Travel

A Food Lover's 24-Stop Guide to the Pacific Coast Highway

Road tripping with an ocean view.

by:
May 30, 2019
Photo by reverie_rambler/Flickr Commons

Pack your bags! In honor of life’s most delicious highways, we give you Hit the Road, Snack, our travel guide of things to eat, see, and do this summer from coast to coast.


When I was 19, I hopped into a car with my cousin Becky and drove from my parents' house in Atlanta, Georgia to Los Angeles, California. After a couple days in L.A., we took the Pacific Coast Highway up to Portland—stopping at the John Steinbeck archives in San Jose, Palo Alto, and Berkeley for a research project along the way.

The trip was formative for both of us: It taught us how to be better drivers, how to write on the road without getting carsick, and how to pass the time on long stretches of highway (i.e., true crime podcasts). It was on the PCH where I grew to fall in love with all of the great food and nature between California and Oregon, where the two most important people in my life live now.

Becky loved Portland so much, she ended up moving there a couple years after our trip. My brother moved to Southern California in 2012, and every year I make it out there to see him, pit stopping in Portland to see Becky as well.

This summer, Becky and I will be driving from L.A. to Portland to relive that old Steinbeck trip. To prep for it, I asked my colleagues what we should eat and where we should stop. Here's what they said:

A Pacific Coast Highway map of my road trip to save, share, or follow along.

Malibu

"Neptune’s Net in Malibu!" —Victoria Maynard, VP of finance

"Paradise Cove." —Sam Stahl, chief revenue officer

"I’ve been to Duke's. I didn't necessarily go for the food, but for the view of the water. Saw dolphins playing." —Becky, my cousin

"Temescal Canyon, about a mile from the PCH, is a nice hike I do frequently." —Kevin, my brother

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That crazy little SUN of a beach.

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Davenport

"Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, north of Monterey. They sell their jams and berries and slices of strawberry pie on the honor system. There's a wooden box with a slot to put money into and a change drawer next to it to take back what you need, trusting that any strawberry lover is gonna be honest about what they took and how much they should pay for it." —Anna Billingskog, food stylist


Big Sur

"Nepenthe has the best views of the Pacific, incredible burgers, and a great wine list. There's also a New Agey gift shop right next door. I love Big Sur; it really is the most beautiful place in the country. It just smells amazing: half ocean smell, half forest smell." —Sam (again)

"Big Sur Bakery has amazing baked goods, beautiful salads, burgers, and wine. Totally cute little place along the road." —Josh Cohen, test kitchen director

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☮️🌲🌊💫

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“And when the fog's over and the stars and the moon come out at night it'll be a beautiful sight.”
―Jack Kerouac, 'Big Sur'

Santa Cruz

"There are so many fantastic taco spots in Santa Cruz that it's pretty hard to go wrong, but I always love stopping at Taqueria Los Pericos on the way into town for their loaded burritos and salsa/condiments bar." —Erin Alexander, assistant editor of partner content

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is probably my favorite boardwalk in America. It's huge, technicolor, and cheesy—what Coney Island used to be in its glory days. Get an ice cream cone or a hot dog and read a short Steinbeck novella (The Red Pony or Tortilla Flat, not The Pearl) on the beach.


Half Moon Bay

"In Half Moon Bay there's a place called Sam's Chowder House we never fail to stop at every time my family drives along Highway 1 California. It's gotten serious acclaim for having the best seafood in the Bay Area (I've never encountered a single grain of sand in the chowder) with spectacular salmon burgers (they're coral pink) and house-made ice cream topped with small batch olive oil for dessert. Plus, we saw whales last time. " —Maggie Slover, copywriter


West Marin

"In West Marin, stop at either Nick's Cove or The Marshall Store for lunch (both are about 20 minutes past Point Reyes, which any PCH-journeyer will be stopping to check out anyway. Speaking of, get a blueberry scone at Bovine Bakery while you're doing that; it's colossal and has a light, buttery crumb that makes it feel almost like a scone-muffin hybrid (in a very good way)." —Ella Quittner, lifestyle writer

Photo by Ella Quittner

Portland, etc.

