Savor local flavor: 8 great eateries on California's central coast

The activities and events travelers list on their must-do, must-see lists vary widely depending on interests and intentions. Some folks want to relax and take it easy while away from home, others seek adventure and heart-pounding experiences, others lie somewhere in between, balancing a bit of both. 

All travelers, though, like to eat. Must eat. Which puts dining at the top of the must-do list for all who travel. The true treat for tourists is discovering establishments rich in regional dishes complemented by dashes of local lore.

My daughter and I enjoyed eight such eateries on our recent visit to California's central coast, courtesy Morro Bay Tourism and California Highway 1 Discovery Route. Following are our recommendations for savoring local flavor when visiting the charming towns along Highway 1.

699 Embarcadero, Morro Bay CA 93442

blue sky bistro on the bay

Blue Sky Bistro offers bayside dining that's about as bayside as you can be, with a fabulous view of Morro Bay and Morro Rock. The superb service perfectly complements the delectable selection of fresh seafood, seasonal fare, exquisite desserts, fine wines and more. The all-day breakfast is absolutely to die for, I have it on great authority (from A.J., the genial and generous manager). The casual atmosphere, with big-screen TV indoors and regular live music outdoors, will make you want to arrive for the morning meal and stay through after-dinner cocktails.


442 SLO San Simeon Road, San Simeon, CA 93452

sebastian brother's general store

Built in 1852 at the peak of the whaling industry and still functioning as a general store for tourists and more — as well as a tasting room for Hearst Ranch Winery — Sebastian Brother's also serves up some of the very best burgers my daughter and I have ever tasted. And fries, too. The secret to the (massive) burgers is they're made from Hearst Ranch Beef; the secret to the perfect fries is, well, a secret. Casual dining indoors and out, friendly staff, plus hordes of hungry visitors made for a charming experience and blast from the past.


801 Market Street, Morro Bay, CA 93442

dorn's original breakers cafe

The tagline of this family-owned icon says it all: "Local seafood. Local views." Established in 1942, the third generation of the Dorn family continues the tradition of serving up super service and fabulous food. The crab cakes were pretty much the very best crab cakes I have ever tasted. Ever. The relaxed ambiance, incredible view, and superb service confirmed why Dorn's remains a favorite eatery for locals and visitors.


1602 Main Street, Cambria, CA 93428

black cat bistro

Black Cat Bistro served up the most intimate dining experience my daughter and I shared while traveling along California's Highway 1. The 45-seat establishment and attentive service guarantees the same for all who dine there. The oft-changing menu — as the creative chef depends on seasonal fare, local produce, and organically raised or sustainable product — guarantees guests an innovative dish each visit. Of note: The Black Cat has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for nine years in a row.


171 N. Ocean Avenue, Cayucos, CA 93430

schooner's wharf

Such a dilemma for me here: The fantastic ocean view — with whales making their way during my lunch — competed with the fabulous platefuls of food placed before me for my attention. The famous fried calimari strips won out, as did the golden jumbo shrimp and sweet potato fries. Though my daughter and I left Shooner's Wharf with no shots of the whales off in the water, we did leave with satisfied (meaning, full) tummies and fun shots of the bright and cheery nautical-themed restaurant.


2277 Main Street, Cambria, CA 93428

linn's restaurant

Linn's pleasantly surprised my daughter and me. The restaurant began as a farm fruit stand, and the entrance is throught a gift shop with shelves and shelves of olallieberry preserves and other goodies. Yet once we were greeted and seated, we quickly realized we were in for an upscale treat that went far beyond the country-style experience we expected. The diverse menu features classic comfort foods (pot pies!) as well as "high cuisine" creations such as Roasted Berry Chicken and California Sand Dabs with lemon caper dill cream sauce. The olallieberry desserts are a must — as is purchasing a jar of olallieberry jam before leaving the famed establishment.


North end of the Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA

chablis cruises riverboat brunch

Seeking breakfast on the bay? Go all the way with brunch literally on Morro Bay during a Chablis Cruises Saturday Champagne Brunch. Fantastic views, free-flowing champagne (and coffee and orange juice), multiple spreads of traditional breakfast foods including fruits and a made-to-order omelette station. All atop the 50-foot, two-story Chablis Riverboat. Seating is assigned and family style, and guests are invited to dine below then climb atop the deck to enjoy the tour around the bay. (Reservations must be made in advance.)


701 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA 93442

dutchman's seafood house

This family owned restaurant owns its own dock — Dutchman's Landing — thus insuring its guests the freshest of fish while supporting the sustainable fishing methods of local fisherman. Dutchman's Seafood House is famous for the delectable sand dabs, clam chowder, and crispy and golden fish 'n' chips. I found the Pacific sanddab in a lemon/caper sauce ahh-mazing. And, of course, was charmed (and satisfied!) by the shrimp cocktail appetizer served sundae style. I equally loved that Paul Van Beurden, owner/operator and one of the nine siblings of the original family, made a point of ensuring my daughter and I — and nearly every other table in the packed house the evening of our visit — were enjoying our meals. Great food, great family!

All the eateries my daughter and I visited on our trip were great, I must say. We naturally were unable to sample every restaurant along Highway 1, though, so peruse the Highway 1 Discovery Route and Discover Morro Bay sites for all the options for local flavor on California's Central Coast. And please come back here and share your favorites — I'd love to add them to my itinerary for our next visit to Morro Bay and beyond!

Disclosure: My daughter and I visited California's Central Coast courtesy the Morro Bay Tourism Bureau and Highway 1 Discovery Route; opinions are solely our own.