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Driving from San Francisco to Big Sur: where to stop for lunch?

Hi all,

Manhattan CHer here who will be driving from SF to Big Sur this August. It seems like our best (and prettiest) option is to stop for lunch in Carmel? But we're willing to go a bit out of our way for good food, too.

Slight preference for Mexican since we're East Coasters and don't get the good stuff all the time. We came across a place called The Whole Enchilada, any good?

But really open to anything; will even make multiple stops!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Have lunch at one of my fave places, Sierra Mar, at the Post Ranch Inn .
    Wonderful place in Big Sur, with fantastic food and killer views.
    Make reservations.


    1. My advice is do not stop for lunch along the way. It's a long haul to Big Sur and you want to have as much time among that beauty as possible. Deadhead down there and lunch among the redwoods.

      1. Having just driven a large majority of that stretch in the last few days (albeit in the opposite direction), I'm inclined to agree with Melanie Wong in large part. OTOH, if you told us what else is on your itinerary (how long is your stay, what else are you doing, where else are you going), it'd help give your request some context. For instance, if it were me, I'd plan on stopping at a taco truck set up to cater to field workers somewhere en route (you'll go through a lot of ag areas), pick up a burrito or torta, and then find a scenic overlook along Highway 1 for an impromptu picnic. Unfortunately, it's sort of hard to *plan* for this kind of thing, because roach coaches tend not to have a strict schedule, so it'll be pretty spontaneous by nature.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ricepad

          Hi there,

          We'll be in Big Sur from Thursday night until Sunday morning (we're there for a wedding). Not totally sure what's on the agenda yet, but we're definitely staying in that area and not road tripping more than just the SF to Big Sur route.

        2. Santa Cruz might be a good spot on the way there and would break up the trip. There was a thread about this place not so long ago.


          1 Reply
          1. re: macdog

            We really liked West End Tap but Santa Cruz. Fairly good beer choices on tap, the food is tasty and a little upscale by SC standards and the service was very good. They kept the bones of the former Cellar Door so it's a very unique space. Assuming the OP is literally driving all the way down along the coast, this could work.

            Another possiblity might be Koi Palace in Daly City. IMHO, many of their dim sum items are better than what's found in the San Gabriel Valley, particulary the roast pork and suckling pig. I know Daly City isn't too far from San Francisco, but just a thought.

            1. Thanks for letting us know that you're planning to spend a few nights in Big Sur, that's really the way to do it. So, for a leisurely drive south a few options I can recommend from north to south and give you more of a flavor of rural life as ricepad suggested:

              Swanton farms honor system farmstand north of Davenport on Hwy 1 for strawberry shortcake breakfast, eat outside on the picnic bench with a view of the ocean and fields, pick some berries (or buy a basket) to take with you. This is an organic farm and the berries are second to none, featured in San Francisco's best restaurants. Opens at 8am.

              The Haute Enchilada in Moss Landing has a pretty patio and more finessed style of cooking using organic ingredients. Moss Landing is a working fishing port, not just for tourists, and you're likely to spot some real fishermen at the docks.

              Taquitos Nayarit truck in Castroville. As you drive south on Hwy 1, the highway will bend to the right toward Monterey and the turn-off into Castroville bears left onto Merritt Street. In that empty lot in the triangle formed by Hwy and Merritt St sits this taco truck for most of the day. I have not tried it, but it is popular and easy to find.

              From there, instead of trying to get back on Hwy 1 at the same intersection, drive through the town of Castroville on Merritt St. This is where Marilyn Monroe got her start as Artichoke Queen of 1947. Then you can pick up Hwy 156 and visit Pezzini or merge onto Hwy 1.

              Pezzini Farms in Castroville is the place to stop for fried artichokes, not Giant Artichoke in town. It's farmstand is surrounded by artichoke fields. There's also a taco truck there though I've not tried it. Syrahgirl likes the tacos.

              If you've made an early start, you might be able to catch the Sunset Center farmers market in Carmel. It's open from 10am to 2pm. You can buy local cheese by Garden Variety for snacking.

              And if you've progressed more slowly, another place to provision is The Wharf Marketplace in Monterey. It has an abundance of local food products, wine, and prepared foods. You'll want to stock up on snacks and beverages before you get to Big Sur as picnic supplies will be more expensive and scarce in the forest.

              Be sure to get to Big Sur well before sundown. You'll want to catch every sunset you can down there. The Ventana Inn offers a spectacular view from its bar and rooftops.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                The Carmel By The Sea farmer's market is currently on a 6 week trial run at Devendorf Park and Mission between Ocean and 6th. The idea stemmed from having to move it the week of GourmetFest. If all goes well, it will stay there. It's doing much better there than at Sunset Center where it was dying a slow death. However the downtown merchants aren't happy with the new location. There's a meeting at city hall today to determine its fate.

