KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Hwy 101, LA to SF: Part I
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Monday, June 05, 2006
Hwy 101, LA to SF: Part I
I grew up in Southern California and both my family and Jason's family still live there. So, I am often down south for birthdays, get-togethers, weddings, or other events. Though I usually fly, we end up driving a few times a year. Jason and I have gotten into a rhythm of driving on Highway 101 instead of Highway 5. I know that some of you out there can't imagine taking the few extra hours to drive on a slower highway, but we find that we arrive at our destination happier, and that there are a lot of fun places to stop on 101 that you won't find on 5.

When in San Francisco, I rarely eat at chain restaurants and always search out the small mom and pop establishments. I have been attempting to do the same on my trips, as I find there are small, great establishments in most places. When looking for ideal places to stop while on a road trip, I look for:

1. Locations allow me to get on and off the freeway with relative ease.
2. Locations that are open long hours, and between meals.
3. Locations that provide quick, excellent service.
4. Clean and convenient bathrooms are a must.
5. The location must have great food and beverage.

What follows is a list of my favorite places to stop. Today, I will cover the drive from Southern California to Pismo Beach. On Thursday, you can return to this site to read about the drive from Pismo Beach to San Francisco.

140 W Hillcrest Dr, Ste 121
Thousand Oaks, CA

I have noticed a lot of changes to the coffee scene on Highway 101 in the past few years. Even the small towns have a chain coffee place, and when you are on the road travelling, it is easy to pop into a Starbuck's because they are conveniently located and open longer hours than the small town restaurants. But for those of us who really try and frequent smaller coffee places, finding independent coffee establishments can become an exercise in frustration. I have specific independent coffee stands that I frequent during the drive, and Bent on Coffee in Thousand Oaks is the first. The employees at Bent on Coffee are friendly, and the coffee is good. The store roasts their own beans daily, and the resultant cup is rich and strong.

129 N. Milpas Street
Santa Barbara, CA

I have a secret to admit. I have never been to the famous La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara. Every time I try and go, the line is long and I am too impatient to wait. Long lines are not justifiable when on a long road trip, so I have looked around in the same area for other good Mexican restaurants. The best I have found is Taqueria El Bajio. The restaurant has a large menu, and everything that I have tried there has been very good. Above, you see their sope adobada which is handmade and large. The parking for Taqueria El Bajio is easy, service is quick, and the outdoor seating allows you to take in some sun before continuing on your trip.

Taqueria El Bajio is open for breakfast -- opening at 6 am every morning and staying open through the evening. They are closed Mondays.

620 McMurray Rd
Buellton, CA

1400 Ramada Drive
Paso Robles, CA

A fun stop along the way is at one of Firestone Brewery's two taprooms. There, you can pick up a growler of one of their beers to take home and enjoy, or you have a pint there along with some snacks. The southern taproom in Buellton has a recent addition of a rather large restaurant. The chef is serving seasonal and local ingredients, and the menu looks interesting. However, I have not had the chance to eat there yet.

112 W Branch Street
Arroyo Grande, CA

The small town of Arroyo Grande is located approximately five miles south of Pismo Beach. The residents have preserved a small old-town that is a good stop along the drive. You can stop in at the Village Cafe, which serves breakfast all day, including and excellent homemade corned beef hash, and very good biscuits. The service is friendly and efficient, and you can get back on the road with your stomach full in no time. If you need a coffee refill, try Cafe Andreini right down the street at 131 East Branch Street.

1651 Shell Beach Rd
Pismo Beach, CA

I have stopped at the Steaming Bean for years and years. The coffee shop is located on a street that parallels 101 and it's an easy stop-off to refill your coffee. They have recently remodeled to add more seating, the coffee is good, and the service is fairly quick. They serve some baked goods and I believe they often offer a soup of the day.

On Thursday, I will cover the rest of the road trip from Pismo Beach north to San Francisco.


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