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Grilled oysters and other seafood dishes from the Jolly Oyster.
Al fresco seafood at the Jolly Oyster.
Nicole Adlman

21 Road Trip-Worthy Central Coast Restaurants, 2022 Edition

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

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Al fresco seafood at the Jolly Oyster.
| Nicole Adlman

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: Sea Chest, Pico, S.Y. Kitchen, Bar Le Côte, Bettina, Jolly Oyster, the Dutchess, Rory’s Place

Removed: Big Sur Bakery, Big Sky Cafe, First & Oak, Industrial Eats, Loquita

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

La Cosecha

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

Six Test Kitchen

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

Sea Chest Oyster Bar

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This cash-only, no-reservations seafood institution is old-school in all the good ways. Folks line up before Sea Chest opens at 5:30 p.m. so they can dig into classics like oysters Rockefeller, clams casino topped with thick chunks of bacon, and a surprisingly tender breaded and fried calamari steak (one of the house specialties). Plus, the restaurant is perched right on the Pacific, so the sunset views are nothing short of spectacular.

A plate of oysters Rockefeller at Sea Chest.
Oysters Rockefeller at Sea Chest.
Karen Palmer

Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant

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This casual, order-at-the-counter seaside restaurant is a top pick for Morro Bay, with gorgeous ocean views, large portions of pristine seafood, and a wide menu of all-day fare. On weekends, there might even be live music to enjoy with the stunning surroundings.

The Spoon Trade

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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

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

Jocko's Steak House

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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 in 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

Far Western Tavern

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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.

Full of Life Flatbread

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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

Pico Los Alamos

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Located in Los Alamos’s culinary corridor with neighboring heavyweights like Full of Life Flatbread and Bell’s, Pico holds its own with chef Cameron Ingle heading up the kitchen. The Bestia and Bavel alum draws inspiration from locally-sourced produce and proteins for the restaurant’s small-plates menu. Start with a well-made cocktail and an order of the house-made marinated olives before transitioning to wines and digging into supple Hope Ranch mussels with fennel and tarragon, and the lushest chicken liver mousse in town.

Greg and Daisy Ryan have drawn raves for their “Franch” style cuisine from the media, industry vets, and the Michelin guide. Stop in for sardines and saltines, escargot, steak tartare, and crisp local wines from the greater Santa Ynez Valley at lunchtime; dinner is a more elegant tasting menu that changes often but is consistently outstanding.

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

Bar Le Côte

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The Bell’s team has another hit on their hands with this stylish sustainable seafood destination, which opened in the summer of 2021 and sources local sea urchin, crab, and the like. Chef Brad Mathews has already created some signature items in dishes like peel-and-eat shrimp; Spanish octopus with fingerling potatoes, frisée and saffron aioli; and little neck clams with house-made chorizo. The wine list here is something special, too.

Spanish octopus at Bar Le Côte pop-up at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. 
Spanish octopus at Bar Le Côte.
Bar Le Côte

Bob's Well Bread at the Ballard Store

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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.

S.Y. Kitchen

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Verona-born chefs Luca and Francesco Crestanelli turn out pizzas, seasonal vegetables, and house-made pastas like ricotta and marjoram gnocchi with Bordier butter and roasted cherry tomatoes at this Italian-leaning Santa Ynez stalwart. Dine inside for chic farmhouse vibes, or have lunch or dinner on the gorgeous shaded patio.

Hitching Post II

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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.

Cold Spring Tavern

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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

The Dutchess

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Ojai’s dining scene has expanded in recent years, thanks in part to this Rustic Canyon Group-owned restaurant that combines Kelsey Brito’s baked goods with chef Saw Naing’s all-day offerings. Drop by in the morning for Brito’s outstanding pastries and dishes like a croque madame with smoked ham and poached eggs. Come dinnertime, don’t miss Naing’s Burmese-inspired dishes like the show-stopping seasonal fried fish, served with a tea leaf salad, chickpea curry, jasmine rice, lentils, chili paste, and house-made naan.

Cocktails, dishes, and desserts at the Dutchess.
Dinnertime dishes at the Dutchess.
Elise Freimuth

Rory's Place

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It’s all about wood-fired cooking at this charming Ojai destination run by sisters Rory and Meave McAuliffe. There’s a little something for everyone here, with a compact raw bar selection, bar snacks like oeufs mayo, and entrees that range from house-made pastas to a roasted half-chicken with wood-fired escarole.

La Super-Rica Taqueria

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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.

Bettina

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Stupendous blistered, wood-fired pizzas topped with house-made pork sausage, seasonal vegetables, and the like are just one of the reasons to visit this Montecito gem. Don’t sleep on little bites like nduja-stuffed dates and a baby gem salad dressed with zippy homemade ranch. Spritzes and negronis are a must too at this cozy neighborhood restaurant that feels like a visit to Italy.