"I would walk the 2,894 miles from here to Portland—yes, I looked it up—for the lemon ricotta pancakes at Tasty n Alder." —Chrissie Gruebel, copy director

"For food along the Oregon Coast Highway, King Neptune Drive-In and Tillamook Creamery. Short Sands Trail for a scenic hike." —Tim McSweeney, senior graphic designer (and Portland native)

"Ecola State Park, where they shot The Goonies." —Becky (again)

"There’s one place Becky and I went back to three times in one weekend. Let me find it for you... (comes back a couple minutes later) Roseanna's Cafe! We also love Clearwater Restaurant. And oh my god, these fish chips in Astoria. Wait, one more: this teeny tiny restaurant on the dock in Port Orford is like being inside a book set in some pirate story. The one lady (who owns it, maybe?) is a bit grumpy, but the others are suuuuuper nice. You can dine in, buy fresh raw seafood to-go, or grab fishing and crabbing bait and gear there." —Hannah, my other cousin (also an Oregon native)

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Kevin and me talking

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"Strangely, Eric, a lot of the random spots we hit on the coast seem to taste pretty good (not Michelin star, but better than you'd guess). I don't know if that's because they are actually good and some really talented chef got sick of living in cities to have an easier life...or if we were just hungry on the road." —David, my other other cousin

It was on the PCH where I grew to fall in love with all of the great food and nature between California and Oregon.

As for me? I love picking berries on Sauvie Island Farms. They have the usual suspects—blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries—but what I get most excited about are the local Oregon marionberries, which make the best jam ever.

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🇺🇸

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Have you ever done this drive? Did we miss anything? Please help us fill out our Pacific Coast Highway map in the comments below!

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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his weekly solo dining column, Table for One, runs every Friday morning. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

34 Comments

Melissa August 8, 2019
It’s been a few years since we did our drive up and down the west coast, but one of the standouts for me was The Crazy Norwegian’s Fish and Chips in Port Orford, OR. Tiny little cottage with the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. Hope it’s still just as good.
 
Lynn D. July 2, 2019
Also you'll be there for super low tides!
 
Joanne July 1, 2019
Stanford Inn, Mendocino!
 
Lynn D. June 27, 2019
The Otis Cafe in Otis, Oregon near Neskowin for great diner food, breakfasts, meatloaf, liver and onions, and great pies. For something completely different, I've heard that Drina Daisy Bosnian restaurant in Astoria is very good.
 
piggledy August 8, 2019
Sadly, the Otis Cafe suffered a fire a few weeks ago, just as it had entered our notice as a place to try. We are crossing our fingers for a renovation. We live in Beaverton, and make frequent overnight trips to the coast. Recent discovery: Bay Thai in Depoe Bay. Love to seek out under $100 mom and pop owned accommodations for our mini-vacations. Deanes’, and Ya’tel in Yachats are both charming, and we just discovered a sweet little cafe in Yachats: Sea Note - great clam chowder!
 
sf-dre June 18, 2019
Seconding Manuels in Aptos, get olliaberries at Swanton if they have them, Mercado & Taqueria de Amigos (Mexican food at a gas station!) in Pescadero.
 
Russell L. June 3, 2019
If you’re anywhere near Pismo Beach (CA central coast), a visit to Jocko’s Steakhouse in Nipomo (a few miles south of Pismo) is a must. Incredible charcoal-grilled steaks, chops, and ribs in true Santa Maria BBQ tradition.
 
mikedalena June 3, 2019
Totally skips all of California’s Central Coast. From Santa Maria to Cambria there’s so much to see, do, and EAT! That’s okay, after the influx of horrible tourists after Sunset Magazine’s exposé in the ‘90s I’m happy to see the best part of CA ignored. Ahhhh. Peace.
 
BerryBaby June 2, 2019
Blessed to live in Oregon and be surrounded by incredible local, fresh, seafood and produce.
A must place for fish and chips...The Pelican in Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock is right outside the beautiful window view of the Pacific Ocean.
Also, Moe's, or a number of places in Depot Bay for clam chowder.
Bring big, stretchy, pants...you will need them! BB💐
 
Lorraine W. June 2, 2019
I used to live in Portland and the Bowpicker in Astoria is the Absolute Best Fish and Chips in the World. Yes, I mean that.
 
Martha M. June 2, 2019
Local Ocean In Newport OR. Worth the wait!
 
