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Grilled steaks and more at Jocko’s in Nipomo
Grilled steaks and more at Jocko’s in Nipomo

18 Road Trip-Worthy Central Coast Restaurants, 2021 Edition

From the classics to the newcomers, where to dine on California's central coast

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Grilled steaks and more at Jocko’s in Nipomo

California’s sprawling Central Coast is far from a hidden gem, at least for anyone in Southern or Northern California. For many hundreds of years, indigenous peoples and, later, travelers, have been finding pristine beauty and agricultural bounty within its hills, valleys, and coastlands. Today the winding 101 takes wine drinkers, weekend getaway-seekers, and locals from town to town, with stops for things like French-style breads and upscale ranch cuisine that uses produce grown just miles away. There’s a lot to love about the Central Coast, from the buzzy restaurants in Santa Barbara to more inland communities of San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, the amazing coastline settings of Big Sur and Morro Bay. And while the land and sea are likely the main draws, thankfully food and drink options are destination-worthy as well. Here’s where to eat along California’s Central Coast.

Added: Industrial Eats, Big Sur Bakery, Big Sky, Tognazzini, Far West Tavern, Six Test Kitchen

Removed: Brophy Bros, Bear and Star (closed), S.Y. Kitchen, Firestone Grill, Il Cortile, the Lark

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Big Sur Bakery

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47540 CA-1
Big Sur, CA 93920
(831) 667-0520
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A true destination bakery in Big Sur, this gorgeous bakery, daytime cafe, and dinner spot is a reflection of the Central Coast’s commitment to the best, seasonal ingredients served with simplicity and grace.

2. La Cosecha

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835 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-0019
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This popular Spanish-leaning small plates restaurant in Paso Robles leans early on the seafood and then moves into pizzas and a tight collection of larger-format dishes to enjoy.

3. Six Test Kitchen

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3075 Blue Rock Rd
Paso Robles, CA 93446

This special dining experience is a new dining destination in Paso Robles, with a multi-course tasting menu featuring seasonal ingredients from the Central Coast. The avant garde-style plating aims to be one of the state’s most ambitious fine dining restaurants.

4. Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant

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1245 Embarcadero
Morro Bay, CA 93442
(805) 772-8100
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This casual seaside restaurant is a top pick for Morro Bay, with gorgeous ocean views, pristine seafood, and a wide menu of all-day fare.

5. Big Sky Cafe

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1121 Broad St
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
(805) 545-5401
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With a focus on seasonal, market ingredients and approachable all-day fare, this San Luis Obispo favorite is a solid place to eat right in downtown.

6. The Spoon Trade

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295 W Grand Ave
Grover Beach, CA 93433
(805) 904-6773
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Brunch lovers, beachgoers, and longtime locals all crowd into The Spoon Trade. The Grover Beach mainstay matches its sunny ambiance with its airy made-from-scratch menu and homey service.

The Spoon Trade
The Spoon Trade
The Spoon Trade

7. Ember

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1200 E Grand Ave
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
(805) 474-7700
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Ember is a true Arroyo Grande original that sprung up in a casual space well off the beach back in 2013. Chef Brian Collins has a long background of cooking in places like San Francisco, but returned to the Central Coast to bring wood-fired flavors and seasonal menus to anyone willing to wander in.

Farley Elliott

8. Jocko's Steak House

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125 N Thompson Ave
Nipomo, CA 93444
(805) 929-3686
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Jocko’s is a famous Central Coast institution known for its seriously fresh beef, whether done up as a steak or one of the best burgers you’ll find anywhere. The colorful cast of characters inside only adds to the charm, as does the long lineage of single-family ownership behind the decades-old restaurant.

Lucas Peterson

9. Far Western Tavern

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300 E Clark Ave
Orcutt, CA 93455
(805) 937-2211
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This classic cowboy-style steakhouse in Orcutt is like a time portal to the Old West, with large, nicely grilled steaks at reasonable prices. The artwork in the dining room is a nice bonus to the experience.

10. Full of Life Flatbread

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225 W Bell St.
Los Alamos, CA 93440
(805) 344-4400
Visit Website

Full of Life Flatbread continues to shine as a Central Coast institution known for their inventive flatbread pizzas made hot and fast thanks some wood-fired dome ovens. Their home base location is still the anchor to the brand, and comes complete with an awesome bar in the front.

Farley Elliott

11. Bell's

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406 Bell St
Los Alamos, CA 93440

The former Bell St. Farms is alive and well under the similar name of Bell’s. But don’t let the similar signage distract; this is a whole new French-inspired restaurant from a young East Coast couple with a fine dining background. Stop in for sardines and saltines, escargot, steak tartare, and crisp local wines from the greater Santa Ynez Valley.