The Jolly Oyster Ventura

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Oyster lovers consider this no-frills Ventura Beach seafood truck the ideal place to pull up, order a bunch of local seafood, and hang out all day at the breezy picnic tables right by the ocean. The grilled oysters with habanero butter are a nonnegotiable; just know that it’s BYOB, so pack some beer and wine if it suits.

Grilled oysters and other seafood dishes from the Jolly Oyster.
Grilled oysters and other seafood delights from the Jolly Oyster.
Nicole Adlman

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La Cosecha

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

Six Test Kitchen

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

Sea Chest Oyster Bar

A plate of oysters Rockefeller at Sea Chest.
Oysters Rockefeller at Sea Chest.
Karen Palmer

This cash-only, no-reservations seafood institution is old-school in all the good ways. Folks line up before Sea Chest opens at 5:30 p.m. so they can dig into classics like oysters Rockefeller, clams casino topped with thick chunks of bacon, and a surprisingly tender breaded and fried calamari steak (one of the house specialties). Plus, the restaurant is perched right on the Pacific, so the sunset views are nothing short of spectacular.

A plate of oysters Rockefeller at Sea Chest.
Oysters Rockefeller at Sea Chest.
Karen Palmer

Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant

This casual, order-at-the-counter seaside restaurant is a top pick for Morro Bay, with gorgeous ocean views, large portions of pristine seafood, and a wide menu of all-day fare. On weekends, there might even be live music to enjoy with the stunning surroundings.

The Spoon Trade

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.

The Spoon Trade
The Spoon Trade
The Spoon Trade

Ember

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.

Farley Elliott

Jocko's Steak House

Lucas Peterson

Jocko’s is a famous Central Coast institution known for its seriously fresh beef, whether done up as a steak or in 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

Far Western Tavern

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.

Full of Life Flatbread

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.

Farley Elliott

Pico Los Alamos

Located in Los Alamos’s culinary corridor with neighboring heavyweights like Full of Life Flatbread and Bell’s, Pico holds its own with chef Cameron Ingle heading up the kitchen. The Bestia and Bavel alum draws inspiration from locally-sourced produce and proteins for the restaurant’s small-plates menu. Start with a well-made cocktail and an order of the house-made marinated olives before transitioning to wines and digging into supple Hope Ranch mussels with fennel and tarragon, and the lushest chicken liver mousse in town.

Bell's

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

Greg and Daisy Ryan have drawn raves for their “Franch” style cuisine from the media, industry vets, and the Michelin guide. Stop in for sardines and saltines, escargot, steak tartare, and crisp local wines from the greater Santa Ynez Valley at lunchtime; dinner is a more elegant tasting menu that changes often but is consistently outstanding.

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

Bar Le Côte

Spanish octopus at Bar Le Côte pop-up at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. 
Spanish octopus at Bar Le Côte.
Bar Le Côte

The Bell’s team has another hit on their hands with this stylish sustainable seafood destination, which opened in the summer of 2021 and sources local sea urchin, crab, and the like. Chef Brad Mathews has already created some signature items in dishes like peel-and-eat shrimp; Spanish octopus with fingerling potatoes, frisée and saffron aioli; and little neck clams with house-made chorizo. The wine list here is something special, too.

Spanish octopus at Bar Le Côte pop-up at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. 
Spanish octopus at Bar Le Côte.
Bar Le Côte

Bob's Well Bread at the Ballard Store

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.

S.Y. Kitchen

Verona-born chefs Luca and Francesco Crestanelli turn out pizzas, seasonal vegetables, and house-made pastas like ricotta and marjoram gnocchi with Bordier butter and roasted cherry tomatoes at this Italian-leaning Santa Ynez stalwart. Dine inside for chic farmhouse vibes, or have lunch or dinner on the gorgeous shaded patio.

Hitching Post II

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.

Related Maps

Cold Spring Tavern

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.

Cold Spring Tavern
Cold Spring Tavern
Farley Elliott

The Dutchess

Cocktails, dishes, and desserts at the Dutchess.
Dinnertime dishes at the Dutchess.
Elise Freimuth

Ojai’s dining scene has expanded in recent years, thanks in part to this Rustic Canyon Group-owned restaurant that combines Kelsey Brito’s baked goods with chef Saw Naing’s all-day offerings. Drop by in the morning for Brito’s outstanding pastries and dishes like a croque madame with smoked ham and poached eggs. Come dinnertime, don’t miss Naing’s Burmese-inspired dishes like the show-stopping seasonal fried fish, served with a tea leaf salad, chickpea curry, jasmine rice, lentils, chili paste, and house-made naan.

Cocktails, dishes, and desserts at the Dutchess.
Dinnertime dishes at the Dutchess.
Elise Freimuth

Rory's Place

It’s all about wood-fired cooking at this charming Ojai destination run by sisters Rory and Meave McAuliffe. There’s a little something for everyone here, with a compact raw bar selection, bar snacks like oeufs mayo, and entrees that range from house-made pastas to a roasted half-chicken with wood-fired escarole.

La Super-Rica Taqueria

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.