California Road Trips

Routes: NorCal to/from SoCal

There are four main choices:

  • I-5 - the quickest, but in many ways most boring route. Note also that in the fall Tule fog may make the Central Valley unsafe and/or slow to drive. While the "standard" way is to take I-580, if going to San Francisco itself (or especially the Peninsula) it is often nicer to take Highway 152 (the Pacheco Pass) to 101/280...and depending on traffic, it could even be faster.

  • US 101 - about an hour longer than I-5 but much more scenic, as its southern end runs along the coast and its northern end runs through rolling hills and farms; also links more conveniently with I-280 (via I-85)

  • Highway 1 - also called the Pacific Coast Highway ("PCH" in SoCal) is the most scenic but slowest route; note that from San Luis Obispo to LA this is the same as the 101 route

  • US 99 - a less-traveled option, parallels I-5 to the east; supposedly more scenic and better places to stop along the way, although obviously slower

I-5 Stops

According to many Chowhounds, there is nothing worth stopping for between LA and SF along I-5! However, the following are some options:

  • Wolfsen's Meat and Sausage - 358 South Ave in Gustine (about 2 hours S of SF, off I-5 about 30 min N of CA-152 to the Pacheco Pass), what it sounds like, but also good sandwiches, etc.

  • Hanna's Kuchenhouse Bakery - a bit farther from the freeway in Modesto, but rec'd by several chowhounds

  • In-N-Out Burger - there are two along I-5; both are open Sun-Th 10:30-1 am, Fri-Sat 10:30-1:30 am

    • Kettleman City - 33464 Bernard Dr (on Hwy 41), exit 309 (CA-41 N), R on Ward, R on Bernard

    • Lebec (Tejon Ranch) - 5926 Dennis McCarthy (& Laval), exit 219 (Laval Rd), L on Sabodan

  • Harris Ranch - in Coalinga, some call it a tourist trap, but they have pretty good steaks, etc.

  • Pea Soup Andersons - in Santa Nella (exit 407), a bit of a tourist trap and ho-hum food, but fun and kid-friendly

  • Casa de Fruta - if you take the Highway 152/Pacheco Pass route (described above), this is a kitchy but fun stop

  • Bakersfield Basque - for some reason, Bakersfield is known for Basque cuisine; Wool Growers (620 E 19th St, 661-327-9584) and Benji's (4001 Rosedale Highway, 661-328-0400) are both rec'd by chowhounds; also see non-basque rec's

  • Buttonwillow area restaurants - see this chowhound report; recommends Ostoneria El Palmar (Salvadorean & Mexican), Espanas, and a different Wool Growers in Los Banos

  • More ideas (check this out later):

US 101 Stops

Between LA and Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo

Santa Maria Style Barbecue

The Santa Maria Valley, between Solvang and Pismo Beach, is known for a certain kind of barbecue open grilled over oak. It was a favorite of Ronald Reagan and people have been known to drive all the way from SF or LA just to get it. The Chamber of Commerce page offers a free PDF booklet with recipes, and there are at least two blogs devoted to the subject. Chowhound readers tend to recommend the following places to try Santa Maria Style Barbecue (or SMSBBQ):

  • The Hitching Post - two restaurants: original HP1 is in Casmalia (3325 Point Sal Rd., 805-937-6151 or 866-879-4088, M-Sat 4:30-9:30, Sun 4-9) and HP2 is in Buellton (406 East Highway 246, 805-688- 0676, 5-9:30 PM). The second was featured in the movie Sideways. Various reviewers will tell you that one is better than the other, although the consensus seems to be that HP2 is "fancier"...and HP2 offers what is reputed to be a good house pinot (appropriate, given the movie). Debate also rages about whether either HP is better or worse than Far Western Tavern and Jocko's:

  • Far Western Tavern - in Guadalupe (just W of 101/Santa Maria) on 899 Guadalupe St/Hwy 1, 805-343-2211, T-Th 11-8:30, F-Sat 11-9, Sun 9-8:30, highly recommended, specialty is the "bullseye steak," one of the few places that's open for lunch BUT they don't fire up their wood-fired barbeque until about 3 so if you want "real" SMSBBQ have a late lunch or wait for dinner...if passing through Guadalupe while traveling south, take the highway 1 exit after San Luis Obispo...if traveling north, take Highway 135/San Antonio Blvd exit after Solvang.