Crackers and anchovies from Bell’s.
Sardines at Bell’s
Farley Elliott

12. Bob's Well Bread at the Ballard Store

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2449 Baseline Ave
Ballard, CA 93463
(805) 691-9549
Visit Website

A star by any measure, owner Bob Oswaks puts out some of the Central Coast’s best breads and pastries from two small storefronts, including this newer one in Ballard (the original is in Los Alamos). The place has become a weekend hang for in-the-know tourists and wine country enthusiasts, but is also exceedingly popular with locals in the area who know where to sniff out a great morning meal.

13. Industrial Eats

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181 Industrial Way
Buellton, CA 93427
(805) 688-8807
Visit Website

This butcher shop and restaurant in Buellton is a hearty, approachable find in this cute Central Coast town. The place serves everything from pizza and sandwiches (try the beef tongue pastrami reuben) to daily specials.

14. Hitching Post II

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406 E Highway 246
Buellton, CA 93427
(805) 688-0676
Visit Website

One of the Central Coast’s most well-known restaurants, Hitching Post II sits just off the 101 and offers a meaty reprieve from the road. The focus of much of the wine country gossip over beers from the bar (as immortalized in the film Sideways), the main dining room is a rustic throwback to a burlier time. In fact, you can still watch your meat being cooked off from a viewing window looking over the Santa Maria-style grill in the kitchen.

15. First & Oak

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409 1st St
Solvang, CA 93463
(805) 688-1703
Visit Website

Fine dining hits Solvang with the arrival of First & Oak, inside the Mirabelle Inn on First Street. Chef Steven Snook worked under Gordon Ramsay for years in London and New York City, but now tackles the bounty of the coast from an intimate dining room with impeccable service.

16. Cold Spring Tavern

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5995 Stagecoach Rd
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
(805) 967-0066
Visit Website

Cold Spring Tavern is a living Santa Barbara legend, pushed into the hillsides above the Central Coast city. Loaded with roadhouse favorites like tri-tip, chili, and steaks, this 130-plus year getaway is still as popular with travelers as ever before.

Cold Spring Tavern
Cold Spring Tavern
Farley Elliott

17. La Super-Rica Taqueria

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622 N Milpas St
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
(805) 963-4940

Perhaps the most iconic restaurant on this list, La Super-Rica has been providing Santa Barbara — and endless tourists — with quality Mexican food for more than a generation. Famously loved by Julia Child, the restaurant still serves up all manner of fresh Mexican food, complete with hand-pressed tortillas.

18. Loquita Santa Barbara

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202 State St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 880-3380
Visit Website

Situated right on the edge of the buzzy Funk Zone, Loquita is a Spanish paradise for tapas, wine, and paella. The sprawling patio makes for a fantastic summertime dinner background, while inside the dining room bursts with energy from excited diners, bar drinkers, and staff inside the open kitchen.

Loquita
Tapas from Loquita
Loquita

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1. Big Sur Bakery

47540 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

A true destination bakery in Big Sur, this gorgeous bakery, daytime cafe, and dinner spot is a reflection of the Central Coast’s commitment to the best, seasonal ingredients served with simplicity and grace.

47540 CA-1
Big Sur, CA 93920

2. La Cosecha

835 12th St, Paso Robles, CA 93446

This popular Spanish-leaning small plates restaurant in Paso Robles leans early on the seafood and then moves into pizzas and a tight collection of larger-format dishes to enjoy.

835 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446

3. Six Test Kitchen

3075 Blue Rock Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446

This special dining experience is a new dining destination in Paso Robles, with a multi-course tasting menu featuring seasonal ingredients from the Central Coast. The avant garde-style plating aims to be one of the state’s most ambitious fine dining restaurants.

3075 Blue Rock Rd
Paso Robles, CA 93446

4. Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant

1245 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA 93442

This casual seaside restaurant is a top pick for Morro Bay, with gorgeous ocean views, pristine seafood, and a wide menu of all-day fare.

1245 Embarcadero
Morro Bay, CA 93442

5. Big Sky Cafe

1121 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

With a focus on seasonal, market ingredients and approachable all-day fare, this San Luis Obispo favorite is a solid place to eat right in downtown.

1121 Broad St
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

6. The Spoon Trade

295 W Grand Ave, Grover Beach, CA 93433
The Spoon Trade
The Spoon Trade
The Spoon Trade

Brunch lovers, beachgoers, and longtime locals all crowd into The Spoon Trade. The Grover Beach mainstay matches its sunny ambiance with its airy made-from-scratch menu and homey service.

