Life is a highway and you’re going to get hungry! Why keep driving past all the good stuff? Don’t settle for fast food, but instead keep reading to discover all the Best Foods Along California Highway 1! This highway drive has tons of good eats to discover in any direction, so load up the car and get ready to load up your belly as you drive through California!
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If you’re cruising down the road of life, one thing is certain – your stomach will rumble! It’s a sure thing, but one other thing is for sure…if you’re riding along California Highway 1, you’ll find plenty of delicious foods to eat. So plan your pitstops accordingly and learn about all the best places to stop for food along PCH and you’ll get to taste the best of everything along this historic highway.
Best Places to Stop for Food Along PCH
History of the PCH
In case you’re not from California, Highway 1 is also called the Pacific Coast Highway. And that’s called PCH or “the PCH” for short by all the locals. You may even see it listed as California U.S. Route 101 too as they sometimes merge.
Now that you’re on the up and up with the lingo, this road was built early in the 20th century before the numbered highway system was created. It was the longest stretch of continuous paved road at one time and now connects California along the Pacific Ocean from San Diego up to the Oregon border.
So, while you’re exploring California, plan to stop in any of these places to try some of the best foods in the Golden State while still sticking to your travel itinerary.
Let’s start north and work our way down the coast!
Hog Island Oyster Co. Oysters in Marshall, CA or San Francisco, CA
These oysters are incredible, and Hog Island Oyster Co. is one of just 2 west coast oyster farms raising these east coast oysters. They are harvested seasonally and have delicate meat with a crisp mineral quality to them. You can try them in a few locations, Hog Island Oyster Co. Oysters in San Francisco at the Ferry Building or at the source at The Hog Shack and The Boat Oyster Bar in Marshall, CA but don’t miss out if you love oysters!
Boudin Sourdough Bread in San Francisco, CA
Head to Pier 39 in San Francisco, California to get some San Francisco Sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery. Freshly baked and utterly divine, you won’t be able to walk past it without the aroma of fresh bread luring you inside. Try it as a bread bowl housing delicious clam chowder, order a crispy grilled cheese sandwich, or just take a loaf home with you to enjoy with some decadent butter!
Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista in San Francisco, CA
The Irish coffee at The Buena Vista in San Francisco, California is so popular, the bartender makes at least one dozen at a time! It was introduced here by Stanton Delaplane in 1952 and has been a staple item on the menu since. It’s made with Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey, Peerless organic coffee, C&H sugar, and heavy cream for what will be the best Irish coffee you’ve ever had.
Chocolate from Ghiradelli in San Francisco, CA
Chocolate from Ghirardelli in San Francisco, California, is an absolute must. Sure, I know you can get Ghirardelli in other places, but this is the original. And Ghirardelli Square is not only delicious but also historic. Stop in for a tasty treat such as a hot fudge sundae or chocolate chip cookies to make that drive even sweeter.
Seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, CA
Seafood at many of the restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California, is a legendary place to come for a sit-down meal. Fisherman’s Grotto has been here since 1935 with spectacular harbor views and deliciously fresh seafood meals. The Grotto was here before the tourist attraction of “Fisherman’s Wharf” was even created, so dig into oysters, crab, or even octopus tacos, among other fresh-caught dishes!
Mexican food from Taqueria Vallarta in Santa Cruz, CA
If you’re not all that into seafood, or perhaps you are but have that Mexican food craving strike, you’ll be in luck in Santa Cruz. Stop in Taqueria Vallarta. There are three locations in Santa Cruz, but the Soquel location is by far the best. It’s a bit of a “hole in the wall” but better than the flashier/renovated downtown location. But whichever location you visit, they all have flavorful dishes you’ll love and it’s Santa Cruz, so they even offer a vegetarian selection.
Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola, CA
I worked at Gayle’s Bakery while I was in college at UC Santa Cruz so I’m giving all the insider tips here!
Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola, California is a casual stop that has been here since 1978. Not just a bakery, Gayle’s has a full lunch and dinner menu, but everything is served deli-counter style. As soon as you walk in, you’ll smell the aroma of baked goodies wafting in the air, but don’t linger or gawk over the desserts display, go straight in, grab a number out of the red ticket dispenser, and wait for your turn to order.
The menus change often but you’ll find pasta, sandwiches, breakfast, salads, and even robust and hearty meals like rotisserie chicken and ribs. I remember the most popular being the chicken and spinach gorgonzola pasta! Just make sure you save room for pastries, cakes, and more desserts!
Also, if you’re driving up or down the coast, I recommend you buy some cookies to munch on during your drive…trust me, you’ll thank me later!
Fried Artichokes from the Giant Artichoke Restaurant in Castroville, CA
Come through Castroville, California, and stop at the Giant Artichoke Restaurant. You’ll definitely want to get some fun photos in front of the giant artichoke. But pop inside and get an order of the fried artichokes. They come with ranch dressing and are so delicious, you’ll want to get another order before you go!
Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur, CA
Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur is another place to stop where you can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner plus baked treats. The setting is a 1930s ranch house which gives it a cozy family-style vibe. It’s a small place so if you want to be guaranteed a seat for a meal, make reservations. As they source locally and seasonally, the menu changes but you’ll find omelets, salads, sandwiches, and other delights to enjoy when you stop in.
