From Hugh Garvey at Sunset Magazine
Food-obsessed travelers tend to romanticize culinary epiphanies in faraway places: eating Hokkaido scallop at a Ginza sushi spot in Tokyo, fresh anchovies on a sun-dappled deck on the Amalfi coast, cuttlefish in the bustling Boqueria market in Barcelona. But with summer here and international travel still iffy, it’s the ideal time to dive into the pleasures—piscine and otherwise—of California’s central coast. Restaurants new and old have reopened, the fishing industry is bouncing back, and boutique hotels are cropping up along the 101 and Highway 1, making a seafood sojourn easier than ever.
To maximize views, meals, and city stops, set aside three to five nights, bookend your trip south in Santa Barbara and north in Santa Cruz, and you’ll never have to drive much longer than three hours. Hug the coast on the 101 and Highway 1 as much as you can to soak in the spectacular views, always ask the servers for what’s local, and if you see Santa Barbara urchin on the menu, order it. It’s the most perishable, delectable, and exquisite seafood on the planet and a regional specialty prized the world over. Here are a handful of can’t-miss spots to get a summery seafood fix like no other.
You’re going to want to ease into the day with a hearty, hippie breakfast—and this is the spot. With locations in both Cambria and Cayucos, the beyond charming and good-hearted Hidden Kitchen cooks up satisfying savory and sweet gluten-free blue corn waffles, tacos topped with Niman Ranch bacon ends, turmeric smoothies, and more.
Aggressively, deliciously smoked salmon, albacore, and shrimp are the draw at this Cayucos institution. Put a cooler in your car and bring vacpacked fish home to keep those vacation vibes going for days.
Local forager Spencer Marley conducts this inspiring and immersive tour on the beach in Cayucos that’s both primer on the botanical bounty of the sea and the tastiest little ramen pop-up around: Marley wraps up the session with an alfresco lunch simmered in just-picked kombu broth.