The Definitive Guide to Eating Your Way to, and Through, Big Sur


The drive from Los Angeles to Big Sur on Highway 1 is indubitably one of the most beautiful drives on the globe. It’s truly one of those trips where the journey sparkles as brightly as the destination. With numerous towns and small cities dotting the route, this drive is ideal for those with a few days to eat their way toward foodie enlightenment.

Getting up early is a must, as most Angelenos are used to doing. Even on weekends, it’s best to get out before any kind of traffic accumulates. With an eye toward Santa Barbara, a doable 90 miles to the north, breakfast awaits at the Lucky Penny in the middle of the newly spruced up Funk Zone, just southwest of downtown.

The facade completely covered in shiny, copper coins, the Lucky Penny is known for its seasonal, local wood-fired pizzas. Unfortunately they do not serve a breakfast pizza (they should!) but the cafe cooks up delicious, wood-fired baked eggs. Three different versions are on offer, one a spicy salsa verde-chorizo-cotija cheese-cilantro extravaganza, the second a Mediterranean-inspired harissa and lamb meatball, and the third a combination of Italian pesto Tallegio (a tangy cheese) and roasted mushrooms. Pastries and coffee round out the morning menu.

From Santa Barbara it’s a gorgeous meander to Cayucos, a small beach town with a single strip of businesses. Depending on your level of hunger, and need to stretch your legs, the recently rebuilt pier makes for a nice jaunt. On Fridays a farmer’s market sells produce and local products, like Dairy Goddess cheese.

On the seaside town’s main drag, the Brown Butter Cookie Company churns out fresh treats hourly. When you walk in, a dozen or so employees are mixing batter, shaping balls, and rolling dough. The friendly group of bakers is quick to hand out samples as well. The original brown butter sea salt cookie is to die for, crumbly and soft at the same time. Other flavors include, bourbon, cocoa, espresso, citrus, almond and lemon poppy seed. Buy a dozen and munch your way to San Simeon. If you’re looking for something more substantial in Cayucos, stop at A Deli and Pieman Pies for a sweet or savory treat.

Down the hill from Hearst Castle–worth the trip if you have never been, sits Sebastian’s in the tiny hamlet of San Simeon. Housed in a building from the 1800s and bursting with history, this gem of a café serves up simple but fresh burgers and salads, with beef coming from the nearby Hearst Ranch’s grass-fed cattle. Grab a seat outside and watch the local wildlife and farm animals graze or check out the charming one room schoolhouse or put a quarter in the telescope and gaze up at a manmade wonder (that would be the Castle).

After a few harrowing hairpin bends, courtesy of Highway 1–don’t forget to stop and gape at the elephant seals–you will find yourself ready for a drink. Pull in to Nepenthe and treat yourself to a Bloody Mary or Dark and Stormy–make that two. The food here is just so-so but the views are spectacular. The piece of land the restaurant sits on, one of the rare places on the west side of PCH, was once owned by Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles.

Breakfast in Big Sur is nearly as dreamy as the coastline. Two great options compete for your attention and if you have the time make an effort to try both. The Big Sur Bakery may just serve the best croissants outside of Paris. The almond ones are simply gorgeous and big enough to share. Also memorable are the bacon twists, a pastry with a slice of meat baked right into it.

Just down the road at Deetjen’s Restaurant, the eggs Benedict has 10 different customizations on the menu. Try yours with avocado or smoked salmon or vegetarian sausage. This cozy hideaway inside an Inn also makes delicious blueberry pancakes that can carb you up for a stunning jaunt in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Everything is fresh from the real maple syrup to the homemade granola.

Don Draper’s curious brand of nirvana can be yours with a simple act of visiting Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn. This extraordinary place sits on a 100 acres of gorgeous land that ends on cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Whales and dolphins can often be spotted frolicking in the sea below. Oh, and the food. Chef John Cox takes local cuisine to heart. The bread is made with local acorns and kelp is harvested from the ocean just outside. The ranch keeps bees and chickens for eggs, and a well stocked garden. Eating a Pacific Gold oyster topped with a pickled sea grape just might cause you to swoon.

Returning home may be harder than you think. Stop along the way and make the drive back part of your adventure. In Morro Bay try a Bento box at Harada Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar. The compartments burst with small delights, from fresh grated wasabi to tempura shrimp to pickled vegetables. The miso soup is graced with mushrooms and scallions. Inside the space is filled with fun things to look at, like antique samurai costumes.

Further still, Santa Barbara beckons again, calling for a quick stop at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams. The original brick and mortar on State Street uses grass-fed milk and cream from their very own creamery. The flavors run the gamut, from classic, like vanilla bean and mint chip, to more adventurous fare, like Eureka lemon & Marionberries. The salted caramel chip is simply the best.

Plan your southern route so you hit Ventura near sunset. Park in the San Buenaventura State Beach parking lot and hunt down the Jolly Oyster Truck. Friday thru Sunday, this “little engine that could” shucks a variety of oysters for your delight. There are raw, baked, and fried mollusks, aided and abetted with well thought out sauces and side dishes: piquant, spicy and rich. Eating from a food truck, at a picnic bench overlooking the sea feels like true California Dreamin’.

Lucky Penny, 127 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, 805-284-0348

Brown Butter Cookie Company, 98 N. Ocean Ave., Cayucos, 805-995-2076

A Deli and Pieman Pies, 12 N. Ocean Ave. Ste. 121, Cayucos, 805-316-6939

Sebastian’s, 442 Slo San Simeon Rd., San Simeon, 805-927-3307

Nepenthe, 48510 CA-1, Big Sur, 831-667-2345

Big Sur Bakery, 47540 CA-1, Big Sur, 831-667-0520

Deetjen’s, 48865 CA-1, Big Sur, 831-667-2377

Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn, 47900 CA-1, 831-667-2800

Harada, 630 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, 805-772-1410

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, 728 State St, Santa Barbara, 805-324-4402

Jolly Oyster, 911 San Pedro St., Ventura