Best Foodie Road Trips in California
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- Yosemite Valley and Lake Tahoe
- Napa Valley and Sonoma
- Bay Area
- Santa Cruz
- Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea
- Santa Barbara
- Santa Monica and Los Angeles
- How to plan?
- Cheap insurance
Whether you’re willing to drive 30 minutes or 30 hours, the Golden State is positively brimming with delectable destinations. Make food the destination or simply stop for a delicious bite on your way.
The insurance comparison app Jerry has compiled this list of epic foodie road trips in California, which includes off-the-beaten-path cafes as well as Michelin-Star restaurants.
For short trips and long trips, Jerry has you covered with affordable car insurance—so you can splurge on good eats rather than worrying about the cost of car insurance. Read on to discover the best foodie road trips in California.
Yosemite Valley and Lake Tahoe
Why to go: Natural and culinary marvels alike! This area has far more to offer than power bars, ski hills, and cacti.
What to do: Foodies should start their road trip at the Kirkwood Inn & Saloon 30 miles outside of town. It’s been around since the 19th century and the bullet holes provide proof. Snag a plate of barbecue and leave room for their unique interpretation of s’mores.
Chamber’s Landing is another great spot to kick back and enjoy a platter of steamed crabs and a cold drink if you want something more informal.
In North Lake Tahoe, stop at Jake’s on the Lake for Hawaiian-tinted fare that’s not too fancy but plenty impressive (lake views for days!). Go South for Toast Tahoe, a hidden gem run by a Japanese family who moved to town a few years ago to offer fusion cuisine.
Follow the eastern state border to the Yosemite Valley and you’ll be rewarded with desert-inspired meals that are impossible to find in the city.
The Ahwahnee Dining Room is a towering lodge that has a dress code and renowned eats. The Elderberry House is quaint yet impressive, offering French-inspired food in a chateau just minutes from the national park.
Most travelers visit Yosemite and Lake Tahoe to explore the terrain—but the unique food scene is also worth exploration.
Napa Valley and Sonoma
Why to go: California wineries don’t only sell wine! You can also find mouthwatering farm-to-table dishes in wine country, whether or not you drink alcohol.
Vineyards are usually very connected to local food systems, so you’ll be able to enjoy locally made cheese and homegrown produce alongside your wine.
What to do: Don’t miss Castello di Amorosa Winery, which has a replica of a medieval castle (complete with torture chamber).
The Beringer Rhine House is the oldest continuously operated winery in the Valley, and it’s definitely worth a stop. Sterling Vineyard has an aerial tram, which offers picturesque views while you sip from a glass of wine.
Most wineries in the area destinations are mostly within a thirty-minute drive, but you will want to spend more time onsite than driving.
So, to make the most of this particular trip you should plan your journey by booking tastings at multiple wineries ahead of time. Do a full weekend of explorations or pack everything into a long Saturday.
Other things you might want to know
- Leave as early as you can to experience the full drama of mist clinging to the vines in the dawn light.
- The Oxbow Public Market is a great place to stock up on snacks if you get hungry between stops. Make sure you bring a fully charged phone or a notebook so you can keep track of your favorite labels.
- Highway 29 is the best route for hitting as many stops as possible, but it often gets very busy. Try the Silverado Trail, which runs parallel to Highway 29, if the traffic gets too heavy.
- Of course, make sure you either plan for minimal consumption or elect a designated driver so that you can safely navigate the winding roads of Napa Valley.
Napa Valley and Sonoma are two of the best wine-lover destinations in North America.
Why to go: From ancient sourdough to authentic Chinese food, you’ll have a tough time finding enough room for all the food you want to eat in the Bay Area.
What to do: If you’re in a rush, grab a hunk of sourdough and eat it with Point Reyes seafood chowder. If you have more than a few hours, start in the Mission with Poc-Chuc, where you can enjoy Mayan cuisine and a mouthwatering mole sauce.
Lazy Bear is a two Michelin-Star restaurant but you make sure you plan ahead to get a table. Before you head to the next neighborhood, swing by Bi-Rite Creamery and snag a scoop of a new flavor of ice cream, like roasted bananas.
For your next meal, go to Hing Lung Co. in Chinatown to enjoy Cantonese-style meat prepared with flair. Another option is SingleThread, an outdoor Japanese hot pot restaurant with a Michelin Star. Visitors who have seen Chef’s Table will enjoy a stop by Atelier Crenn to sample Dominique Crenn’s inspired dishes.
Vegan visitors will find plenty of great food in the Bay Area. Vegan Mob is Black-owned and making headlines with its new menu.
Gracias Madre is a much-beloved joint for vegan foodies. Wholesome Bakery is plant-based (and gluten-free) and offers plenty of sweet treats to cap off your visit to the region.
Whether you have a few hours or a few days, this Bay Area itinerary is a foodie road trip in California you will never forget.
The Bay Area has an outstandingly diverse food scene—plan to stay a few days to truly experience what it has to offer.
Why to go: If you’re craving a relaxing, beachy jaunt—with plenty of delicious eats—head to Santa Cruz. In recent years, it has blossomed into one of the best cities in the state for craft beer, too.
What to do: Go to Lupulo Craft Beer House to sample Spanish bites and great brews. Steamer Lane Supply is a casual spot for fresh breakfast and lunches, including salmon poke bowls. Stop by Pretty Good Advice for some farm-to-table action.
To grab something to go before walking the boardwalk, go to Charlie Hong Kong or Snap Taco. Make sure you swing by Penny Ice Creamery to seal the deal, and discover flavors like cardamom coconut blackberry.
