When I moved out west 3 years ago and bought my first car in nearly 6 years, I had this fantasy of driving down the coast to California wine country where I'd meet up with my other west coast friends for a long weekend of wine tasting in the pastoral countryside. Unfortunately I'd imagined it to be a much shorter drive than it is. And well, I kinda gave up on my dream road trip. It turns out, there are plenty of fun places to drive to that are much closer to Seattle and we've taken advantage of many of them - from wine tasting in the Willamette Valley for delicate Pinots and Chardonnay, the Columbia Valley for bolder reds and sweeter whites, Portland for great food, design, and an adorably walkable downtown, Vancouver for international cuisine and great shopping, and of course all the National parks just a few hours away.
But when the opportunity came up for a trip to Berkeley and Santa Monica, Jon decided it was time for a California road trip and some wine tasting along the Central Coast. After consulting with friends, we decided on our route - fly into Oakland, then spend the weekend in Berkeley, head straight down on I-5 spending most of the week in Santa Monica and then head up along the coast on 1 and 101 stopping in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Carmel before flying back home again. The drive from San Luis Obispo to Carmel was particularly beautiful - Jon and I were both saying 'oh wow' around every bend.
But what I didn't expect to enjoy so much was the drive down on I-5. I'd never seen the San Joaquin Valley before and, to be honest, I'd imagined it to be much more like East Coast farmland - lush and green with agriculture replacing native plants. And, granted, it is the height of the dry season on the West Coast, and we've had an especially hot and dry summer but it was amazing to see the orchards that were no longer irrigated with row after row of sun-fried trees (and the billboards announcing the "congress created dustbowl"). It was also a lot of fun to identify the various crops. My favorite hard to identify crop actually came at the tail end of our trip near Santa Cruz - neither Jon nor I could figure it out - Jon guessed they were a cross between onions and pineapples . . . they turned out to be artichokes and we were very excited when we finally saw he fields filled with ready to pick artichoke heads.
Our other great discovery was burrata cheese, which appeared on the menu at nearly every restaurant we tried. I've since discovered it's a highly perishable cheese - a mixture of fresh mozzarella 'rags' and cream stuffed into a mozzarella balloon. And it is only produced in Southern California and in Italy - although apparently it can be flown in to other cities within it's 2-3 day lifespan. It's delicious - mild and creamy with a consistency similar to a soft goat cheese. And apparently, it's best served simply, and usually during the summer along with some ripe heirloom tomatoes and basil.
We had some amazing food during our travels - perhaps proving Jon's assertion that "food is better in California". I've included a few of our favorites below -
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA
This was probably my favorite in LA - it's very noisy and dark, but the food is amazing. My friend Colin and I both had wood fired pizzas, their specialty, and I had the roasted asparagus with a very spicy and very good romesco sauce.
8022 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA
Small and delightful plates and great wine to match. Jon loved this place, I thought it was lovely but was just a little bit jealous as he was raving about his trout and pork dishes. The beet salad and fried cheese were both delicate, beautiful, and scrumptious - so I can't complain.
Real Food Daily
514 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA
Since I was dining alone for most lunches, I decided to go for vegan food! I was not disappointed with my huge chopped salad and berry tea, although it was a bit spendy for lunch.
442 Slo San Simeon Rd, San Simeon, CA
This was written up in one of Central Coast magazine as one of the best sandwich shops around. And after the 40 minute wait for a cold sandwich I was beginning to regret my decision. But once we finally sat down to eat, I didn't mind so much - the sandwiches were huge and well composed with really fresh ingredients, and very California with plenty of avocado and sprouts.
Big Sur Bakery
47540 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA
I'd seen this mentioned on 101 Cookbooks, as they have a newly released cookbook that I'll have to check out. Unfortunately we made it up there a few hours after devouring our gigantic sandwiches, so we weren't all the hungry. I did get some coffees and a large blondie which was a yummy snack for the road. If you're up this way, it's a nice pit stop, especially considering the convenience store nearby charges airport prices for soft drinks, and they do serve meals too.
Little Napoli Bistro
Dolores & 7th, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA
Jon and I both loved our pastas - I had the Rosso e Bianco, with a light alfredo sauce and stewed cherry tomatoes ontop, and Jon had the Bolognese. And our dessert - some sort of chocolate hazelnut ice cream ball, was a perfect ending to our meal.
San Carlos St, Carmel-By-the-Sea, CA
We had almost given up on lunch in Carmel when I spied this place in the back of a courtyard. It was surprisingly well priced for Carmel and had really delicious sandwiches and salads with very fresh ingredients. I had the grilled peach salad with candied walnuts and feta cheese, and Jon had a perfectly seared ahi tuna sandwich on french bread.
And as for wineries, we liked all that we tried - Peachy Canyon, Wild Coyote, Tolo, Carmody-McKnight, Eberle, and JanKris.