Traveling is one big excuse to dine out, and on the West Coast, the mix of new and classic eateries is reason enough to hit the road.
San Francisco boasts upscale Americana, while craft beer and crab rolls rule outside San Francisco. Further south in Santa Barbara, it’s all about seafood, and in Los Angeles, Thai and taqueria eats are the draw. Las Vegas means high-roller dinners, but hop across the border to Valle de Guadalupe and you’ll find Baja-Med cuisine with hillside views. We hope you’re hungry!
Photography by Beth Studenberg/thelicensingproject.com, Mary Costa Photography, ed anderson, Alanna Hale, shutterstock, Eric Wolfinger, MacDuff Everton, Noe Montes, The Cromwell Las Vegas, and luis garcia
1. San Francisco / 502 miles from San Diego
Ichi Sushi, The Progress, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
Husband-and-wife team Tim and Erin Archuleta have created a spot for sushi in the Mission that is anything but reverent. They serve Itto-style sushi, meaning all fish comes pre-seasoned, and the omakase is the best choice—they’re happy to match your budget, no matter how big or small it may be. Don’t miss the noodle salad with a serious shiso pesto.
3282 Mission Street
Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino’s latest S.F. spot offers bold and lusty fare like roasted pigs’ heads, beef heart tartare, and Negronis on tap inside a dual-level, industrial-chic space in the SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood. Get a seat at the counter facing the open kitchen for a full view of the action.
564 Fourth Street
The new restaurant from State Bird Provisions chef/owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski is one of the hottest in the city. Score a reservation for the $65-a-person family-style menu, or sit at the bar to taste the inventive, scaled-down bites that include roti draped in a luscious buttermilk dressing and fried pig’s ears with a bright citrus sauce.
1525 Fillmore Street
The newly remodeled oyster bar and seafood restaurant in the Ferry Building now has sweeping views of the Bay Bridge from most seats in the house, including the stunning U-shaped oyster bar. A dozen or two Sweetwaters on the half-shell is the thing to get, though don’t overlook the clam chowder, cioppino, and one of the city’s best grilled cheese sandwiches.
1 Ferry Building
San Franciscans are flocking to this new Tenderloin bakery for its Cruffins—croissant-muffin hybrids filled with pastry cream—and the California Croissant, stuffed with salmon, nori, ginger, and wasabi. Its neon “I got baked in San Francisco” sign is utterly Instagrammable.
1042 Larkin Street
2. Outside San Francisco / 530 miles from San Diego
There is no better place to be on a sunny day than the deck of this Marin County seafood shack, enjoying a dozen tangy, juicy barbecued oysters and watching the wind ripple off Tomales Bay.
19225 State Route 1, Marshall
This café/coffee shop/home goods store in Healdsburg also doubles as a meeting place for the agricultural community. The freshly made salads and sandwiches are delish, the kitchen supplies and cookbooks are local, and the enthusiasm of everyone who works and shops there is contagious.
25 North Street, Healdsburg
Check out some of the best craft beers Northern California has to offer on the sprawling back patio of this Sebastopol brewpub, which also has a solid menu of burgers, sandwiches, and other standard grub. Look for its additional locations in Sonoma and Novato.
230 Petaluma Avenue, Sebastopol
Take the ferry across San Francisco Bay to the seaside town of Sausalito and head directly to this seafood spot, which serves one of the best crab rolls in the Bay Area. Other menu favorites include fish and chips and the Hangtown Fry, a San Francisco classic.
350 Harbor Drive, Sausalito
The 1906 downtown Napa restaurant had been abandoned for years following a murder on the premises, but a recent remodel from New York-based AvroKO restaurant group breathed new life into the building. Head up to the top floor bar for craft cocktails, patio seating, New American food, and views of downtown, rebuilt since last year’s earthquake.
813 Main Street, Napa
3. Santa Barbara / 218 miles from San Diego
The Hungry Cat, The Lark
Santa Barbara rejoiced when the popular Hollywood seafood spot run by David Lent and Suzanne Goin opened another location further north. The sunny, casual dining room has a view of the open kitchen, which turns out dishes like grilled whole fish with brown butter and lemon marmalade, and merguez sausage with clams.
1134 Chapala Street
Exactly the kind of nice, romantic seafood restaurant you want in a coastal town like Santa Barbara, complete with harbor views. Surf and turf are both well-represented on the extensive menu, and the wine list has plenty of local representation as well as Old World selections.
324 West Cabrillo Boulevard
Playful New American food is the hallmark at this one-and-a-half-year-old restaurant, which shares a complex in Santa Barbara’s western “Funk Zone” with the popular Les Marchands wine bar and The Lucky Penny pizzeria, making it a must-visit destination in the city.
131 Anacapa Street
No road trip would be complete without a stop at this taco shack, a favorite of Julia Child and several thousand other food lovers. Get the number 16, strips of grilled pork between housemade tortillas and melted cheese, and don’t skip the salsa bar.
622 North Milpas Street
4. Los Angeles / 121 miles from San Diego
Petty Cash Taqueria, Squirl
Tacos go foodie among graffiti walls at this hip Mid-City Mexican restaurant, which offers sea urchin guacamole and savory churros along with tacos made with ingredients like grilled octopus, tempura squash, and toasted crickets.