As a final stop, go to Shadowbrook Restaurant on your way out of town. There’s a dress code and you access the restaurant via its own cable car.
If you love the beach just as much as you love food, Santa Cruz is the destination for you.
Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea
Why to go: Continue south down the coast on Highway 1 toward Big Sur and you’ll come to Monterey. This area boasts delicious seafood and breathtaking views of the ocean.
Not only are the ingredients here incredibly fresh but there’s a strong emphasis on sustainability in this city—so you can nom without regrets.
What to do: To sample the ocean’s best flavors, head to Aubergine or Akaoni. Pearl Hour is another good choice day or night, since it acts as a coffeehouse when the sun is up and then transforms into a gourmet eatery later on.
Other things you might want to know
- Make sure you seek out some of the non-American restaurants, too, to complement your bellyful of seafood. Enjoy a Paraguana feast at Cafe Guarani which offers stunning pastries, sandwiches, and traditional snacks. El Cantaro is a vegan Mexican restaurant with a huge menu and innovative dishes. La Balena has a patio with a fountain and enough Italian delicacies to make Giada cheer.
- If you want to stay the night, Carmel-By-The-Sea and Salinas have plenty of homely options (the former being on the splurge side and the latter being more affordable).
Monterey and Carmel, where foodie destination meets sustainability.
Why to go: Santa Barbara is a perfect pitstop on a longer trip. Once you get into town, you can reach most destinations by walking. So park for the day and follow your tastebuds. What to do: First, head to La Super-Rica Taqueria. This place is not a secret, but the freshly made pressed corn tortillas are worth the wait.
Dune Coffee Roasters is a great place for morning treats, including coffee and sticky buns. Their instagrammable patio seating doesn’t hurt, either. Bibi Ji offers eclectic Indian food, presented with style alongside a sizable wine list.
When the sun starts creeping toward the horizon, go to Shoreline Beach Cafe and sit by the beach with a plate of fresh seafood. Finish your night at Test Pilot with some impressive cocktails and conversations with the city’s most fashionable citizens.
Santa Barbara is a common pit stop on longer road trips—but the food in this vibrant city is destination-worthy.
Santa Monica and Los Angeles
Why to go: Avocado toast, of course.
What to do: Start your road trip with a gourmet avocado toast tasting tour. Los Angeles does this dish particularly well, and you can compare versions from Go Get Em Tiger, LaMill Coffee, and SQIRL.
Sweet shops are another treasure worth your hunt in this area. B Sweet Dessert Bar is fusing together all kinds of different desserts, so you’re guaranteed to find something delightful there. La Tropezienne Bakery is a little like Laduree’s, if it had California roots. La Brea is a classic for breads, pastries, and other baked goods.
The seafood scene is strong here, too. Enjoy sushi from Inn Ann or Urasawa, but be prepared to splash down the cash (and no photography is allowed at Urasawa). Niki Nakayama’s n/naka is famous and well worth the stop for her unique interpretation of kaiseki, or a multi-course Japanese dinner.
If you only have a few hours and you want an impressive meal, go to Shutters On the Beach in Santa Monica. It’s a waterfront hotel with stunning views from the dining room and equally satisfying dishes.
Avocado toast may have a bad rap, but don’t bash LA’s famous and delicious (and healthy!) dish before you try it.
How do I plan a foodie road trip?
The best foodie road trips take some planning, nothing’s worse than planning your road trip around a restaurant that ends up being closed upon your arrival. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Start your planning by choosing what type of food you want to try. Are you looking for affordable and farm-to-table meals, or do you want to sample Michelin Star-quality food? Are you jonesing for some craft brews or do you prefer wineries? Perhaps you are on a mission to find the best seafood platter in the state.
- Now, commit to a length. Is this a half-day trip, a weekender adventure, or a week-long pilgrimage? This area of the country boasts incredible natural beauty, and it’s well worth setting aside time to hike in addition to your foodie stops if possible. This decision will also impact your route, since you can choose between the coastal Highway 1 or the inland 101 depending on your stops.
- Make sure you have a roadside assistance membership: Before you hit the road, sign up for Jerry’s roadside assistance membership. Features include lockout services, towing, and even Uber credits (basically, everything to make sure you get to that dinner reso on time, no matter the circumstances).
- Choose a time of year. Traveling in the off-season can save you money and allow you to avoid long wait lines for popular restaurants. If you plan to invite friends or family, give them plenty of warning so they can set aside vacation time.
- Check the Yelp reviews to avoid surprises, as sometimes restaurants change hands or hire new chefs and it doesn’t go to plan.
- Don’t forget to make reservations and double-check operating hours: The “Closed” sign is a foodie’s worst nightmare. Enough said.
How to find cheap car insurance
Before you hit the road, make sure you’re not overpaying for car insurance. Downloading Jerry and switching plans saves the average driver $879 on car insurance a year, without sacrificing coverage (that’s A LOT of avocado toast).
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Where is the best place to do a foodie road trip in California?
Anywhere! If you’re looking for incredible seafood, then stick Highway 1 on the coast. Adventurous eaters should head to California’s desert. Wine lovers should go to Sonoma and the Napa Valley. Serious foodies can go to Los Angeles to try the hottest new restaurants on the scene.
How long should my foodie road trip be?
You can plan an enjoyable foodie road trip in California in just half a day, if that’s all you have. Many great restaurants are located within an hour of one another. However, setting aside at least four days will allow you to sample food at various destinations throughout the state.
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