From world class wineries and tasting rooms to super fresh seafood and delectable sweets, California’s Central Coast offers up diverse culinary adventures. I took a road trip, hopping on and off Highway One to discover some of the best stops that true foodies will just love. Below are a few favorites.
Solvang, California for Danish Sweets
Solvang’s Danish roots aren’t just present in this city’s architecture, people line up at local restaurants and bakeries for Danish style pastries and sweets. I enlisted born and bred Solvang local Daniel Lahr to show me around and help me learn how to pronounce each Solvang treat, a feat in itself.
We stopped by Solvang Restaurant to try aebleskiver, which is a pancake ball, about the size of a tennis ball topped with raspberry jam and powdered sugar. It’s divine! You can enjoy one of these Danish treats, which in Denmark is generally served during the Christmas and Easter holidays, year-round in Solvang. Dine streetside or inside at Solvang Restaurant, where travelers vie for the booth that set a scene for the movie “Sideways.” This restaurant, owned by Jeff Paaske, has been serving up Danish food for over three decades, so is a Solvang institution.
Next, we visited a bakery located beside a windmill just a short walk away from Solvang Restaurant, Solvang Bakery. To create Danish waffles, Susan Halme rolls flaky pastry shells in sugar and fills them with buttercream frosting and raspberry jam. Another delectable treat. This shop is a great stop in general for baked goods.
Finally, we enjoyed chocolate for Danes at Ingeborg’s, where Daniel introduced me to a flodeballer, a chocolate covered, homemade marshmallow cream. This chocolate shop is the real deal, making homemade chocolate on-site.
Solvang is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, a diverse grape growing region yielding notables like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cab Franc and Merlot. Downtown Solvang has a variety of wine tasting rooms, including one located in a windmill. Chalk boards line the walls at Sevtap Winery in case you get inspiration as you wine taste inside this unique windmill tasting room.
For a little healthy flair, we had breakfast one morning at Fresco Valley Café. If you like avocado toast, go to this restaurant. Again, great outdoor seating with seats also inside and lots of choices for food. Of course, they serve pancakes, too. You are, after all, visiting California’s Little Denmark in Solvang.
Ventura, California’s Harbor Village
It’s all about being harborside in Ventura, California. Ventura Harbor Village has a mix of restaurants and activities, which makes for a great pick for anyone, especially families. This is a popular destination for kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, boating and you can even spot wildlife right in the harbor.
I took a boat cruise to spot wildlife in the Channel Islands National Park with Island Packers Cruises and Captain Lee. Foodies may want to plan ahead and order their lunch from Channel Islands Provisioners. Chef Neal Rosenthal creates wholesome, locally sourced meals in eco-friendly packaging to meet National Park standards. Their sandwiches are gourmet, including things like conserved local catch, braised brisket with arugula and maui onions, and more.
After my cruise and some kayaking, I enjoyed ice cream in the famous fish waffle cone from Coastal Cone, which boasts one of the largest collections of ice cream flavors in California. It’s good. I walked along the marina before heading to another great spot for cuisine, The Rhumb Line. Special menu items include things like grilled Spanish octopus and gemelli pasta tossed with sauteed shrimp, bay scallops, salmon, and asparagus in a house vodka sauce. There’s indoor and outdoor dining here, overlooking the harbor, which makes for great sunset views.
Morro Bay, California for Oysters & Seafood
Also located along Highway One, Morro Bay features the catch of the day with spectacular views and premium oysters. To truly learn about where all of that fresh catch comes from, I donned a wetsuit and went out to try my hand at oyster farming with Neal Maloney of Morro Bay Oyster Company. This is a chilly morning experience and the hard work in growing premium oysters will make you appreciate these delicacies even more.
After drying off, I went to Tognazzini’s Dockside. This restaurant is another destination where you can sit outside and enjoy views of Morro Rock, called the Gibraltar of the Pacific. It’s a great view and the seafood is super fresh. You can also get Morro Bay Oyster Company oysters here and have your oysters served a variety of ways, including oysters rockfeller, grilled, with garlic butter or just plain raw. Mine tasted even better after seeing how they were made– from farm to table, California style.
It’s all part of the fun of dining on your travels and trying a little bit the coast on your road trip.