  • Jocko's - in Nipomo (just north of Santa Maria along 101) on 125 N. Thompson Ave, 805-929-3565, Sun-Th 8-10, F-Sat 8-11; highly recommended, although note that the fire pit is not fired up until dinnertime (~4:30 PM), also see LA Times review.

  • F. McLintock's - in Shell Beach (just N of Pismo Beach), on 750 Mattie Rd, 805-773-1892, M-Th 4:30-9, Fr 4-9:30, Sat 4-10, Sun 4-9, not as highly recommended as the three restaurants above, but also has SMSBBQ

  • Roadside Trailers - mostly on the weekends various groups (e.g. the Lion's Club) sell SMSBBQ out of roadside trailers, especially along Main and Broadway in Santa Maria and a few places in Guadalupe, providing what many call the "authentic" SMSBBQ experience. However, a chowhound expressed his frustration with getting less-than-fresh food from these (understandably) amateurish joints...most responses said to try the SLO Farmer's Market (see below).

  • (List of restaurants in Buellton area from Urbanspoon)

San Luis Obispo

A fun college (Cal Poly) town with good restaurants, beautiful views, nearby beaches (e.g. Pismo and Shell), and a creek running through downtown, San Luis Obispo is a nice stop-off point conveniently halfway between NorCal and SoCal. Here are some recommended restaurants, etc:

  • Bon Temps Creole Cafe - lots of chowhounds recommend this place, especially for its breakfast

  • San Luis Obispo Farmer's Market - every Thursday evening (6:10-9) in downtown San Luis Obispo along Higuera St.; many local restaurants and eateries sell freshly grilled SMSBBQ. LA Times article.

  • Ribline by the Beach - in Grover Beach, just south of Pismo (also one in SLO itself)

Nearby: Montana de Oro State Park, Pismo Beach Pier

Between San Luis Obispo and Monterey

  • Linn's of Cambria - 2277 Main St, Cambria; its Olallieberry Pie was featured on "Best Thing I Ever Ate"

...Monterey and the SF Bay Area have their own pages.

Highway 1 Stops

Highway 1 runs along almost the entire length of California; in Southern California people call it PCH ("Pacific Coast Highway"). Many recommendations for Highway 1 in the Bay Area are on the SF Food page.


Beautiful town on the coast about 3 hours N of San Francisco; many of the houses in town are historic. (If driving from San Francisco, 101 leads through Sonoma County, which has some great wineries/restaurants, and Highway 128 runs through beautiful Hendy Woods State Park, with old-growth redwood trees.)

Things To Do:

  • Walk around town & along the coast

  • Point Cabrillo lighthouse

  • Whale watching (depends on time of year)

  • Wineries (e.g. Navarro was rec'd by Chowhounds)

  • Local Farms:

  • Confusion Hill (a fun tourist trap similar to Santa Cruz's "Mystery Spot")

  • Drive Thru Tree

  • Hendy Woods State Park

  • The Skunk Train

Mendocino Restaurants:

Fort Bragg Restaurants:

  • Piaci pizza (?)

  • Los Gallitos - rec’d by a few chowhounds

  • Chapter and Moon

  • Rendezvous Inn

  • Eggheads - good for breakfast

  • Nit’s Cafe (Thai/American fusion)

  • Jenny’s Giant Burgers - rec’d by one chowhound

Northern California - Highway 5 from SF to Oregon

Vacaville/Fairfield/Suisun City

Right where I-80 turns off to I-505 on the way to I-5, a convenient stopping point (~1 hour outside SF, 2.5 h north to Redding)

  • Vacaville

    • Old Post Office on Main St

    • Pure Grain Bakery

    • The Nugget - one chowhound calls it a "grocery store kind of like Berkeley Bowl"


    • ...also there is an In-N-Out here

  • Fairfield

    • Coyote Sam's BBQ --> closed

    • Main Street Bar & Grill - rec'd by several CHs, e.g.

