dolphin Bay Resort for fine dining
        Thai Talay puts out some nice dishes

        In Arroyo Grande don't miss the ice cream at Doc Berstein's

        It sounds at this point you'll be following 101 down to 154, if that's the case I believe after Santa Maria you're only hope might be American Flatbread in Los Alamos until you reach Los Olivos and begin the climb up and over San Marcos Pass.

        Have a great trip and please do report back.



        2 Replies
        1. re: PolarBear

          Thanks again, Dave. I will definitely report back on our findings! I hope we get to try at least a few of these places...

          1. re: InToronto

            The 101 between Buellton and Santa Barbara is the more cycle friendly route- than Hwy 154. There are spots on the 154 where the bike lane just dissapears- heavily traveld. The views are goreous on both routes! You can stop at El Capitan Counry Mart for a nice lunch- 20 miles outside of Santa Barbara.

            I can hardly wait to read your report! Good Luck

        2. Cycling advice to travelers. Pick up or view on line the Santa Barbara County Bicycle maps.
          Most long distance travelers will avoid 154 as it is heavily traveled with poor shoulders in place and steep. Highway 1 through SLO County is better and a good route through SB County.
          Visit a bike shop in SLO and get a map or visit the Bicycle Coalition.[slobikelane.org)

          1. The Bench, a new place on the Monterey Peninsula, looks like it would be hard to beat.


            1. Wow, what an epic trip. The coastal views were sublime. Thank you for your food recommendations.

              We rode around 3.5 hours a day, which meant we could afford the luxury of eating multiple meals: first breakfast, second breakfast; first lunch; second lunch.

              Here is what I can remember about what we ate. Please keep in mind that we were hungry all the time. I'm guessing that sometimes being that hungry means that everything tastes "amazing".

              Pacifica - Moonraker--great steak, locally sourced goat's cheese and blue cheese complimented the meal. Amazing view, otherwise casual setting. Our first exposure to American size portions: large. Also visited a crepe cafe where the service was good, and food casual, but a bit too salty/greasy--left a taste in your mouth. Another night, we had a crab sandwich (is it "Phil's" crab sandwiches?) across the road from Moonraker. Best crab sandwich I will ever have, I think. The bread is well toasted and the crab salad is generous and creamy. The entire thing was enormous. Expensive (18 dollars a sandwich, maybe?). Totally worth it.

              San Fran - We didn't have much time to explore the culinary scene because after one day trip we were already on our way down the coast. We did manage to visit Sausalito - Napa Burger company bison burger was satisfying and didn't leave a greasy taste in your mouth. We ate at a table out front on a nice day. One night we went to the Hyde Street Seafood House and ate very well (people from land-locked provinces really appreciate good seafood!). My friends had the cioppino and I had some prawns stuffed with crab and lobster covered in a french sauce. It was obviously a rich choice--a little salty, but overall very good. Above all, the atmosphere in there was very casual and inviting. Maybe don't sit nearest to the kitchen--I think the dishwasher turned our chairs into nail salon style massage units. One bike ride we made it to the Ferry Building but didn't have time to eat. We did make it to Tacolicious one time and ate extremely well. The pork taco was amazing. Some of the best tacos I've ever had--extremely fresh--comparable to Grand Electric in Toronto but much less scene/hipster.

              Pescadaro - amazing "Godfather" sandwich at local grocery store (where they also bake artichokes into the bread). What a find. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

              Santa Cruz - the vegetarian diner Saturn Cafe was full of interesting patrons. My milkshake was delicious, and salad was tasty and plentiful--although the lettuce itself tasted a little bland. Good toppings and dressing--light, not obnoxious or distracting.

              Monterey - we visited a nice old patisserie in a historical building--I found the macarons were good, but not perfect (a bit too sweet)--a bit overpriced and the coffee was nothing special. Opted for the Sandbar and Grill on wharf 2 one night--just as good as the seafood place in San Fran--although obviously with a cool view--similarly cozy, unpretentious, dated, casual decor. My Sand Dabs were excellent.

              Ragged Point - we went into Cambria and had dinner at a place called Robin's, I think. It was interesting--the food combinations worked well, I thought. I had some kind of seafood-enchilada hybrid that was very good. Attentive service here. The next day we were riding through Cambria and stopped at a sandwich place (not sure of the name--seemed to be on the west side of the road, near the very beginning of the "downtown" strip) run by a Mexican family, it seemed like, and had incredible tuna sandwiches on nice thick brown bread. Very fresh. Do not eat at the Whale Watcher's cafe on the coast near Ragged Point. We had the worst, most expensive coffee I've ever had in my life there. Obviously there isn't much competition around.

              Big Sur - we ate at the lodge here--there wasn't much time for anything else and we were right in the middle of the forest--it was so incredibly beautiful. Great lodge breakfast!

              Morro Bay - We ended up at Sean's on Main--it was good food, appropriately portioned. There was no one in there--though it must have been a week night. It looks from the menu like the chef's picked up on this "southern comfort food" trend that hit Toronto recently. It was well executed, I thought.

              Pismo Beach - we rode a long way for the famous Cinnamon buns. I would have ridden the whole coast for them. I had the bun with cream cheese frosting--my friends the ones with walnuts and raisins, I think. We could see them rolling the dough in there.

