Six weeks ago, Highway 1 fully reopened in Big Sur, following devastating mudslides in May 2017. After $54 million worth of repairs and the removal of millions of tons of earth, rocks, and debris, travelers can once again enjoy an uninterrupted drive along the gorgeous coastal highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
But it’s not just the views that make the trek one of the most famous road trips in the world. There’s also the food to contend with: Dotted along the winding route, you’ll find peppery smoked-fish tacos, juicy burgers smothered in eggs and melted cheese, and homemade doughnuts oozing with jelly.
Our version of this journey begins in Point Reyes Station, north of San Francisco. There, you’ll want to stock up on triple cream Mt Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and scarf as many straight-from-the-bay oysters as you can get down. Your eating adventure will continue from there—you’d better start hungry.
Side Street Kitchen
The specialty at this year-old, bright, modern diner is the crispy skinned rotisserie chicken, fragrant with herbs and served half or whole with an array of sauces, including curried yogurt, salsa verde, and chimichurri rojo. The other specialty: puffy, sugar-coated, fruit-filled apple fritters. 60 4th St., Point Reyes Station
The Boat Oyster Bar
Hog Island Oyster Co. is famed for the oysters it pulls out of the bay and supplies to top dining rooms around the country. A reservation-only café on the water features those world-class bivalves; the menu changes often, but it frequently includes Hog Island’s singular kumamotos. You can get a dozen raw for $36; even better are the barbecued ones, grilled and dripping with chipotle bourbon garlic butter. 20215 Shoreline Highway, Marshall
Half Moon Bay Area
Peruvian food is having a moment in the U.S., and La Costanera, with its wall of windows overlooking the water from a second-floor dining room, has been recognized by Michelin’s Bib Gourmand. The menu has a mix of classics such as antichuchos (grilled skewers) with marinated beef heart and pork belly; empanadas; tender beer-braised lamb shank; and lomo saltado (beef tenderloin with onions, soy sauce, and a fried egg, if you want one). 8150 Cabrillo Highway, Montara
Chef Scott Clark used to cook at San Francisco’s Michelin-three-starred Saison. He’s transformed a red-painted train caboose into a cozy, wood-lined diner with a small menu of comfort food favorites. The $12 hamburger sandwich has melted cheese, a soft egg, and red onion pickles on grilled white bread; the mushroom version substitutes maitakes for the grass-fed beef. 225 Cabrillo Highway South, Half Moon Bay
Sam’s Chowder House
Seafood makes up almost the entire menu at Sam’s, including a “Captains Platter” of oysters, clams, shrimp, poke, and ceviche; an appetizer of grilled sardines; steamed clams (with the option of linguine); and lobster rolls, “naked” with butter or “dressed” with aioli. At night, the place highlights fresh catches such as Pacific swordfish and local halibut. The seats on the deck offer a panoramic ocean view. 4210 Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay
Hop Dogma Brewing Co.
The rotating array of craft brews at this locally popular beer hall might include Pyro’s Prost chili beer (pilsner brewed with jalapeño); Every Third Inquiry, a Bourbon barrel-aged stout; and the flagship Alpha Dank IPA. Guests can order food from nearby Lamas, a Peruvian and Mexican restaurant, and the tacos, burritos, and arroz con pollo will be delivered to the taproom. 270 Capistrano Rd., Half Moon Bay
Dating back to 1894, when Frank Duarte bought the place for $12 in gold, this venerable restaurant specializes in a California version of Continental cuisine. The menu runs the gamut from shrimp cocktail to pork chops with fresh applesauce. The specialties are anything with artichokes, plus the cioppino, packed with clams, shrimp, cod and especially crab, which people drive down from San Francisco to eat. 202 Stage Rd.
The Picnic Basket
Set on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the picturesque luncheonette has an all-day menu with a powerful breakfast selection: golden-brown turnovers stuffed with seasonal fruit or Niman Ranch ham and cheese; an egg-potato-greens frittata sandwich on toast; and house-made jelly doughnuts. Later in the day, hot dogs and elbow macaroni and cheese turn up on the menu. The nearby Penny Ice Creamery, where everything is house-made under the same ownership, is equally popular. 125 Beach St.
