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California Foods Every Visitor Must Try!

Donuts, burgers, tacos, ice cream, cookies, and more! There are so many iconic California foods offered up and down the state, so if you’re planning a trip to California, I’m sharing all the California foods every visitor should try. Plan your meals accordingly! Here are all the most beloved dishes in the golden state that you simply cannot miss!

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Also, please follow all local guidelines and regulations as it relates to travel during these rapidly changing times. Please double check hours and make sure restaurants, museums, stores, etc. are open for business before traveling.

What to Eat When Traveling in California

Table of Contents show

Let’s start with dessert first! 

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: Checking In: Madonna Inn Review

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 a 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, CA

Julian Pie Company’s Apple Pie in Julian, CA

If you love apple pie, the Julian Pie Company in Julian, California is the place to go for a taste just like Grandma used to make. Stop in and get this signature apple pie topped off with a traditional flaky pastry crust. It’s as American as apple pie gets, though while you’re there, it can’t hurt to grab other pie flavors and treats to enjoy too!

Boccali’s Strawberry Shortcake in Ojai, CA

This is not your ordinary strawberry shortcake! At Boccali’s in Ojai, California, you get more of a sweet, moist crumble on the cake. Served in a bowl with loads of whipped cream and fresh-picked strawberries with a delicious glaze, it’s the perfect combination. It’s a hefty serving too, one is big enough to share!

Read More: 22 Amazing Things to Do in Ojai, California

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.

Fortune Cookies from the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco, CA

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has been a legend in San Francisco, California since 1962. They make all the fortune cookies at the Fortune Cookie Co. by hand and from scratch right there at the store. The wonderful aroma will lure you in, and the chance to taste unique flavors and toppings like chocolate, strawberry, or green tea awaits! Plus, they offer a factory tour!

Next on the food list? Donuts! If you can’t make it to one of these donut locations, don’t fret, because in Los Angeles some of the most delectable donuts are served in pink boxes out of donut shops in strip malls.

California Donuts in Los Angeles, CA

California Donuts in Los Angeles, California is a family-owned shop that has been making delicious and fluffy donuts since 1982. You’ll find mouth-watering classic donuts that taste like heaven alongside some truly unique options like the panda donuts which have Oreo cookie accents for the ears and facial features. It almost looks too cute to eat…almost! They’re open 24 hours a day, so if you’re craving a panda donut at midnight, you know where to go!

The Fresh Strawberry Donut from The Donut Man in Glendora, CA

Another great place for donuts is in Glendora, California at The Donut Man. Famed for the fresh strawberry donut which has been on The Food Network and The Cooking Channel, it was named the “Most Iconic Dish” in Los Angeles. Plus, those berries make it healthy, right? Right!

A secondary location recently opened at Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles.

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!

Next? Burgers! Did you know the cheeseburger was invented in Pasadena, California? You can eat some of the best burgers (with or without cheese) out in the golden state! In fact, one of California’s best burgers can be found up and down the state at any In-N-Out!

In-N-Out at Various Locations in California

No, it’s not a typical fast-food joint. In-N-Out is California’s favorite fast food because the food is fresh. The patties don’t have fillers, additives, or preservatives, and all the veggies and cheeses are fresh too. You can have your order customized (animal style, anyone?) and it blows the competition away. There are locations all over the state, though the replica of the original burger stand can be found in Baldwin Park, California.

Jalama Burger 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!

Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, CA

When you’re in Burbank, California, make sure you stop in Bob’s Big Boy. You may even recognize it from many different movie scenes. Known as the home of the original double decker burger and incredible onion rings, you’ll find all those comforting foods on the menu. You can try to get seated at The Beatles Booth, which is the last booth on the right from when you walk in, though you may have to wait hours to get it. With all the delightful food smells, you may just want to sit wherever is available so you can get that food in your belly.

Don’t miss Bob’s Famous Hot Fudge Cake for dessert! It’s Vanilla ice cream between two layers of luscious Devil’s food cake, smothered with creamy hot fudge and covered with a whipped topping and a cherry!

Tacos are definitely on this list!

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.

 La Super-Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, CA

Julia Child famously declared La Super-Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, California as one of her favorite places to dine (although it’s a bit disputed and the rumor is she picked La Super-Rica because she couldn’t choose between her chef friends’ restaurants in town). Ever since it has become the kind of place with a line out the door. The nostalgic vibe is charming, but the food will keep you firmly in place until you get your order of what is nothing short of spectacular Mexican food.

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.