              Santa Maria - we arrived starving and down the road from the Santa Maria Historic Inn, we found Los Taquitos--a family run, Swiss Chalet-style of decoration (Canadian reference), mexican restaurant serving positively amazing food. Very filling and casual, but excellent (we don't have much of this in Toronto). I would skip the food at the Inn itself--they are trying to meet a certain standard in food, but nothing I had stood out as noteworthy.

              Los Olivos - we left too late in the morning and it was super hot all day! The Foxen Canyon road was still a nice ride. We couldn't do tastings in Los Olivos, though we had stopped at Riverbend (Riverbench?) to do a tasting earlier on--it was very nice. I am a sucker for oak-y chardonnay, but the first pinot on their tasting list stood out to me the most. Too bad for Ontario's Prohibition-era regulations preventing alcohol importation. Our paninos in Los Olivos were good but came slightly overrated, I think.

              Solvang - we arrived during Dutch days - what a party. It looks like Disneyland and there are hoardes of tourists, but it seemed as if the pastries were the real deal there. For dinner we went to the Hitching Post in Buelton--we left with a couple bottles of the Highliner Pinot Noir, and full stomachs. Good atmosphere (though lots of drunk patrons!); casual bar style; deliciously smoked meat--like you can really taste those oak (?) chips. In the morning we went to Paula's pancake house. What a great place--best pancakes I've ever had. Wider and thinner than normal pancakes maybe? But not as thin as crepes. Made with delicious spices--cinnamon, and nutmeg, maybe? And what a blast from the past--original bar set-up from the 70's, I'm pretty sure. We were there super early--6:30 or 7:00--so it was pleasant and not too crowded.

              The road to Santa Barbara (the stagecoach route) took us past Cold Spring Tavern but it was too early to eat, unfortunately. We stayed a few days in the city and ate at a Mexican place upon arrival--Playa Azul Cafe. Another winner--great, fresh Mexican food--slightly more upscale than the place in Santa Maria--with a nice outdoor patio from which we could watch our bikes! Not that we needed to have worried about bike theft in that town. We also ate at SB Shellfish Company (a real standout--another great crab sandwich and great atmosphere of a little shellfish shack on the dock where you can see everything cooked in front of you); D'Angelo, Stella Mare, Arlington Tavern, The Hungry Cat, and a chinese food place. No other real standouts except for Scarlett Begonia where I had the most perfect stone fruit salad for lunch--it was very subtle and fresh--in their beautiful courtyard patio. Coffee was excellent at the French Press(?) on State Street. We did a few wine tastings--we enjoyed the New York Times tasting list at Au Bon Vin and attended a good tasting room next door--then headed down to Municipal where we felt slightly not "cool" enough to be served! But interesting hipster atmosphere. At Stella Mare I was expecting better french food, though the "conservatory" setting was very beautiful--my profiteroles almost tasted like Timbits! The Hungry Cat's food was good but not outstanding and it was a bit too "trendy" in there!. We didn't eat at the Arlington Tavern but it seemed nice.

              All in all I was most impressed by the seafood and Mexican offerings and a broad variety of California wines during our trip--predictable as these types of food that are not common in Toronto.

              Thanks to everyone who made suggestions for this trip.

              2 Replies
              1. re: InToronto

                Thank you for your report - it was fun helping you plan and then get to ride along with you but sadly without burning up the same amount of calories so we could have eaten every single bite with you too. Alors! Profiteroles like Tim Bits?? -- hey, that is not such a bad thing -grease and sugar always has worked for me. Glad you had such a good trip.

                There is a lot to love in this more hidden Central Coast of California. Milpas Street is where we go locally for our Mexican food fixes in Santa Barbara, which should entice you back to do a little more exploration of this varied and important cuisine.

                BTW: Make that "Danish" Days, not Dutch days in our usually sleepy little "sunny fields" Solvang. Though in Santa Barbara, getting Dutch and Deutsch mixed up goes with the territory in our somewhat provincial little town. (See Dutch Garden serving German food - but badly, for the real deal it is Brummi's for German - yum!)

                And because the Pancakes at Paula's in Beullton also falls more into the local Danish heritage, perhaps that haunting spice was cardamom which no real Danish baker goes without. Haven't been there myself, but local reviews validated by your experience makes me want to put it on our list now too.
                Back to Santa Barbara, Hungry Cat has always been a mixed bag of hits and misses, Scarlett Begonia so far is an all time winner in my book, and haven't been to Arlington Tavern yet but the location has long had a shaky history. Stella Mares lately has been getting the same mixed reviews too so sorry to see one of our local secrets is not hitting the mark.

                But if it really does serve up greasy, sweet Tim Bits I just may have to reconsider so I can avoid the long lines at the Toronto airport next time through! Nothing like a bag of TimbIts to get one through a long transatlantic flight subsisting on economy class airline food and the later 4am munchies that strike the first few jet-lagged days afterwards. ;-)

              2. just a postscript to this thread, but in case other cyclotourists are reading for tour prep, they might also consider scanning CrazyGuyOnABike, for info on bakeries, picnic supplies and other non-traditional sit down chow choices. Also much gear talk about kitchen equip carried and/or used, etc. Here's a 'local boy's' trek down the West Coast (this is the finish to his 2012 cross country tour, but scan his entries for whichever part is pertinent to your trip) : http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/pa...

                he loves his bakeries!

                his table of contents for other areas of California and beyond: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o...