                Good to know about Pezzini. I was not impressed with the Giant Artichoke.

                1. re: PattyC

                  Thanks for this info and please keep us updated on the market. I linked to the market manager's webpage for the farmers market . . . one would think that it should have been updated for the temporary location. That's a fail.

              2. No, the whole enchilada is not good. However, as a fellow nyc-r (grew up in the area and visit often) you will think it is awesome compared to dos toros or rosa mexicana....

                In big sur itself be sure to go to Big Sur bakery, breakfast is wonderful (and very popular) but they also have a great farm to table menu for lunch and dinner.

                Ventana has an amazing patio which is great for brunch or lunch (it will get cold at night!) or for drinks. Spectacular views.

                +1 for sierra mar, worth the $$.

                When driving from SF be sure to stop at any roadside produce stands for snacks, fresh CA produce is really spectacular.

                I feel like i have to say this- know that if you have dinner in carmel and are driving back to big sur for the night the driver can't have anything to drink- the road is tiny, narrow, twisty, and on the face of a cliff so there is zero margin for error.
                In carmel there is a great local market called Bruno's where you can pick up snacks or their prepared foods for a picnic, and some wine for the hotel room.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ttrockwood

                  Note that the lunch service at Big Sur Bakery is pretty limited, i.e., mostly cold sandwiches. If one is seeking a farm-to-table experience, best to stick to dinner there.

                  Unfortunately, many of the roadside stands along Hwy 1 between SF and Monterey are not selling local produce (e.g., pineapples, really?) and are not worth the hassle of pulling off the road. They have the same stuff, purchased from the wholesale markets, that can be bought at supermarkets. The stands I mentioned in my post above are selling produce they grow themselves.

                2. I've always had a good meal at the Whole Enchilada (stick to their specials! the main menu is somewhat pedestrian, but their tongue enchiladas were good). They're associated with the Haute Enchilada in Moss Landing, where I had a killer chile rellano, and I think is better overall. Otherwise, I think Monterey/Pacific Grove have more and better options than Carmel: they're a little less affluent and have more of a variety. (And if you go to Pacific Grove, stop at their (free) natural history museum!)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: tardigrade

                    The museum is no longer free. I think it's something like $8.50 for adults. Still a really nice museum, though.

                    1. re: ricepad

                      I'm just surprised it was free for so long...
                      For the OP the red house cafe is a great stop for breakfast or lunch in pacific grove, great homestyle food in a beautiful victorian.

                    2. re: tardigrade

                      Good idea! Perfect for stopping, and the OP will be mexican food deprived coming from nyc (nothing compares to mexican in CA!)

                    3. Whenever I drive from the Bay Area to Carmel, I usually stop for lunch at Phil's Fish Market in Moss Landing. It doesn't always get a lot of love on this board, but I haven't had a bad meal there yet. Parking is very limited and they are always busy. And how can you fault a guy that beat Bobby Flay in a cioppino throwdown?


                      1. Hi everyone,

                        Thank you again for all of your wonderful suggestions. We ended up stopping in Moss Landing for lunch at the Haute Enchilada and it was delicious. I had cheese enchiladas with mole sauce and my husband had a huge stuffed chile with crab and cheese.

                        We also stopped at Swanton's for fresh strawberries, strawberry scones and olallieberry shortcake. Definitely better than what we have in NYC!

                        We had dinner the first night at Big Sur Bakery, which was very good, but I wasn't blown away. HOWEVER, when we went back the next morning for pastries I was in awe. Everything from the chocolate banana strudel to the ham and cheese croissant were flaky, buttery and utterly delicious. We ended going back three times to try as much as we could.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: JulesTei

                          Thanks for reporting back..
                          Can't believe you didn't hit up for lunch one of the best places on earth to dine...Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn.

                          1. re: Beach Chick

                            Ugh, I know. But we were there for a wedding and had no free time to go :( We did try to just see the property but without even drink reservations, they wouldn't let us past the toll booth! Next trip, we are definitely staying there.

                            1. re: JulesTei

                              Next time Jules!
                              Sounds like you had a great time..were you there for the earthquake?

                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                Yes, but didn't feel anything down in Big Sur!

                          2. re: JulesTei

                            Good show! And I don't think I've had ollalieberry shortcake at Swanton's myself --- something to look forward to.

                            I agree that the morning pastries are the best thing at Big Sur Bakery,

                            Wondering if you have anything to share about the wedding venue? Requests come up from time to time and reports are scarce.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              The couple got married at Paion, a private estate south of Big Sur Bakery. It was STUNNING: perfect views of the water, rolling acres of grass, and a fire pit for roasting s'mores!

                              1. re: JulesTei

                                Wow, it is gorgeous, thank you. I searched for images of Paion and found many online wedding albums. The folks who get married there hire great photographers.
                                This pre-wedding page has more about the property,