Deetjan’s in Big Sur, CA
Deetjan’s in Big Sur can serve as a stop for learning about history while having a lovely dining experience. This place came to life thanks to Barbara Blake, a widowed Englishwoman who recognized how beautiful and spiritual the land was. That was in 1939 and today, it is still a splendid spot with traditional English décor and a quiet, demure ambience. Home-cooked meals are offered in four different candlelit and romantic rooms where you’re served simply yet hearty cuisine. And if you’re here from breakfast, the breakfast burrito, buttermilk pancakes, and eggs Benedict have all nabbed this Monterey County spot the title of “Best Place for Breakfast.”
Brown Butter Cookie Co.’s Brown Butter Cookies in Cayucos, CA
The sweet and salty deliciousness of the brown butter cookies from the Brown Butter Cookie Co. in Cayucos, California is addicting! Stop inside the shop for a sample, but be sure to purchase an additional bag at check out. Trust me! You’ll thank me later when you’re craving more and you’ve already finished the first bag while still in your car.
The original brown butter cookie is the favorite flavor, but be sure to try some of the other flavors including cocoa, espresso, and cinnamon! The Brown Butter Cookie Co. has additional locations in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
Read More: 14 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN CAYUCOS, CALIFORNIA
Cayuco’s Gas Mini Mart Tacos in Cayucos, CA
Yes, it’s a gas station. But if you ask the locals that live near here in Cayucos, California, they will tell you that hands-down, Cayuco’s Gas Mini Mart‘s tacos are some of the best around. Now that the secret is out though, it’s going to get more popular so stop in and try the authentic street tacos.
The Madonna Inn’s Pink Champagne Cake in San Luis Obispo, CA
If you’re traveling through central California, The Madonna Inn’s Pink Champagne Cake is a must! It’s three layers of white, fluffy cake divided with Bavarian cream which is flavored with just a hint of almond. The cake is then topped with whipped cream and hot pink white chocolate shavings and curls. Grab a famous slice of pink heaven!
Read More: THE MADONNA INN IN SAN LUIS OBISPO REVIEW
Clam Chowder at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach, CA
One of the most popular things to do in Pismo Beach is to enjoy a bowl of delicious, award-winning clam chowder at the Splash Café! Located right by the water, the Splash Café is one of the most popular places to eat in Pismo Beach as evidenced by the line that typically wraps around the building – don’t worry, it moves fast! In addition to serving up some of the best clam chowder in town, they also offer a variety of other seafood dishes and amazing burgers and fries that are sure to please your taste buds.
Read More: 14 FUN THINGS TO DO IN PISMO BEACH, CALIFORNIA
Split Pea Soup at Pea Soup Anderson’s in Buellton, CA
As the name suggests, you have to go to Pea Soup Anderson’s for the split pea soup! Anderson’s has been serving delicious split pea soup to travelers since 1924! They claim to serve over 2 million bowls a year! Order the Traveler’s Special which is all-you-can-eat Andersen’s World Famous Split Pea Soup served with Onion Cheese and Pumpernickel bread and a beverage of choice.
Read More: 30 CHARMING THINGS TO DO IN SOLVANG, CALIFORNIA
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The Jalama Hamburger at the Jalama Beach Store in Jalama, CA
It is an absolute trek to get to the Jalama Beach Store for the Jalama Burger, but I can assure you, it is worth every effort you make. This place has been a staple at the Jalama Beach County Park for over 40 years. What makes it so good is the secret sauce, a highly-guarded recipe that no one outside the family is permitted to see. The juicy meat combined with this secret sauce is the reason you would drive for hours out of your way just to get a bite!
McConnell’s Ice Cream in Santa Barbara, CA
Screaming for ice cream? Beat the Californian sun with a nice cool scoop of McConnell’s Ice Cream. The now nationally famous ice cream company started in Santa Barbara, so I recommend trying it at the source! Popular flavorings include banana and salted caramel, mocha fudge and smoked almonds, Eureka lemon and marionberries, and sea salt cream and cookies. Dairy-free is also available.
Read More: 28 THINGS TO DO IN SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
Neptune’s Net in Malibu, CA
If you’re a movie buff, you’ll recognize Neptune’s Net in Malibu from Point Break, Iron Man 3, and the Fast and the Furious. It’s a historic place to grab good food and beer, a landmark since 1956. There’s the restaurant side with fried food and bottled beverage options while the seafood side has fresh seafood and draft beers. Take your pick – either way, you’ll be glad you came!
Duke’s in Malibu, CA
Duke’s in Malibu is a tribute to Duke Kahanamoku, a surfing legend who you may recognize from the movies. Here, you can grab fresh dishes like poke tacos, coconut shrimp, fish and chips, and even steaks. There’s also a brunch on Saturdays and Sundays if you happen to be driving through around then, so stop by!