7360 Beverly Boulevard
A noodle-focused offshoot of Portland’s famous Thai restaurant, Pok Pok landed in L.A.’s Chinatown at the beginning of the year—a second Chinatown location with more breadth is following in the spring. Wash down your noodles with a selection from the menu of 16-plus drinking vinegars, a signature of the restaurant group.
727 North Broadway
The perennially popular Abbot-Kinney restaurant embodies Venice cool, and is worth a visit for the people-watching as well as its thin-crust pizzas, hearty salads, and other California fare. The to-go window next door allows you to get grub to take to the beach, just a few blocks west.
1429 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
The newly revamped downtown market hall is attracting people from all over the city to satisfy cravings for things like the luscious egg sandwiches at Eggslut and the grass-fed beef burgers at Belcampo Meat Co., as well as old favorites like mole and tacos.
317 South Broadway
Angelenos are crazy about the organic jams and preserves at this casual East Hollywood café, which also offers thoughtful breakfast and lunch selections like avocado toast with green garlic crème fraîche and za’atar, or a sorrel pesto rice bowl with poached egg.
720 North Virgil Avenue
5. Las Vegas / 330 miles from San Diego
Flour & Barley, Giada at the Cromwell, The Barrymore
Tucked in The Linq complex, which opened last year, Flour & Barley is a casual sports bar with gourmet leanings. The brick oven-style pizzas are cooked with high-quality ingredients, like Double 00 Flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and whole milk mozzarella. And since people-watching is practically a sport in Vegas, check out the 1,200-square-foot patio with a view of the entertainment district.
3545 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Cantonese cuisine goes haute couture at this trendy restaurant backed by Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon. Menu items, which span dim sum to juicy stir-fried rib-eye, are best enjoyed family-style in the cavernous space. Save room for the chocolate ganache-filled dumplings; you can dance it off at the adjoining Hakkasan nightclub.
3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South
For a dose of Rat Pack glamour, venture slightly off the Strip to this swanky restaurant-lounge located in the Royal Resort hotel. The menu serves steaks of all varieties, as well as beers, wine, and an impressive cocktail list—including the Spicy Zandia made with jalapeño tequila, watermelon liquor, and fresh lemon—and an unlimited mimosa bar. This is Vegas, after all.
99 Convention Center Drive
It wouldn’t be Vegas without a celebrity sighting, and the latest famous toque to take the foodie stage is Giada de Laurentiis. The Italian chef recently unveiled GIADA at The Cromwell (a boutique hotel opened at Caesar’s), where both the décor and the menu are lighter, brighter versions of the classic Italian restaurant. Fans of her popular Giada at Home cooking show on the Food Network will appreciate the inclusion of proper pronunciations of pastas and other Italian words on the menu. She promises all breads baked onsite, as well as the only antipasto station on the Strip.
395 South Las Vegas Boulevard,
6. Valle de Guadalupe / 91 miles from San Diego
Deckman's En El Mogor, Corazón de Tierra, Laja
Opened by Jair Téllez, who’s been called the “Mexican Thomas Keller,” Laja was one of the first gourmet restaurants among the wineries in the valley. Today Tellez has moved on to open acclaimed restaurants in Mexico City and elsewhere, but still returns to his roots on occasional weekends to cook for hungry tourists who come from across the world to try his food.
83 Carretera Ensenada-Tecate
One of the area’s newest wineries is an essential stop for architecture buffs as well as oenophiles. Built right into the landscape around huge boulders and local laja stone, the space is lit exclusively with natural light. Recycled wine bottles form a main wall, letting the sunlight pour in.
Rancho Santa Lucia,
Km. 81 San Antonio de las Minas
Fitting perfectly into the gourmet campsite vibe of the Valle, Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman’s gorgeous, minimalist restaurant is a darling must-visit for traveling foodies. He cooks over an open fire for guests perched in alcoves and under oak trees. Wine bottles-as-flower vases dangle from twine and goats and chickens roost close by. A seafood-heavy menu changes seasonally, even daily, and most of the herbs and produce are grown onsite.
Km. 85.5 Highway 3 Tecate-Ensenada
What started as chef Javier Plascencia’s personal campsite, where he’d cook rustic food over a grill he made on the grounds of a friend’s winery, has become one of the wine region’s top restaurants. The campfire is still there, though now surrounded by a mix of modern tables and chairs on a multi-level deck taking in sweeping views of the grapevines. From grilled octopus to fancy tostadas topped with veggies and local cheese, the offerings change to maximize whatever seafood, produce, and meat are most fresh.
Km. 83 Carretera Federal 3
Located at La Villa del Valle, Diego Hernandez’ restaurant is fittingly named “heart of the earth.” Featuring a classic Baja-Med menu, which focuses on local seafood and produce, the structure is made of entirely reclaimed or recycled materials. From its perch on a rocky hillside, you can see miles and miles of vineyards and olive trees (the restaurant makes its own olive oil onsite, too).
Rancho San Marcos S/N, El Porvenir