10 Ideas for Eating and Drinking Your Way Down the California Coast

There's nothing like a good ol' fashioned road trip with your friends; singing Dru Hill classics, laughing about old times and enjoying the scenery along the way. Last year, my friends and I road tripped from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon and back again. We enjoyed it so much that we created a road trip tradition, this year deciding on a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway.

We searched the internet high and low about where to start, where to stay and what to see and do as we drove from Northern to Southern California. Based on our research, we decided the following itinerary was best for us based on our available time (4 nights), budgets and interests.

1. Start in San Francisco

Once we landed in San Francisco, we picked up our rental car and headed to our hotel, the San Francisco Marriott Marquis near Union Square. After checking in, we immediately headed to the Golden Gate Bridge. Since we only had less than 24 hours in the city, seeing the bridge was our first priority.  

*Pro Tip: We decided to take uber instead of driving to the bridge. We weren't sure if there would be parking and the best location to view, so we just winged it. We ended up at the Visitor's Center and walking around for a bit, but it was cold up there!

It was a little late in the day, so we didn't have time to do much else sightseeing. We have a friend in the city so it was only right that we let him show us his San Francisco. For dinner, we ate at Palomino (casual Italian and great view of the Bay Bridge) and then went downtown for a little bar-hopping. 

While we didn't get a chance to see the Painted Ladies, the 'Full House' house or ride a trolley, it gives us a reason to go back and do more exploring. I think we made the best use of our limited time in the city. The next morning, we got an early start and began our 2nd annual road trip adventure.

2. Wine and Cheese in Carmel-by-the-Sea

About two and a half hours from San Francisco, we stopped in the most adorable beach town, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Apparently Clint Eastwood has a home here, which isn't shocking since housing prices are upward of $1,000,000. We stayed in the city for about an hour and a half, walking along the chic store-lined streets and randomly stopping into The Cheese Shop for a wine and cheese tasting. We tasted California-produced cheese and wine and ended up buying a bottle to enjoy on the beach. It was the most delightful, unexpected afternoon. We didn't stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea for too long since we were completing the bulk of our road trip on this day and had to make it to Santa Barbara. So we continued on to our next stop, Big Sur!

*Pro Tip: Parking by the Carmel beach was limited, so you should walk there or be prepared to drive around for a bit before a space becomes available.

3. Burgers in Big Sur

After another hour on the road, we stopped in Big Sur for lunch at a restaurant called Nepenthe. This restaurant came highly recommended to us and now we know why. While the menu is a bit limited, it was reasonably priced and every single item we ordered was delicious. Our waitress recommended 'The Famous Ambrosiaburger' because it was made with high quality beef, and she didn't steer us wrong. (I don't even have pictures of my meal because I devoured it so fast!) 

Not only was the food at Nepenthe great, but the views were outstanding.  The restaurant sits atop a hill, almost built like a tree house, so the entire Pacific Ocean can be seen below. Fog happened to cover the ocean while we were there, but it still made for a magnificent view. 

After lunch, we continued driving to Santa Barbara for another (long) four hours. We stopped along the way whenever there was a great picture-taking opportunity, but we knew we had a long drive ahead so we forged on. 

4. Stay in Santa Barbara

We finally made it to Santa Barbara, and when we checked into our room at the Santa Barbara Inn, we were pleasantly surprised. The hotel had just been renovated in August, so it was still new and pristine. The rooms were gorgeously decorated and even had a heated bathroom floor. The beds were amazingly comfortable, so it took us no time to pass out. We actually woke up wishing we could stay one more night.

*Pro-Tip: We exchanged rental cars at Santa Barbara airport. After doing a little research, we discovered it was several hundred dollars cheaper for us to get another car in Santa Barbara than to keep the one we rented in San Francisco. I'm not sure why there was a price difference, but we rented the same size car and they ended up letting us keep the car we were in anyway. But joke's on them because we saved money!