A serious, whole-animal butcher shop with impressive cuts of meat on display, this white-tiled space also serves as a deli. Sandwiches range from a hefty Reuben to banh mi made with caramelized pork belly slices, pickled vegetables, a hit of cilantro, and kewpie mayo on a French roll. A highlight is the house corned beef with sauerkraut on rye. The hot food offerings change daily: On Sundays and Mondays, there’s buttermilk-fried chicken; on Thursdays, visitors line up for the baby back ribs. 1534 Fremont Blvd., Seaside
The Bench Restaurant
Set on the impossibly scenic Pebble Beach Golf Links 18th hole, the Bench has a crowd-pleasing menu that offers all kinds of pizza-styled flatbreads: with pepperoni; with ratatouille, fennel ricotta and heirloom tomatoes; and with bench bacon and grilled, pickled red onion. The 24-ounce short rib, the Smokey Joe, is smoked for 10 hours. Aside from the best views, the outdoor deck has fire-pit tables. 1700 17 Mile Dr., Pebble Beach
Aubergine at l’Auberge Carmel
Chef Justin Cogley operates one of the country’s best under-the-radar fine-dining restaurants. Set in a Relais & Chateau property, the intimate dining room has a $175 tasting menu that combines local ingredients in unexpected ways: A Morro Bay oyster with caviar has a hit of sea water, and seared abalone is accompanied by romaine lettuce that’s been braised and sliced in thick rounds, with lobster-infused lettuce puree. Monte Verde at 7th Ave., Carmel
Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant
Amid the trees in the hills off the highway, this exceptional café produces terrific pizzas from the wood oven, with a charred, bready, chewy crust and such toppings as creamy greens, mushrooms and tangy taleggio, and red sauce meatballs. The place is first and foremost a bakery: The creamy lemon curd pie in a pistachio crust is addictive, as is any pastry in the display case. 47540 Highway 1
Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn
Post Ranch Inn, renowned for its modernist, cliffside, treehouse rooms overlooking the ocean, has a new manager, Gary Obligacion, formerly of Chicago’s celebrated Alinea. The property’s Sierra Mar restaurant is home to one country’s largest wine collections, with 14,000-plus bottles. It complements an elegant four-course tasting menu from which the seared foie gras has a garnish of hazelnuts and king salmon is paired with smoked split peas and sweet apple. 47900 Highway 1
The Sur House at Ventana Big Sur
In 2017, Ventana went through a multimillion-dollar renovation. The renovated Sur House restaurant now has outdoor fireside seating and a bar menu with smoky spice-rubbed chicken wings and open-faced tuna melt accented with pickled fennel. The dinner menu has deceptively simple dishes, such as grilled pork loin on a bed of jalapeño-spiked grits. The wine cellar is also notable: some 10,000 bottles with a focus on the Central Coast. 48123 Highway 1
San Luis Obispo
There’s not much barbecue along Highway 1. The notable exception is Ruddell’s, where founder Jim Ruddell set up shop in 2001 in a small building with a few tables outside. The place smokes albacore and salmon with a brown sugar and kosher salt rub; chicken is slow-cooked over hickory. The smoked seafood and poultry are available as tacos in a big French-roll sandwich or salad—and by the pound. 101 D St., Cayucas
In the surfing town of Pismo Beach, the unpretentious Cracked Crab has a blazing neon sign and lines stretching out the door. The menu changes according to availability of seafood and features an ocean’s worth of crab: dungeness cocktail with lime and avocado; puck-size, pan-seared lump blue crab cakes; and New England-style lobster rolls stuffed with crab instead. The seafood buckets offer the opportunity to mix and match wild Gulf shrimp, Alaskan crab, clams, mussels, and lobster tails; they go for $61 for one person and $79 for two and come with all the mallets and scissors you’ll need to extract the shellfish. 751 Price St., Pismo Beach
Jalama Beach Store & Grill
In Lompoc, the epicenter of Santa Barbara winemaking, is this grill, set inside a store that’s set inside the county park. The specialty is the Jalama burger: It’s quintessential Cali-style, with shredded lettuce, tomato, onions, special sauce, and a griddled bun. The burger has gotten so popular over its almost 40-year history that the name is trademarked. 9991 Jalama Rd., Lompoc
La Super-Rica Tacqueria
Famous for being name-checked by Julia Child, Super-Rica is a cheerful, white-and-turquoise stand with a large selection of options that feature stellar homemade tortillas. The tacos are filled with all kinds of grilled meats—chunks of spiced, brick-colored chorizo; adobado with tender strips of marinated pork. The Super-Rica Especial is made up cheese-stuffed green pasilla chiles that are roasted and draped over tortillas with marinated pork and more cheese, for $6. 622 N. Milpas St., Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.
At the end of a dock on the harbor, this photogenic counter started out selling local seafood almost 30 years ago. Customers can still buy fish from commercial fishermen here. (There’s also a robust online store with trays of uni and stone crab claws.) The chopped caesar comes with a choice of grilled, skewered shrimp or sweet scallops. There’s more local shrimp, coated with coconut and crispy fried, garnished with onion rings. Also highly recommended are the linguine studded with garlic-sauteed clams in the shell and the monumental, steamed two-pound crab, along with a selection of local wine and beer by the pitcher. 230 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara
The Los Angeles Area
What started as a pop-up dining room by Helene Henderson in 2013 is now a farmers market-driven restaurant and café on the Malibu Pier, with outposts in Miami and Hawaii. The all-day café at the end of the dock has a lightbulb-lit menu that boasts a pile-up of Swedish pancakes with whipped cream and whatever the seasonal berries are, as well as kale caesar and BLTs with lemon aioli brushed on whole wheat. Down the pier, a slightly more serious version of the restaurant offers a tofu, spinach, and tomato scramble on weekend mornings, and nachos, featuring blue corn chips laden with black beans, melty cheese, and drizzles of sour cream in the evenings. 23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
Chef Jeremy Fox, who heads up the nearby vegetable-focused Rustic Canyon, now puts a creative spin on the Mexi-Cali dining room. In a colorful space decorated with hanging plants, Fox uses exceptional local corn, served Mexican-style with smoky chipotle aioli, and accents black-cod tacos with malt tartar sauce in tender, house-made tortillas. A daily taco special is dreamed up by rotating cooks in the kitchen. The serious bar program features mezcal Manhattans on draft, as well as the obligatory margaritas. 118 Entrada Dr., Santa Monica
Chef Sang Yoon began serving one of the—if not the—country’s first gourmet burgers almost 20 years ago. The Office Burger is made from freshly ground, dry-aged beef, so it’s got a deep, meaty flavor that’s further accentuated by sweet caramelized onions, bacon, gruyere, and blue cheese. Accompanying fries, standard or sweet potato, are presented in a mini-shopping cart. Father’s Office is equally known for pouring dozens of local craft beers. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica