Living on the West Coast doesn’t mean going to In-N-Out Burger for your exotic cravings (though, damn is it good!). There are some of the freshest, most experimental, cravetastic, and worth-a-trip meals you can trek to. It also doesn’t hurt that California has some of the most dynamic scenery anywhere on the planet. Whether celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or just the end of a long workweek, these places ranging from SoCal, to the Bay Area, all the way up to the redwoods, and everywhere in between, offer eateries that are made for trekking to and dining in. Grab your stretchy pants, fill your tank, and get your stomach ready for meals that are true foodie frontiers.
Russia River Brewing not only makes some of the best beer on the planet (their Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder are consistently ranked as some of the top beer), but this Santa Rosa, Cali spot also has great pub fare you can wash down with your newly acquired beer. Be forewarned, however, as the Russian River Brewing Company get crowded, especially on weekends. If you’re in a rush, grab a growler to grow and bask in the delicious beer while reveling in the perfect combination of hops and California sunshine.
Vegetarians won’t be so impressed, but Sebastian’s Store outside Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California won’t disappoint burger lovers. If the saying “happy cows come from California” is to be believed, then their burgers should be impressive, which they are. Sourcing their meat from the local bovine community of Hearst Ranch means thousands of acres of grazing for the cows and delicious red meat as the result for you. Equidistant from both Los Angeles and San Francisco at around four hours of traveling time, the trip will encompass the beauty of the California coast, the decadence of Hearst Castle (if you’re so inclined to take a tour), and the simplicity of a good burger.
While n/naka is located just south of Beverly Hills—a short drive from anywhere in Los Angeles (mileage that is)—this high-end Japanese restaurant was profiled on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, essentially taking its popularity into the stratosphere. If you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles from San Diego or farther north, put n/naka into your itinerary. However, apparently the Netflix doc had the unintended consequence of making it almost impossible to get a reservation without a two-month lead-time on weekdays and three months on weekends. If you like the best of the best, this is worth the wait.
Tucked away in beautiful Napa Valley, The Farm Restaurant is located on the incredible property within the Carneros Inn—a breathtaking resort experience with separate bungalows per guest. The Farm offers farm-to-table plates to showcase the local food of the region, and hand-crafted cocktails if you’re not up for the abundance of spectacular wines on offer from Napa Valley. Being only 50 minutes north of San Francisco means you can plan a nice night out, or an evening away while staying at the Inn. The choice and experience is up to you.
Located on Highway 101 heading towards Humboldt Redwoods State Park is The Peg House: a quirky, fun restaurant/gift store that has provisions for your drive into the redwood wilderness. While the food may not be on the same level as a five-star dining experience, The Peg House is a simple, yet effective way to shove sustenance down your gullet and keep the spirits high. We’d recommend the salmon burger, which is wild and freshly caught, and a great alternative to a traditional beef burger.
Palm Springs has exploded in popularity the past few years and for good reason: it’s a desert oasis outside of Los Angeles and San Diego. With plenty of chic and boutique hotels, Palm Springs is a millennial mecca. The Matchbox keeps things casual, yet delicious, with American fare and simple choices. We prefer heading there for lunch when the middle-of-the-day desert sun is beating down on you and you can escape it to fill your belly with brick over pizza and beer. Outdoor tables with fireplaces built in keep you warm should the desert weather break the heat.
We wrote about Julian Pie Company in our Road Trips You Must Go On Right Now: Part II, but it’s worth revisiting because oh is it so good, and with the summer weather dwindling down (except for this insane heat wave) the time to get pie is now. Sure, you can get pies shipped, but where’s the fun in that? Grab the keys and get in the car and head to Julian Pie Company so you can sample the goods before you gift them. You know, just to be sure they’re as good as they look.
If you want a more upscale dining experience—before you head to the ruggedness of the Yosemite Valley—check out Erna’s Elderberry House. Whether or not you’re looking to get fed before heading into the Yosemite, on the way out of it, or just want a nice nightcap after viewing Yosemite’s incredible terrain, Erna’s will not disappoint. The menu changes daily and is sourced locally from farmer’s markets by the chefs. We suggest going all in for a tasting course with a wine pairing and gorging on their delicious homemade bread.
When you want art and food to collide, be sure to get a reservation at Atelier Crenn housed inside San Francisco. This Michelin starred restaurant only offers a (pretty pricey) tasting menu, but the experience is worthy of a special occasion. This is a place that is prime for taking a road trip to because you might not get this type of occurrence that often. Atlier Crenn has been described as being poetic in its brilliance, and that is something worth getting on the road for.
For another adventurous epicurean delight, head north of Lake Tahoe into Truckee where the Trokay restaurant offers ‘New American’ meals with everything from southern fried rabbit to soft shell crab tempura. This is a restaurant that will tickle your culinary tongue in any season, especially as a retreat from the snowy slopes of the neighboring ski resorts. If you’re looking for an outer body experience in the form of food, this is a destination that can’t be missed. Make a weekend out of it and never look back, except of course to reminisce about the incredible food.
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