Eating and driving the Pacific Coast Highway
Having just made the SLO to Carmel trek two weeks ago, I would recommend stopping at Big Sur Bakery for lunch or breakfast. The bread is baked on a wood-fire grill and it's delicious. We had a pecorino/fennel salad with cracked pepper, a ham and gruyere tartine, and delicious soup and salads for lunch, washed down with a Monterey County Pinot Noir. Wonderful.
And all I'll say is go here: www.treebonesresort.com.
Lots of good tips in this thread. Please note, Highway 1 between Big Sur and the Cambria area is a very long stretch of road where the road is narrow, winding, and perched on high cliffs. You might be lucky and spot some sea otters cavorting in the water, but believe me, it is not pleasant being the driver on this stretch of highway, and there are no eats, actually no place to stop along this stretch.
re: Chino Wayne
Actually I like curvy mountain roads. Plus there are pull-offs and scenic viewpoints. As long as you aren't in a hurry, I think the highway there is an interesting drive. The last time I did it, we found some adequate restaurant with a view perched along Hwy 1 and then ended in Paso for the night. I thought it was a day well spent. The alternative is to skip the coast between the Monterey area and Cambria and do 101 instead. That certainly would have better chow. One can leave Monterey in the morning and easily be in Paso for lunch. Paso Robles has wineries and excellent restaurants, and there are other places to eat and/or taste wines off of 101. Unless you like seeing endless fields and vineyards and distant ranges of low mountains, however, 101 lacks any scenery of note. Another option would be to go up Carmel Valley road from Hwy 1 and take a beautiful, winding, and ultimately narrow little road over to Greenfields, but I don't think there are any other good ways to go from 1 to 101 until one gets down to hwy 46 which leads over to Paso.
re: Chino Wayne
That's my favorite drive in California. At the north end is Nepenthe, home of the Ambrosia burger (not ambrosial imho), but there are other decent menu items (fruit and cheese plate, etc.). Big thing here is the magnificent view of the Big Sur coastline. Across the road is the Ventana Inn. I believe the kitchen is overseen (whatever that means) by Joaquim Splichal, of the Patina group. I enjoy having lunch on the patio, particularly the roasted veggies and goat cheese sandwich. Not as much ocean view, but a spectacular pastoral setting nonetheless. Between that and Cambria/San Simeon, there's not much else.
The PCH, esp. along the northern and central coasts, is a beautiful drive. I'm most familiar w/ the stretch btwn. SF and Santa Cruz (where I live). IIRC, last time I drove it, I probably clocked it at 80-90 min. driving time.
The SF-SC stretch is highly scenic and offers unobstructed views of the coastline. Everything north of Davenport is actually covered on the SF board, while Davenport and everything south til Ventura County is covered here on the CA board. Ventura, LA, OC are on the LA board, while San Diego brings you back here.
Go to the SF board, and search for posts about Half Moon Bay, El Granada, Pescadero. There are a few places that get mentioned. To give you an idea: Cafe Gibraltar (EG), Cetrella (HMB), and Duarte's Tavern (P).
Just north of Santa Cruz is Davenport and Bonny Doon. Swanton Berry Farm Stand is in Davenport (scroll down for my recent post about it) and Bonny Doon is a tiny rural town known for Bonny Doon Winery, which has a cute tasting room about 10 min. east of Hwy 1. I wasn't that crazy about the wine when we tasted, but the tasting was free and fun. I esp. remember the final tasting of a shot of dessert framboise in a small chocolate cup. There are also a number of other SC Mountain wineries, which are mentioned in a recent thread below.
Santa Cruz is not really a food destination town, but has many mom-and-pop type places (chains aren't very welcomed here) w/ a few higher end dining places. IMO the town excels at casual taqueria food, bakeries, small town markets, and farmer's markets. My favorites in each category are: Tacos Moreno, The Buttery, Shopper's Corner, and both SC and Aptos farmer's markets. For fresh seafood, avoid the touristy wharf and go east to the Yacht Harbor. Aldo's is good for breakfast or lunch. Several boats sell live Dungeness crab and salmon season starts in May.
Stay away from Asian restos; I've been sorely disappointed w/ all that I've tried so far. Sit-down dinner places aren't SC's strong suit either IMO. Many places use local, organic ingredients but the food seems pricey for stuff that I often cook at home. Sestri, Soif, and Ristorante Avanti are favored here. If you have a sweet tooth, Marianne's ice cream and Donnelly Chocolates are very popular. I'm a BIG Marianne's fan!
The towns of Soquel, Capitola, and Aptos are one contiguous stretch going south. I like the Aptos farmer's market at Cabrillo College on Sat. mornings. Going south, you'll come upon Watsonville which has a couple of my favorite restos. Notable is Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo, the site of a recent chowdown (scroll down for that post).
Beyond that, I'm not too familiar since I haven't ventured to the Monterey/Carmel area recently. But you can search for posts about that area as well as the Morro Bay/Cambria area. Happy planning!
(A) Any specifics on starting point and ending point of your journey?
(B) How far from the Hwy 1 are you willing to go great chow?
Conditions vary all along the coast from extremely rural to very historical to touristy to swanky and cool (and not necessarily in that order).
The map link below is a refresher of where Hwy 1 extends in California.
It kind of starts in north Mendocino County (above Fort Bragg) and continues to almost San Clemente in Orange County (where it then is the I-5 along the coastline)
(AND, Hwy 101 from the Oregon border south through Eureka is on the coastline and an absoultely wonderful drive with many interesting places to eat (1) Arcata Co-Op and (2) Wildberries Market both have tasty cafes inside, and (3) Moonrise Herbs for fresh herbs (for cooking and tea) is steps from the Arcata (4) Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings > and other restaurants in that area-including historic places in Ferndale) and experience food product (such as Cypress Grove Chevre (Creamery) where Humbolt Fog cheese is made.)
There are often food activites at or by wineries in the San Luis Obispo area. Check the (5) Castoro Cellars website for food stuff activities and wine tasting. They are in Templeton off Hwy 101 near Hwy 1) (and there are many many good wineries to check)
And, there is a great (6) Farmer's Market on Thursday nights (6 to 9pm?) on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo that has both fresh food vendors AND cooked foods (bbq stations, etc.). It is technically off Hwy 101, but not more than 5 miles from Hwy 1 at that point. (7) The Park restaurant is good, too, more expensive.
If you are coming as far south as LA and Orange County, consider visting the coastline City of Venice and experiencing the two products of Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts, (8) Amuse Cafe and (9) Beechwood restaurant.
And, many many recommendations in the Newport Beach, Corona del Mar, Laguna Beach area of Hwy 1. Maybe by the time you get to Laguna Beach, the new restaurant (that is taking over the old Laguna Village Cafe) that has THE BEST VIEW of the coastline will be open. They've been working on it October 2004. Maybe you can give us a review? (10) ask for more . . .
(11) Tip Top Meats in Carlsbad is a pretty unique and good lunch place.
And, San Diego County (your now on Interstate 5). . .well, there are lots of places there, too, and you can choose your cuisine and style preference.
More detail from you will give chance for more specific for chow finds.