From San Diego to Mendocino, Everywhere to Stop for Food Along PCH

From fresh-caught seafood to Mexican, BBQ, vegetarian fare and more.

If you haven’t taken a road trip up or down the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1 and PCH for short, you need to add it to your travel bucket list, immediately. The 500-mile freeway represents one of the most epic drives in the country, bordering a pristine Pacific Ocean and full of roadside gems that make it the ideal road trip. You can explore the sparkling coastline and rugged mountains from San Diego all the way up to Mendocino County. Cruise through some of the most charming towns in the Golden State, from the quiet fishing port of Morro Bay to the iconic beaches of Malibu, and everything else in between, you’ll have plenty to see and do, and most importantly, eat!

Every road trip needs a good pit stop for fuel and food and we’ve got just the list for you. Whether you’re craving fresh seafood or authentic Mexican cuisine, we’ve mapped out some of the best eateries and restaurants along PCH for your next—and best—California road trip.

Fog Eater

Mendocino

Fog Eater Cafe is not only run by two badass women but it’s also vegetarian. Inspired by the fresh produce in NorCal and comfort dishes from the South, the menu is delicious and hearty, and will make you completely forget about meat. Start with the fried green tomato biscuit sliders and the Southern Plate for a sampler that includes mouthwatering mac ‘n cheese. And don’t forget about the beignets that come with a rhubarb jam for a sweet snack on the road.

Named after a popular Jimmy Buffett song, Frankie & Lola’s is a cozy, waterfront restaurant owned by a husband and wife duo. Jumpstart your morning with a filling breakfast and order Lola’s famous French toast and Frankie’s chilaquiles, or try one of the massively stuffed burritos. The restaurant is currently open for takeout only which is totally fine because you can pick-up breakfast and grab a seat overlooking Morro Rock. You might even spot sea otters floating in the water!

Flor De Maiz

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is one of the many towns in California known for having some of the best Mexican food north of the border. But Flor de Maiz isn’t just any Mexican food, it’s Oaxacan cuisine with a modern flair so you’ll see a variety of housemade mole dishes. The tacos and guacamole are a must, and definitely don’t skimp on the mezcal or tequila-based craft cocktails that are (almost) too pretty to drink.

No trip on PCH is complete without a stop in Malibu. Malibu Farm Cafe is a boho-chic restaurant located on the Malibu Pier featuring quintessential California food, which means farm-to-table dishes with plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. You can choose either the full-service restaurant or the more casual cafe at the end of the pier but either way, you’ll be enjoying ocean views. The restaurant doesn’t accept reservations until 4:30 pm so arrive early on the weekends to avoid a long wait.

Who said you can’t find good ol’ Southern barbecue by the beach? Not only does Beale’s Texas BBQ serve some of the best fall-off-the-bone ribs, bui in t you also get a front row seat to the marina. The St. Louis ribs and brisket are excellent choices and if you’re traveling with a squad, you can get the family meal which is loaded with meat and exactly what you need to fuel up on a long road trip.

To get your seafood fix, head to Bear Flag Fish Co. which sources local fish using sustainable fishing practices. Whether you like your fish raw or grilled you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu here —it’s always fresh (but we love the ahi tuna or salmon poke bowls). From sushi to tacos and seafood plates, the fish is high-quality and portion sizes are generous.

For a more upscale dining experience in Newport Beach, visit the Coliseum Pool and Grill at The Resort at Pelican Hill. Blink twice and you might just think you’re in Italy. Enjoy alfresco dining on the breathtaking terrace overlooking the golf course and resort’s massive circular pool (one of the largest in the country). The classy jaunt serves a variety of land and sea dishes that combine coastal luxury and California’s abundant produce, including Tuscan Kale Caesar, Chilean Sea Bass Bouillabaisse, Mary’s Grilled Chicken, and local halibut. Don’t forget to ask about the evening specials!  And if you need a place to sleep overnight the rooms here are equally luxurious.

Puesto

La Jolla

It should be illegal not to have tacos when you’re in San Diego County. Puesto has several locations throughout Southern California, but we’re partial to the La Jolla restaurant because it’s just steps away from the ocean and perfect for a quick road trip stop. The local fish ceviche and tamarindo shrimp tacos served on housemade, non-GMO tortillas are a must and pair well with a Michelada. They also have a list of Baja craft beers and a selection of hard-to-find wines from the Valle de Guadalupe. Don’t forget the happy hour menu from 3 pm–5 pm Monday through Wednesday.

Leila Najafi is an LA-based travel writer. Follow her adventures around the world on Instagram at @LeilasList.