Shirley G. June 2, 2019
Got to recommend Tidal Raves in Depot Bay (where a loval pof of grey whales can be spotted year round). Must try the oyster/spinach bisgue! Don't skip Luna Sea restaurant in downtown Yachats. Fish and chips, fresh seafood! Get a load of an episode of "The world's deadliest catch" where restaurant owner and a crew of young men are fishing for King crab off coast of Alaska. I am retired and have just bought a house in Yachats.
 
Rozann G. June 2, 2019
We lived at Sea Ranch on the Mendonoma coast for several years. Two Fish Bakery is wonderful-breads, sandwiches, coffee and pastries are all good. I especially like their sesame breadsticks- buttery, flaky and delicious.
St. Orres just north of Gualala is a landmark and the food is consistently excellent. Local ingredients creatively prepared, we dined there for special occasions and Sunday brunch.
And in Point Arena, Franny’s Bakery is a tiny shop on Main Street (aka Highway 1) that has delicious pastries and some savory offerings as well.
In Elk, stop for breakfast at Queenies Diner. Heart dishes like corned beef hash, huge omelettes and pancakes and waffles. Funky, friendly and delicious.
There are a lot of great local businesses on this stretch of the coast that depend on tourism, so plan to take your time driving through here.
 
Mari P. May 31, 2019
I'm surprised Rocky Point Restaurant in Big Sur wasn't included. It's killer good and the view is fantastic.
 
skwm May 31, 2019
Up in Mendocino, the Good Life Bakery is great, and a few miles north in Fort Bragg, Cowlicks Ice Cream has candy cap mushroom ice cream, which tastes like maple syrup.
 
Maureen T. May 31, 2019
Thanks for this article- Highway One is indeed a marvel.

I was very surprised you skipped all of Sonoma County, however, especially the road between Jenner and Mendocino. It has to be one of the most spectacular coastlines anywhere.

And for food, In particular, TwoFish Baking Company is not to be missed. It’s just south of The Sea Ranch (a nice place to rent a vacation home, all price ranges). Twofish’s food is fantastic.. and it’s much more than a bakery. While their caramel sticky buns are legendary their sandwiches are also incredible. The turkey sandwich I had recently had an inch and a half of real turkey breast, smoked fresh in their own smoker, on bread baked that day. And it’s right on the coast with a beautiful ocean view in a very cool 1858 building. Worth a visit to the coast all by itself!
 
Marnie S. May 31, 2019
I’ve gotta give a shout-out for the amazing food and scenery along the Sonoma County Wine Country coastline as you drive the Highway 1!

For the most spectacular sunset you’ll ever see, I highly recommend dinner at the charming and romantic Rivers End restaurant in Jenner. Their farm to table style dishes are all made from local seasonal wine country ingredients.
Plus you’ll even see seals swimming from the ocean into the mouth of the ethereal Russian River as you dine. Just be sure to make a reservation!
www.ilovesunsets.com

Another favorite is Wild Flour Bread in Freestone Ca. It’s probably the best bread you’ll ever eat in your life, made from organic sour dough starter and fresh baked each day in a wood fired oven, fueled with eucalyptus wood. Most ingredients are grown in their garden/orchard that’s out back. They always have samples, so you can taste everything before you buy! Just know they are closed Tues. - Thurs. so you’ve gotta go on a weekend.
www.wildflourbread.com
 
Denise May 30, 2019
Skip the Boardwalk, it's a zoo... head down the road to Aptos and go to Manuel's Mexican then walk across the street to Marianns's Ice cream and a stroll down to Seacliff state beach for the sunset. http://www.manuelsrestaurant.com/ . https://mariannesicecream.com/
 
Amelia R. May 30, 2019
You have to start in Astoria OR, go to the Goonies house, followed by Cannon Beach, (the Goonie beach!) drive down thru Lincoln City and search for glass blown floats on the beach, Check out the sand dunes and the cute town of Florence OR. The Oregon Coast is the most beautiful (and most under rated) of the West Coasts IMHO. <3
 
B May 30, 2019
The Pie Ranch half way between Davenport and Pescadero is definitely worth a stop. And then the Highway 1 Brewery is pretty great as well.
 
skwm May 30, 2019
Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz for their amazing ice cream, topped with torched homemade marshmallow fluff.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 30, 2019
Thanks for the rec!