    • Chez Soul, rec'd by CH for fried chicken

    • Yo Sushi, 1430 N Texas St, rec'd by CH for maki

    • Blue Frog & Grog Grill, rec'd by CH

  • Suisun City

    • Cast Iron Grill & Bar, rec'd by CH

    • Athenian Grill, rec'd by CH

    • Babs Delta Diner, breakfast/lunch only, rec'd by CH

  • just N in Winters: Putah Creek Cafe (rec'd by CH for burgers)

Williams (2 hours from SF, 1.5 hours to Redding, 2.5 hours to Mount Shasta) --> Granzella's rec'd by a couple CHs, lots of olive stuff plus a mix of American/Italian-American stuff, although other CHs say it's not good, e.g. "very ordinary food in a tourist trap", although one person says sandwiches are still good

Corning (2.75 hours from SF, 45 min to Redding, 1.75 hours to Mount Shasta) --> Olive Pit is a fun tourist trap


One of the largest towns in true "northern" California, about 3.5 hours north of SF.

  • #Moonstone Bistro - rec'd by several chowhounds, fresh/seasonal/organic ingredients, upscale but also has more affordable "bistro" entrees, popular on Yelp (especially fish tacos),

  • #Wilda's Grill - 1718 Placer St, gluten-free, buddha bowl (tofu/grilled chicken on rice/beans with veggies) is popular, sweet potato fries, falafel, vegetarian-friendly, popular on Yelp, review here and here

  • #Vintage Wine Bar ( rec'd by several CHs, mostly small plates but also some large ones

  • #Grilla Bites - ethiopian / salads / burgers / sandwiches, vegetarian-friendly, won "best vegetarian" in Best of the North State 2013

  • #Savory Spoon - homey "comfort food" place but uses top-quality ingredients, is also a nonprofit, gluten-free options, Yelp people recommend sweet potato fries (some negative reviews but mostly for service, not food...they also have a $15 for $10 deal on Yelp), in a castle (?!)

  • ??Clearie's Restaurant - somewhat expensive place although some dishes are only $16 between 5 and 6 PM, good reviews, Yelp rec's dessert, filet mignon meatloaf (?!), and bourbon beef

  • Maritime Seafood & Grill - rec'd by several chowhounds --> closed

  • Tapas Downtown rec'd by CH --> closed

  • View202 - very fancy place, upscale ingredients, nice view, opened 2012, lukewarm Yelp reviews (for both food & service),

  • Maxwell's Eatery ( rec'd by several CHs, a bunch of bar food favorites, pizza, burgers, sandwiches, etc.

  • Carnegie's - nice sandwiches and salads (see menu on Urbanspoon)

  • Old Millhouse Deli - old building, see review here

  • Priya (Indian) - rec'd by several chowhounds

  • Zippy's Korean BBQ - popular on Yelp

  • Greek Shack - popular on Yelp

  • Cafe Paradisio a mix of mediterranean/asian dishes, popular on Yelp

  • Yaadgar Indian - popular on Yelp

  • Mexican:

    • La Conquista

    • El Mariachi- rec'd by several chowhounds

    • Taqueria Los Gordos - a few locations, rec'd by CH

    • Robert's Taqueria - rec'd by chowhounds

    • Casa Cuevas - rec'd by CH, S of Redding in Anderson

  • Racha Noodle (Thai) - rec'd by several chowhounds

  • Japanese:

    • Sakura Sushi, Kampai, and Yama Sushi rec'd by CHs

  • Giff's Seakburger - famous for "ugly burger"

  • Jack's Grill - rec'd by CH for steaks/ambiance

  • Bartel's Burgers - local fast food chain rec'd by CHs for good burgers/fries/milkshakes, fresh-ground beef

    • locations in Corning, Andreson, and Redding

  • Various chowhound threads on Redding:

See separate Mount Shasta page for information about this town and the surrounding area/mountain.

North of Shasta

Yreka (close to border):

  • The Purple Plum, 105 E Miner Street, (530) 842-0640

  • Gold Rush Burgers - re'c by CH, makes onion rings from scratch