295 W Grand Ave
Grover Beach, CA 93433

7. Ember

1200 E Grand Ave, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
Farley Elliott

Ember is a true Arroyo Grande original that sprung up in a casual space well off the beach back in 2013. Chef Brian Collins has a long background of cooking in places like San Francisco, but returned to the Central Coast to bring wood-fired flavors and seasonal menus to anyone willing to wander in.

1200 E Grand Ave
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

8. Jocko's Steak House

125 N Thompson Ave, Nipomo, CA 93444
Lucas Peterson

Jocko’s is a famous Central Coast institution known for its seriously fresh beef, whether done up as a steak or one of the best burgers you’ll find anywhere. The colorful cast of characters inside only adds to the charm, as does the long lineage of single-family ownership behind the decades-old restaurant.

125 N Thompson Ave
Nipomo, CA 93444

9. Far Western Tavern

300 E Clark Ave, Orcutt, CA 93455

This classic cowboy-style steakhouse in Orcutt is like a time portal to the Old West, with large, nicely grilled steaks at reasonable prices. The artwork in the dining room is a nice bonus to the experience.

300 E Clark Ave
Orcutt, CA 93455

10. Full of Life Flatbread

225 W Bell St., Los Alamos, CA 93440
Farley Elliott

Full of Life Flatbread continues to shine as a Central Coast institution known for their inventive flatbread pizzas made hot and fast thanks some wood-fired dome ovens. Their home base location is still the anchor to the brand, and comes complete with an awesome bar in the front.

225 W Bell St.
Los Alamos, CA 93440

11. Bell's

406 Bell St, Los Alamos, CA 93440
Crackers and anchovies from Bell’s.
Sardines at Bell’s
Farley Elliott

The former Bell St. Farms is alive and well under the similar name of Bell’s. But don’t let the similar signage distract; this is a whole new French-inspired restaurant from a young East Coast couple with a fine dining background. Stop in for sardines and saltines, escargot, steak tartare, and crisp local wines from the greater Santa Ynez Valley.

406 Bell St
Los Alamos, CA 93440

12. Bob's Well Bread at the Ballard Store

2449 Baseline Ave, Ballard, CA 93463

A star by any measure, owner Bob Oswaks puts out some of the Central Coast’s best breads and pastries from two small storefronts, including this newer one in Ballard (the original is in Los Alamos). The place has become a weekend hang for in-the-know tourists and wine country enthusiasts, but is also exceedingly popular with locals in the area who know where to sniff out a great morning meal.

2449 Baseline Ave
Ballard, CA 93463

13. Industrial Eats

181 Industrial Way, Buellton, CA 93427

This butcher shop and restaurant in Buellton is a hearty, approachable find in this cute Central Coast town. The place serves everything from pizza and sandwiches (try the beef tongue pastrami reuben) to daily specials.

181 Industrial Way
Buellton, CA 93427

14. Hitching Post II

406 E Highway 246, Buellton, CA 93427

One of the Central Coast’s most well-known restaurants, Hitching Post II sits just off the 101 and offers a meaty reprieve from the road. The focus of much of the wine country gossip over beers from the bar (as immortalized in the film Sideways), the main dining room is a rustic throwback to a burlier time. In fact, you can still watch your meat being cooked off from a viewing window looking over the Santa Maria-style grill in the kitchen.

406 E Highway 246
Buellton, CA 93427

15. First & Oak

409 1st St, Solvang, CA 93463

Fine dining hits Solvang with the arrival of First & Oak, inside the Mirabelle Inn on First Street. Chef Steven Snook worked under Gordon Ramsay for years in London and New York City, but now tackles the bounty of the coast from an intimate dining room with impeccable service.

409 1st St
Solvang, CA 93463

Related Maps

16. Cold Spring Tavern

5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Cold Spring Tavern
Cold Spring Tavern
Farley Elliott

Cold Spring Tavern is a living Santa Barbara legend, pushed into the hillsides above the Central Coast city. Loaded with roadhouse favorites like tri-tip, chili, and steaks, this 130-plus year getaway is still as popular with travelers as ever before.

5995 Stagecoach Rd
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

17. La Super-Rica Taqueria

622 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

Perhaps the most iconic restaurant on this list, La Super-Rica has been providing Santa Barbara — and endless tourists — with quality Mexican food for more than a generation. Famously loved by Julia Child, the restaurant still serves up all manner of fresh Mexican food, complete with hand-pressed tortillas.

622 N Milpas St
Santa Barbara, CA 93103

18. Loquita Santa Barbara

202 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Loquita
Tapas from Loquita
Loquita

Situated right on the edge of the buzzy Funk Zone, Loquita is a Spanish paradise for tapas, wine, and paella. The sprawling patio makes for a fantastic summertime dinner background, while inside the dining room bursts with energy from excited diners, bar drinkers, and staff inside the open kitchen.

202 State St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Related Maps