California is well known for its beaches and its laid-back way of life, but you might not realize that the Golden State is rich with diversity and amazing eats. This month I took a journey down the beautiful and legendary Pacific Highway, starting in San Francisco and making my way down through the Santa Maria Valley to Oxnard. I discovered some of the best food the state has to offer, from incredible Senegalese tacos to Cali-soul food, and had some unforgettable experiences along the way.
If you’ve ever dreamed of doing a California road trip, here are some must-visit BLACK FOODIE recommendations to add to your itinerary.
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San Francisco and Oakland
This annual festival is a joyful ode to Black culture that provides a great taste of the incredible Black-owned food businesses in Oakland. It’s packed with food vendors, DJs, art, games, live music, and so much more – a perfect celebration of the Black experience. No matter where you’re visiting from, you’re sure to feel a real sense of community and belonging at this event. Hit up the Black Joy Parade if you’re ever in Oakland in February – and don’t forget to practice your Electric Slide!
If you’re in search of good food and a vibe, Sobre Mesa has you covered. This Afro-Latino cocktail lounge in Oakland fully delivers on atmosphere with lush plants and bold, vibrant décor. It’s got a cocktail for every occasion and the tastiest tapas, making it a great spot to enjoy an evening on the town. Sobre Mesa’s Executive chef and owner Chef Nelson German has put together a menu that features creative spins on Latin dishes and inspiration from the African diaspora. The Ethiopian-inspired wings are so tasty!
There are few places out there that can do Senegalese food as well as Little Baobab. This little gem in San Francisco offers a fresh take on classic dishes like pastelles, fried pockets of goodness packed with spiced beef, seafood or veggies. I went to this restaurant for the incredible food, but it was good vibes that made me stay. The owner, Marco, is a local legend who brings West African music, culture, and hospitality to the Bay area. Each guest is treated like a member of the family, so you’ll feel right at home.
This local institution has been serving fresh, sustainable seafood to visitors and native San Franciscans for years. Fog Harbor is located on the popular Pier 39 and it’s truly a must if you’re in the Bay area. They serve the most scrumptious seafood dishes and all of them can be enjoyed with a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate bridge.
In addition to these incredible events & restaurants, try Taste Buds for a soul food inspired breakfast or Radio Africa for a healthy East African inspired lunch!
Santa Maria Valley
With an irresistible aroma of barbeque and décor that evokes the Old West, an experience at Hitching Post is like stepping back in time. This Santa Maria Valley landmark is a meat lover’s paradise. It’s known for its traditional slow cooking method using indirect heat over an open wood fire, which produces exceptional steak dishes. This restaurant has a real comforting feel to it, with super welcoming staff that embraces its guests as part of the community.
This full-service deli in Old Town Orcott is an excellent place to stop for a sandwich and some great baked goods. Homestead is a woman-owned business with a sister bakery, Cups & Crumbs, located just down the street. I tried their amazing Tri-Tip sandwich and paired it with a sweet and tangy lemon square for dessert. The meal was made even better by the lovely atmosphere in their beautiful outdoor seating area.
As a beginner in the world of wine, Riverbench was the perfect spot for me to learn more and take in the beautiful flavours of California. This stunning vineyard offers tastings by staff who are passionate about wine and provides guests a chance to relax and unwind. I highly recommend their picnic basket, which has a curated collection of cheeses, meats and jams that have been perfectly paired with select wines.
In the middle of a little plaza in Orcutt you’d find a hidden gem with flavours that will take you straight to Havana. Cubanissimo serves up authentic Cuban dishes like beef empanadas, yucca fries, and tostones. I recommend their absolutely delicious guava cheesecake and their strong and bold Cuban iced coffee. It’s a great place to stop for lunch during a road trip!
While I was in Oxnard this food truck with a fusion of Asian and Caribbean flavours was an unexpected treat. Gourmet District is unlike any food truck I’ve ever been to, serving hibachi-inspired dishes with a Californian twist. Chef Palmer and his team are committed to creating high-quality, mouthwatering meals, and it shows. Everything they offer is seasoned to perfection and there really is something on the menu for everyone. Their lemon pepper wings were outstanding, and the garlic noodles and hibachi fries were next-level flavourful.
The Haven is a brand-new upscale eatery in Oxnard that shares an owner with a popular fast casual chain, Caribbean Haven in Ventura. It has a menu featuring dishes with a unique take on Caribbean cuisine that clearly pays homage to the chef’s Guyanese roots. I was very lucky to get an exclusive preview of the restaurant and the food was delicious. Their coconut curry seafood pasta was incredibly rich and flavourful, and I really loved enjoying my meal while taking in a gorgeous oceanside view. This spot is the perfect place to celebrate with friends and it would be a highlight of your Californian adventure.
Xielo is a family-owned favourite that is highly recommended by the locals. It’s a dessert shop known for its traditional Mexican pastries, tasty desserts, and selection of fusion sweet and savoury crepes. I loved the empanadas de guayaba and the horchata frappe, but their classic Mexican hot chocolate or iced coffee are also a delight. This is a popular spot, but I promise it’s worth lining up for!
Before you go, grab dinner at SushiWay for a delicious fusion of Asian & latin flavours or stop by the Annex food hall for tasty & diverse local favourites like Silverlake Ramen and Burnin Mouth.