5. Wine and Tacos in Downtown Santa Barbara

I enjoyed Santa Barbara way more than I thought I would. It has a cool, artsy vibe and the nearby mountains and ocean gave it a Cape Town, South Africa feel to me. We heard the "Funk Zone" was a great area for wine tasting, so we checked out the Santa Barbara Winery. Many wineries have storefronts in downtown Santa Barbara with larger wineries and vineyards in surrounding areas. Tastings range from about $10-$12 for 4-6 tastings.

*Pro-Tip: We didn't have time, but the Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara looks like a great way to spend a couple of days in Santa Barbara. When I head back to California, I definitely plan to do this.

My friends and I love food, so it was important that food be the fifth member of our road trip girl group. Enter tacos. Of course when you're on the West Coast, tacos are a must. We googled the best places in Santa Barbara and ended up at East Beach Tacos. It didn't offer the greatest views because of the adjacent batting cages, but I loved the idea of this no frills taco spot. The tacos (about $4-$6 each taco) were divine and the perfect way to begin our journey to Los Angeles. 

On our way to L.A., we stopped at several beaches along the way. It was a little cold because we were there in October, but not too cold to put your feet in the sand. We stopped at Malibu Beach for a while and then headed down to Santa Monica.

6. Ice Cream and Funnel Cake at Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier made me feel like a big kid! We played arcade games, people-watched, and ate funnel cake with ice cream. Funnel cake is the star of any carnival, in my opinion, so  I never pass up an opportunity to devour one. After enjoying the pier, we continued on to Los Angeles proper.

7. Cocktails in DTLA

Once we arrived at our hotel, Radisson USC (I have loyalty points here so it was Free 99), we were excited to hit the L.A. streets. A friend recommended having drinks on the rooftop of Ace Hotel. The cocktails were a little pricey at around $15 each, but that isn't really abnormal in big cities. While the drinks were high, the atmosphere was very chic. Greenery was the theme of the hotel bar with trees and lights throughout, creating an enchanting atmosphere.

 Photo Credit: acehotel.com/losangeles

Photo Credit: acehotel.com/losangeles

8. Late Night Eats

We were starving (notice a theme yet?) after leaving the Ace Hotel, so we went to Yard House for some good comfort food. Yard House is a high-end sports-bar chain with a large menu and reasonable prices. I don't like eating a lot late at night, so I opted for two appetizers: Deviled Eggs and Chicken Nachos. Their portions are huge so I ended up eating more than I planned, but my late night cravings were satisfied.

*Pro Tip: The restaurant is close to the Staples Center so it's a good place to eat before or after a game.

9. Chicken and Waffles at Roscoe's

The next morning, we went to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles because it's a must when L.A. I had never been but was looking forward to seeing what the hype was about. I ordered "The Stubby," which included chicken, grits, eggs & a biscuit. Roscoe's is in no way fine dining but it hit the spot for a solid and tasty (and cheap) breakfast.

After Roscoe's, we drove around L.A. for a bit, heading to the Griffith Observatory, The Grove and driving through all of the neighborhoods in between. I love L.A.'s laid-back vibe and definitely want to plan a longer trip in the future.

10. PUMPed in Beverly Hills

Since it was the last night of our road trip, we planned a posh, gourmet dinner. We opted for Lisa Vanderpump's PUMP Restaurant because we are huge BravoTV fans and couldn't pass up an opportunity to possibly rub elbows with one of our favorite Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. While we didn't see Lisa (we saw her husband, Ken, though!), we understand why she is a successful restaurateur. The decor in PUMP was impeccable. And the food was even better! We were all pleasantly surprised about how much we enjoyed each of our cocktails and entrees. The menu is slightly pricey but well worth it. I recommend the 'Pump-Tini' and 'Pump and Glory' cocktails and Pan Roasted Salmon for dinner.

*Pro Tip: I suggest taking uber, especially if you plan to drink and enjoy yourself. And parking can be tough in L.A.

This year's road trip was so much fun! We thought about heading to San Diego for the day but decided to maximize our time in L.A. My only wish was that we had more time to explore each city because I truly fell in love with each place along the way. Next year we are planning a road trip through Texas, so stay tuned!