Read More: 14 Awesome Things to Do in Cayucos, CA

Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill for Fish Tacos in San Diego, CA

When you’re in San Diego, California, Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill is the place to go for the best fish tacos. They buy local fish directly from the fishermen or catch the fish themselves. You’re guaranteed to have the freshest fish taco experience when you eat here!

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.

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, CA

Split Pea Soup at Pea Soup Andersen’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 breads and a beverage of choice.

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).

Philippe’s French Dip in Los Angeles, CA

When you’re in Los Angeles, California, get a French Dip from Philippe the Original. This specialty of the house, which has been here since 1908, features roast beef, leg of lamb, pastrami, ham, or roast pork on a freshly-baked French roll dipped in the au jus from the roasts and topped with cheese if you’d like. The french dip at nearby Cole’s comes close as a runner-up, and both restaurants have argued for ages over who made the original French Dip sandwich.

Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles, CA

If it’s chicken and waffles you want while you’re in Los Angeles, California, don’t miss Roscoe’s House of Chicken N Waffles. With a bunch of locations in the area, the menu boasts crispy fried chicken offerings and fluffy, delicious waffles. Enjoy them combined together or keep sweet and savory separate if you prefer!

Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles, CA

Since 1939, Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles, California has been a family-owned place for hot dogs. While Cupid’s Hot Dogs is a close runner-up in The Valley, Pink’s has been voted #1 again and again. The creative hot dog offerings are absolutely amazing and you’re going to love it!

Hog Island Oyster Co. Oysters in 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!

El Faro Taqueria’s Mission Burrito in San Francisco

The original Mission Burrito can be found at El Faro Taqueria in San Francisco, California. The first of its kind, this burrito was originally made in 1961 to feed hungry firefighters with meat, beans, rice, sour cream, guac, and salsa on layered tortillas rolled together into that iconic burrito shape and wrapped in foil. Now you don’t need to be a firefighter, just hungry, to grab one of these!

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!

Garlic Ice Cream at the Garlic City Café in Gilroy, CA

In Gilroy, California, make sure you visit the Garlic City Café. As the name suggests, the menu is garlic-centric. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but be sure you save room for the garlic ice cream. Yes, really. Trust me on this one!

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!

Mai Tai from Trader Vic’s in Emeryville, CA

Trader Vic’s is one of the most famous tiki bars in the world. You’ll find it in Emeryville, California. While it’s not the only tiki bar throughout California, it’s definitely one you’ll want to stop at for the most treasured Mai Tai of all.

Hangtown Fry at Tadich Grill in Placerville, CA

At the Tadich Grill in Placerville, California, the Hangtown Fry is something said to have been served back in the days of the Gold Rush. It’s an omelet with diced bacon, fried whole oysters, green onions, and melted cheese. Tabasco sauce is totally recommended on the side of this amazing dish!

Bacon Wrapped Street Dog  in Los Angeles, CA

If you see a “Danger Dog,” don’t worry! When you’re in Los Angeles, California, street vendors outside the bars and event venues have you covered with this bacon-wrapped hot dog that is absolutely to die for!

Kogi Korean BBQ – food truck for Korean BBQ Tacos

The fusion food you get from the Kogi Korean BBQ food trucks will make you chase them around town. You’ll need to check the schedule to find the trucks but once you do, make sure you order the world-famous short rib taco!

Tri-tip BBQ from Jocko’s in Nipomo, CA

Head to Jocko’s in Nipomo, California and you’ll be amazed with the meats. Especially the tri-tip BBQ. It’s been a staple of the landscape since 1925 and uses red oak coals to fire up those succulent meats. Cold Creek Tavern in Santa Barbara is a close runner-up.

California Fruit from Fruit Stands and Farmer’s Markets

And last, but certainly not least, try California’s fruits including California oranges and avocados! California is a HUGE agricultural state and we produce some of the best fruit in the world! If you’re in Ojai, California, stop by a fruit stand for some Pixie Tangerines, Navel Oranges, or Bacon Avocados. Oxnard has amazing strawberries! If you’re visiting a small town and there’s a farmer’s market, try to stop by to taste some fruit!

Are you planning a trip to California? Let me know in a comment below which foods have you drooling and planning to try!

And be sure to pin a below photo to Pinterest for later!

Land Acknowledgement

Golden State Getaways wants to acknowledge that we live, operate, gather, and benefit everyday on the traditional stolen lands of several Indigenous peoples and nations including the Tongva (Gabrieleno), Kizh (Gabrieleno), Chumash, Popeloutchom (Amah Mutsun), Ohlone, Awaswas, and Fernandeño Tataviam peoples who have stewarded the lands and waterways throughout their many generations in what is now the state of California. 

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