California restaurants with epic coastal views


By Laura Chubb

San Francisco-based travel writer

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January 2018

From Northern California’s coastal forests and sea cliffs to surfers and starlets in the beautiful south, local writer Laura Chubb picks the Golden State’s top waterside sights with a bite. 

Slanted Door, San Francisco

The lowdown: This modern Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building is the stuff of legend, and little wonder, the views are just as jaw-to-the-floor as the food. While there are hundreds of places to gawp at the Golden Gate Bridge around town, Slanted Door is the best spot to appreciate the Bay Bridge (more reliable than its rival as it’s less likely to be veiled in fog). Award-winning chef Charles Phan is credited with bringing proper Vietnamese cooking to the masses – his sticky claypot chicken in caramel sauce is a longtime favourite.  

Must order: Foodies go crazy for the cellophane noodles with local Dungeness crab. 

In the know… Come at night to see the bridge a-twinkle with 25,000 programmed LED lights – ‘The Bay Lights’ is actually a permanent installation by artist Leo Villareal.

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Come at night to see the bridge a-twinkle with 25,000 programmed LED lights – ‘The Bay Lights’ is actually a permanent installation by artist Leo Villareal.

Navio, Half Moon Bay

The lowdown: A 30-minute drive south from San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a classic California coastal town – think crashing surf, cliffside hikes, and a cute, old-fashioned Main Street (it even hosts an annual Pumpkin Festival). Better still, the area’s organic farms and wineries put fresh, local produce top of the menu. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, Navio restaurant, dishes up fresh-caught seafood alongside endless ocean views.

Must order: The dinner menu pairs local catches with seasonal sides. But Navio is most famous for its Sunday brunch, an all-you-can-eat carnival of carving stations, raw bars, cheese and charcuterie.

In the know… The restaurant is located at Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, so book a stay to make the most of your trip.

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  • Try Blue Streak for foodie delights overlooking Santa Monica’s original Muscle Beach.

    Food and flex

    Santa Monica’s original Muscle Beach is seen as birthplace of America’s 20th century fitness boom, featuring weight-lifting equipment and gymnast apparatus for public use. £1299 pp

    Book a stay at Loews Santa Monica Beach
  • For views and vibrant Vietnamese food, head to The Slanted Door.
  • Tuck into the delicious s’mores served at Navio.

    S’more than a feeling 

    After s’mores in the Ritz Carlton’s sublime restaurant, take a sunset walk down Half Moon Bay, often hailed as America’s most beautiful beach. £1286 pp

    Book a stay at Ritz Carlton San Francisco

Pèppoli at Pebble Beach, Monterey

The lowdown: Remember those epic coastal backdrops in Nicole Kidman’s smash-hit TV show, Big Little Lies? They were filmed in Monterey County, where you’ll find Pèppoli at Pebble Beach. This upscale Tuscan-style spot welcomes diners with warm, dark woods and commanding views of Pacific waves. It’s been a favourite at the Inn at Spanish Bay for years. 

Must order: All the dishes are to die for, but don’t miss matching them to the restaurant’s Antinori wine selection – the largest collection of the 600-year-old Tuscan winery’s vintages in the country. 

In the know… Its unbeatable setting is complemented by its well-informed wait staff, who all double as sommeliers.

Book a stay at the Inn at Spanish Bay

The Sur House, Big Sur

The lowdown: Big Sur is a feeling as much as a place. This 50-kilometre stretch of cliff-hugging, coastal Highway 1 was made famous by bohemians and artists who flocked here in the 1960s, drawn to its scenic meeting of mountains, forests and sea. You’re as likely to find Silicon Valley billionaires and Hollywood moguls as you are poets and sculptors nowadays, but Big Sur’s remarkable beauty remains unchanged. The best view? Head to The Sur House terrace at Ventana for lunch. Its panoramic lookout over muscular green mountains plunging into infinite-looking Pacific Ocean might be the best in the entire state. 

Must order: The burger here is fast usurping the renowned ‘Ambrosiaburger’ at nearby Nepenthe restaurant as Big Sur’s best – it’s all in the special sauce. 

In the know… Keep you eyes peeled for condors soaring overhead.

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  • Enjoy a taste of Tuscany with a side of ocean views at Pèppoli at Pebble Beach © Sherman Chu.

    Little Italy 

    Award-winning restaurant Pèppoli serves up the best of northern Italian cuisine every day from 18.00-22.00. 

    California’s best beaches

Blue Streak, Santa Monica

The lowdown: It doesn’t get more Southern California than Santa Monica, home of the original Muscle Beach. And the oceanfront Blue Streak pool bar at Loews Santa Monica Beach is a prime perch for beautiful-people-watching, with tables facing directly onto the sand.  

Must order: Follow bar bites with one of Blue Streak’s ‘Big Kid Smoothies’ – you can add rum or vodka to flavours including mango and banana. 

In the know… Cosy up by one of the firepits at sunset to watch tall, spindly palms turn to silhouettes against a darkening sky.

Book a stay at Loews Santa Monica Beach

Duke’s, Huntington Beach

The lowdown: Huntington Beach is all about SoCal surf – so much so, it has an International Surfing Museum. Appropriately enough, Duke’s restaurant is named for Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian surfer credited with bringing the sport to California in 1925. The menu here fuses Hawaiian and classic American dishes in tribute. 

Must order: Poke tacos, a twist on Hawaiian poke (tasty raw fish salad). 

In the know… Get a spot next to the floor-to-ceiling windows for unobstructed views of the waves.

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7 Tower Deck, San Diego

The lowdown: San Diego has changed significantly in recent years, growing from a navy town to a super-cool city: see the Gaslamp Quarter’s party scene, colourful murals in North Park, and hot young things playing Frisbee on Pacific Beach. Speaking of which, the open-air Tower Deck at seafront hotel Tower 23 is an excellent place to pull up a teak chaise and watch the action on Pacific Beach below.   

Must order: Pair pico-de-gallo-spiked shrimp tostadas with a spicy Chilli Mango cocktail. You’re practically in Mexico, after all. 

In the know… Also stop by the hotel’s JRDN restaurant – sunset is celebrated by a reflection on a 21 -metre long ‘wave wall’ at the back of the restaurant.

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