AAA Magazine Highlights Spots for Foodies on Highway 1

When it comes to road trips, food sometimes takes a back seat to the sights, sounds, and scenery along the way, with meals often relegated to quick stops to fill our stomachs and stretch our legs. But we’re ready to flip the road trip script with 3 Central Coast drives built around eating fabulous food, from roadside tacos to fine-dining feasts. Each segment is worthy on its own, but combining them is even more delicious. Here’s where to drive and dine from Santa Barbara to Carmel.

Segment 2
32 miles: Pismo Beach > San Luis Obispo > Cayucos

Pismo Beach

Pismo clams once drew throngs of visitors to Pismo Beach’s inviting shores, and while the clams’ population has declined over the years, the town still lures road-trippers who seek delectable seafood and wines, many from neighboring vineyards.

Don a bib and smash away at mussels, oysters, lobster, and 5 different types of crab at Cracked Crab (1), a New England–style crab shack where you can customize buckets of seafood. Lunch and dinner daily.

Fresh-picked produce from the owner’s Edna Valley farm combine with family recipes from southern Italy at Giuseppe’s Cucina Italiana (2), which churns out an array of house-made pasta dishes. Go with the butternut squash–filled ravioli di zucca or the Tortellini Giuseppe in a pancetta-laced pink sauce, and finish with the signature mascarpone carrot cake.

For stone-fired pizza or other takeout meals, stop by Giuseppe’s Express across the street. Giuseppe’s Cucina Italiana: dinner daily; lunch on weekends. Giuseppe’s Express: lunch and dinner daily.

San Luis Obispo

This college town and tech hub is home to many foodie faves, including the popular Downtown SLO Farmers Market (3) on Thursday nights, when more than 100 vendors (including local restaurants) sell specialties such as crepes, tacos, and Santa Maria–style barbecue; farm-fresh produce; and locally produced jams, nut butters, and honeys.

Step into the art-infused dining room at Mistura (4), an homage to Peru’s multicultural heritage, to feast on flavor-packed dishes made with Andean ingredients, sustainably caught seafood, and organic local produce.

Go for the ceviches served in zesty leche de tigre sauces, sea bass escabeche, or lomo saltado made with Hearst Ranch filet mignon strips. Sip a cocktail infused with pisco that’s distilled on-site. Lunch and dinner. Closed Mondays.

Nate’s on Marsh (5), which joined SLO’s hot dining scene in late 2021, occupies a historic residence with indoor and outdoor dining spaces and a bustling bar where you can feast on a contemporary Italian-leaning menu that showcases regional ingredients.

Try the popular salmon piccata, hand-cut pappardelle ragù with local lamb, or creamy Burrata paired with warm bread from SLO’s Back Porch Bakery. Save room for the spumoni ice cream cake. Lunch and dinner. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The Hidden Kitchen


Best Restaurants in Cayucos

En route to the tiny town of Cayucos, pull over at Taco Temple (6), a low-key beachy space tucked in a grocery store parking lot at Morro Bay’s northern edge. Order reasonably priced nontraditional tacos, burritos, or tostadas filled with seafood, meat, or veggies. Or dig into sweet potato enchiladas or skirt steak fajita platters. Lunch and dinner daily.

In Cayucos, seek out Hidden Kitchen (7), a cozy, casual spot near the Cayucos Pier known for its organic and gluten-free delights. (It’s a newer offshoot of the original weekends-only location 20 minutes up the coast in Cambria.)

Don’t miss the famed blue corn waffles served savory (topped with eggs and other good stuff like house-made green salsa, caramelized onions, and Anaheim chiles) or sweet with fruit, maple syrup, and grass-fed butter. Breakfast and lunch daily.

At Lunada Garden Bistro (8), dine on the lush garden terrace or in the historic dining room, built in 1876. Seafood (think oysters, clams, calamari, and a rotating daily catch) anchors the eclectic menu, which also includes hearty entrées like rack of lamb, steaks, and French-style duck. Lunch and dinner; breakfast and brunch also served on weekends. Closed Mondays.

Where to snack

Cool off with handcrafted ice cream at Rori’s Artisanal Creamery (9), a vintage-style parlor in Arroyo Grande’s downtown village with unusual flavors like black pepper pistachio. The menu also offers gluten-free, vegan, and kid-size options. Open daily.

Segment 3
149 miles: Cambria > Paso Robles > Carmel


Best Restaurants in Cambria

Pine-studded hills, magnificent Moonstone Beach, elephant seals, and a pristine coastline make Cambria a popular getaway. But so does the food.

You can practically pluck your meal out of the ocean from your table at Sea Chest Oyster Bar (1), a longtime institution where patrons arrive in the afternoon to snag a spot (no reservations, but you can play cards or grab a glass of wine if there’s a wait).

The real show happens at the wraparound oyster bar, where chefs toss seafood pastas, broil oysters, and cook fresh catches like thresher shark or local snapper. Dinner only. Closed Tuesdays. Cash only.

Madeline’s (2), a wine shop and French-inspired restaurant, is perfect for an elegant lunch or a candlelight dinner with classics such as rack of lamb and duck terrine. Lunch and dinner daily. 

Red Scooter Deli

Paso Robles

Start the day at Red Scooter Deli (3), where many items, including the breakfast burrito and even the bagel-and-lox plate, can be made vegan. It’s also the perfect place to pick up a box lunch or other picnic fare for the road. Breakfast and lunch daily.

For a quick intro to Paso’s wine scene—now more than 200 tasting rooms strong—head to Copia Vineyards & Winery (4). Reserve a wine-tasting flight paired with small dishes inspired by the owners’ Indian heritage. Open daily. Appointments recommended. 

A playful vibe, a stellar wine selection, and Michelin accolades means reservations are de rigueur at French-inspired Les Petites Canailles (5). The menu changes often, but expect traditional French dishes like steak tartare and moules frites, and plates that showcase local produce. Dinner only. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Sidewalk signs point the way to Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ (6), tucked away in an alley near City Park. Some of the region’s best barbecue—from tri-tip to brisket, dry-rubbed and smoked over a wood fire—is served with house-made sides and sauces. Lunch and dinner. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Read the full article on AAA Magazine website.