Since we already took care of your overnight stay with our ultimate California boutique hotel list; we cannot let you road trip hungry. As much as Highway 1 is a visual beauty, it is also a culinary tour for your taste buds.
The coastal route is dotted with some of the best food spots in California.
From ocean-to-paper plate seafood shacks to old-school ice cream parlors to cafes serving farm fresh food — there is something for every traveler. Some are already well-known, yet some managed to keep their deliciousness only popular with the locals (and us). Since we know California in’n’out ( yep, pun intended) we have rounded up our favorite road trip food stops to have a break, recharge, process all the impressions you gathered and have a delicious bite.
Cowlick’s Handmade Ice Cream
If you are already starting your culinary exploration with a dessert, then let it be ice cream from Cowlick’s in Fort Bragg. The family-owned ice cream parlor makes every batch fresh in-house and has deliciously unusual flavors like mushroom ice cream. Which you should at least taste, it’s unique but enjoyable. Other favorites are the rocky road and mocha. If you are looking for a non-ice-cream dessert, try the cheesecake on a stick.
Dish to order: Mushroom and rocky road ice cream
250 N Main St, Fort Bragg – cowlicksicecream.com
Franny’s Cup & Saucer, Point Arena
Run by a mother-daughter duo, Franny’s Cup & Saucer is a charming little bakery with world-class pastries. Barbara (the mom), who has years of experience at Chez Panisse and Franny ( the daughter) are kneading up delicious pastries worth driving three hours from SF. The menu always features something new, but some of the staples are the soft and crunchy chocolate cinnamon rolls, the berry breakfast tarts and our favorite, cream cheese pockets. Lots of gluten-free options, too.
Dish to order: see the daily menu of tartes when you are there.
213 Main St, Point Arena – frannyscupandsaucer.com
Cafe Aquatica, Jenner
Directly where the Russian River merges into the Pacific Ocean is this must-stop-cafe in the little town of Jenner. Good sandwiches, big salads, fresh pastries, a warming cup of clam chowder with a side of calmness watching the river disappear into the ocean. There are few seats inside, but they have more seating options outside; be prepared, it can get foggy here, bring a jacket.
Dish to order: Cup of clam chowder and salmon melt with swiss cheese
10439 CA-1, Jenner – facebook
If you don’t know about it, you are likely to miss it. The coastal mall building and the unspectacular sign actually hide this beloved food spot. Trinks started as coffee and dessert shop but grew into a full menu restaurant, offering also catering. The sandwiches are stuffed, the fruit pies juicy and the view unbeatable.
Dish to order: Mom’s Turkey – house roasted turkey breast with secret cranberry sauce, and mustard on a ciabatta roll.
39140 CA-1, Gualala – trinkscafe.com
Nick’s Cove, Marshall
An institution on Highway 1. Nestled on the Tomales Bay, Nick’s Cove probably has one of the most beautiful settings along the coast; as well as some delicious food.
Insider tip: walk all the way to the small shack on the bay, grab a seat, order per phone and pick it up yourself. We think eating at the small shack on the bay is way cooler. Plus no wait line, it’s first come, first serve, but since not many know about the phone ordering system, they take few pictures, and away they go.
Dish to order: Nick’s Cove Prawn Luis Salad
23240 California 1, Marshall – nickscove.com
Tomales Bay Oyster Company
Bring a little more time with you to Tomales Bay Oyster Company and eat some of the best oysters in the state straight from the source. The good think about Tomales Bay Oyster is that you can bring your own picnic spread, you need to get only the oysters from them. They have plenty of tables and grills, but to be sure, you might want to make a reservation.
Dish to order: Fresh oysters
15479 California 1 – tomalesbayoystercompany.com
Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes Station
Another California culinary institution. Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk and MT Tam are award-winning soft cheese and the best souvenir you can take home. The factory is usually crowded with tourist, but we think it’s definitely worth stopping. We love to order simple here: their famous tomato soup and open-faced grilled cheese. Grab a seat on the lawn or at the beaches.
Dish to order: tomato soup + open-faced grilled cheese
80 4th St, Point Reyes Station – cowgirlcreamery.com
Sand Dollar, Stinson Beach
The Sand dollar is a Northern California classic since 1921. A mix of tourists and locals flock to this California tavern alike to enjoy fresh seafood and other menu staples like pasta carbonara, chicken wings, fish tacos. And although the menu borrows something from every cuisine, the food is delicious and fresh.