Malibu Farm in Malibu, CA
Malibu Farm provides a farm-to-table experience in Malibu with superb views. Malibu Farm is at the start of the pier with salads, pizzas, and other tasty bites. They have a great selection of gluten-free and vegan option in their bites and big plates too which makes it a perfect stop for just about any hungry traveler down the PCH. Meanwhile Malibu Farm Café is at the end of the pier. The menu offers breakfast, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and other entrees. At either end of the pier, you’ll find plenty to fuel your travels.
Godmother Sandwich at Bay Cities in Santa Monica, CA
At Bay Cities in Santa Monica, California, the Godmother Sandwich isn’t just any sandwich. It lords over them all with a fresh-baked crusty bread stuffed with Genoa salami, mortadella capicola, ham, prosciutto, and provolone. Get it with “The Works” which includes mustard, mayo, pickles, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, homemade Italian dressing, and pickled peppers (either hot or mild).
Tacos at Tito’s Tacos in Los Angeles, CA
Tito’s Tacos in Los Angeles, California has been making everyone happy with award-winning tacos since 1959. While they might not be the best gourmet tacos you’ll ever have, these are some of the best no-frills, crunchy tacos you’ll ever have, prepared fresh daily from the original recipes that started this legendary establishment.
Unfortunately, Tito’s has recently changed owners and the reviews on Yelp are … not good, so this one may no longer be on the “must try” list.
Randy’s Donuts in Los Angeles, CA
You can’t miss Randy’s Donuts in Los Angeles, California, and that’s partially due to that huge and iconic donut sign out front. So, drive on in and get classic, deluxe, fancy, and premium donut styles to satisfy every donut craving you’ve got! Randy’s is not exactly on PCH, but close enough.
If you want a fancier donut closer to PCH, try Sidecar Donuts in Santa Monica. This Maple Bacon donut made with Niman Ranch Bacon and Vermont Maple Syrup was delicious! The place will give you a sugar high as soon as you walk in!
Gjusta in Venice, CA
In Venice, California, Gjusta is a little bit of everything in a relaxed setting. It’s a bakery, deli, café, and market that evolves with the changing seasons. With breakfast, sandwiches, flatbreads, brisket, and an array of drool-worthy desserts like carrot cake or seasonal galettes, you’ll have a hard time choosing, though rest assured that anything you order is going to be legendarily delicious.
Gjelina in Venice, CA
Gjelina is also in Venice, named for founder Fran Camaj’s mother. It’s been here since 2008 with locally-crafted ingredients to bring about fresh and delightful plates of food. I love this place for its simplicity in freshness though I’ll be the first to admit the menus are massive. That’s great when everyone wants something different though it all sounds good so you’ll likely argue with yourself over what you want to eat. There’s breakfast and brunch, oysters, charcuterie, farm-fresh vegetable sides that make you want to eat your veggies, homemade pastas, succulent meats, fish, and more. Be sure you save room for these gorgeous gourmet desserts too or you’ll kick yourself.
Sugar N Spice Frozen Banana on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, CA
When you’re heading to Newport Beach/Balboa Island, Sugar N Spice Frozen Banana must be on your list of food stops. This landmark opened its doors in 1945 and is considered the original frozen banana and Balboa bar shop in the area. Everything is made to order and hand-dipped. These treats are absolutely extraordinary too. You’ve got the frozen banana or the Balboa bar in vanilla or chocolate. And then there’s frozen cheesecake on a stick. If that doesn’t make you want to jump into your car and keep driving until you get here, then perhaps the frozen tiramisu on a stick will.
Of course, there’s ice cream by the scoop in all the glorious flavors you love from vanilla and chocolate to cookies & cream and cotton candy. You’ve simply got to come to experience this California tradition!
Dad’s Original Frozen Banana on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, CA
Dad’s Original Frozen Banana is also located in Newport Beach/Balboa Island. As it also offers frozen bananas and Balboa bars, you can compare them with Sugar N Spice and see which one you like. Not from California and wondering what Balboa bars even are? These are super-sweet vanilla ice cream bars that are dipped into chocolate and then covered in toppings like sprinkles. They’re SO good.
While Dad’s is similar, it is the home of the Hippo Cookie, another scrumptious yet adorable creation. Yes, there’s ice cream here too and loads upon loads of other sweet treats. Grab something to enjoy on the spot to make your stop in Newport Beach complete. And then get some more pastries, cookies, and other delights to nibble in the car. Or to bring back as gifts for everyone waiting back home…if you can resist the urge to eat them all!
All in all, when you drive along the PCH, you’re going to have plenty of ways to satisfy your hunger. Why stop in chains or drive-thru lanes when you can have a true taste of what makes California such a special state? Hopefully, you’ll love these little roadside gems as much as I do!
Read More: CALIFORNIA FOODS EVERY VISITOR MUST TRY!
Are you planning a road trip along California Highway 1? What places are you most looking forward to trying? Let me know in a comment below!
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I wanted to personally acknowledge these Indigenous people and nations and both their commitment and current contributions to the land with a donation to the American Indian College Fund because acknowledgment without action does not begin to address the systemic issues facing Indigenous people. If you feel as though you benefit from the land you’re living on or traveling to and you have the means, I kindly ask that you donate at least $1 to a Native-led organization such as the Native American Rights Fund or the American Indian College Fund.