Dish to order: salt spring mussels in spicy Thai coconut broth
3458 Shoreline Hwy, Stinson Beach – stinsonbeachrestaurant.com
Sam’s Chowder House, Half Moon Bay
Another Highway 1 veteran is Sam’s Chowder House. Well worth the stop and the wait. Folks from all over the Bay Area come here for a meaty, buttery Dungeness crab in a crunchy roll or for their famous clam chowder. Sam’s is usually bustling with people and it can take a minute or 30 to get your table. If you don’t have the time to wait, grab it to go and enjoy at the beach just down the path.
Dish to order: Hm, it’s tough to decide what to order here. Clam chowder? Crab Roll? Or the seafood risotto, which is stuffed with seafood.
4210 N. Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay – samschowderhouse.com
Dad’s Luncheonette, Half Moon Bay
If you see it open, stop immediately. The old train caboose is actually a California dream come true — a Michelin star chef opens a simple, yet high-quality food truck train near the ocean, so he can spend more time with his family and surf. With only six items, the menu is pretty straightforward, but it’s not less delicious. You can choose between the hamburger sandwich and mushroom sandwich; both are served with soft egg, melty cheese, red onion pickles, red oak lettuce, and Dad’s Sauce on grilled white bread.
Dish to order: everything from the menu.
225 Cabrillo Hwy S, Half Moon Bay – dadsluncheonette.com
Phil’s Fish Market, Moss Landing
The owner says the secret to his extremely delicious cioppino is the tomatoes. But we think it’s also the bounty of fresh seafood, the satisfying portions, the beachy-kitschy interior, and the unpretentious atmosphere. Hidden (but not really hidden since it’s always crowded) in the industrial part of Moss Landing, Phil’s Fish Market is worth the quick detour from Highway 1. They have lots of seating, so the lines go fast.
Dish to order: Cioppino (all to yourself! but you can share if you must. )
9643, 7600 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing – philsfishmarket.com
Big Sur Bakery, Big Sur
Our excitement about the Big Sur Bakery goes well beyond their pastry counter. The little restaurant in the woods has charmed our hearts with its cuteness and oven-fresh pizzas. Hungry or not, we cannot but stop here for a quick break to recharge. And when we are already here, why not get some heavenly fragrant pastries.
Dish to order: pastries, a full bag of all of them.
47540 CA-1, Big Sur – bigsurbakery.com
Sebastian’s, San Simeon
We cannot count how often have we driven through San Simeon, thinking there is nothing else, but the throning on a hill, ocean-overlooking, enormous Hearst Castle, until somebody let us in on the secret of one of the best burgers far and near! Thanks, good friend. So we want …or maybe not…but we are sharing it with you anyhow — make a stop at Sebastian’s. Set in an old general store Sebastian’s sizzles mouthwatering burgers. And they are big; a half pound of juicy deliciousness on a soft bun topped with lettuce and onions and smothered with a secret sauce.
Dish to order: Do we need to say it again?
442 Slo San Simeon Rd, San Simeon
Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Cayucos
It’s not often that you can find smoked fish tacos, so treat yourself to one or two at Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos. The little kiosk-style place serves almost burrito-sized tacos in three variations. Shrimp, albacore, and salmon; all smoked to just the right amount of smokiness. Sitting options are very limited ( two tables), but since the beach is just across the street, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Dish to order: Tacos
101 D St, Cayucos – smokerjim.com
Malibu Seafood, Malibu
Malibu might be short on affordable real estate, but not on delicious, affordable seafood. Enter: Malibu Seafood. The tiny fish market and patio cafe serve only fresh fish anyway — fried, grilled, steamed. The lines can get long, but you shouldn’t care. You are on a relaxed road trip.
Dish to order: This is hard. We cannot decide. But whatever you go for, it’s going to be good.
25653 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu – malibuseafood.com
Orange Inn, Laguna Beach
It’s the “first juice bar” according to their website. And we will believe it. Back in the day when Orange County was all about orange groves, the little pit-stop was serving fresh pressed orange juice to thirsty travelers. Today you can have a hearty egg breakfast, sandwich for lunch, or salad to go. We prefer to fuel up here before a day of kayaking.
Dish to order: OI breakfast burrito.
703 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach – orangeinncafe.com