Salt & Wind Travel

Discover 7 Of The Best Coastal Northern California Restaurants (2024)

When it comes to Northern California restaurants, one area stands out more than any other region: the iconic coastline. It’s a slice of paradise — rich in seafood and abundant locally-grown ingredients.

There is something special about a trip that winds in and out of the coast on Highway 1. The highlight? Deliciously beautiful meals at some of the best Northern California restaurants along the coast.

Best Northern California Restaurants
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What Is Special About the Northern California Coast?

The Northern California coast spans the Pacific Ocean shore with charming small towns, pastoral lands, and iconic viewpoints. Travel here can be wonderfully slow-going. Sitting down for a plate of briny, fresh oysters with ocean air is the quintessential northern coast experience.

As you dine at these coastal Northern California restaurants, you’ll see why the regional food is discussed nationally. Laidback crab shacks and find dining restaurants are both worth visiting. They offer delicious food, such as fresh Dungeness rolls, and dishes made with local seaweed. I have traveled along the Northern California coast many times, revisiting my favorite spots and finding new ones.

The great part is you can reach most of these memorable restaurants on a day trip from San Francisco. The Northern California Coast’s Marin and Sonoma Counties section is only 1 to 2 hours from the Bay Area while the Mendocino section is more appropriate for a full-on Northern California road trip. And what better way to spend a day than a scenic drive centered around delicious food?

Deviled Eggs on a plate with wine anad utensils

Best Northern California Restaurants On The Coast

Weave these Northern California restaurants into your itinerary if you’re yearning to take a longer road trip. A Northern California Coast road trip has everything from quaint inns to Michelin-star restaurants. Unsurprisingly, one of our most popular custom itineraries is a California road trip that takes you through charming towns.

While you head out on your trip, save these Northern California coast restaurants on your maps. These are the places you’re going to want to head first.

Coast Kitchen | breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Set inside the Timber Cove Resort, peering out over the rugged Northern California Coast, is the appropriately named restaurant, Coast Kitchen. There’s no shortage of wonderful hotel restaurants in Northern California, and this is one of them. During the day, casual yet elevated dishes are served with a view. It’s an easy “pop in at the last minute” place.

Come the evening, the restaurant airs itself more in the fine dining category. Beautifully plated dishes inspired by the coast, like seaweed-crusted corvina and grilled “salmon wings,” are on the menu. You will want to snag a reservation on the weekend as the restaurant fills up with hotel guests. And if you’re wondering, this is a beautiful hotel to call home for a few nights on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Coast Kitchen, 21780 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450

Cafe Aquatica | breakfast and lunch

It’s the kind of cafe with comfort food you hope to find on a road trip. Open for breakfast and lunch, Cafe Aquatica is a cafe meets coffee shop located in the seaside town of Jenner, California. They serve locally-roasted coffee; the rest of the menu is made in-house, like their fresh pastries. If you are already visiting the Sonoma Valley, this is an easy destination to reach through Highway 116.

For those looking to kick back after a drive on windy Highway 1, you’ll love their Adirondack chairs that lounge out towards the water. And if you time it right, there’s usually live music on the weekends from 11-3 pm.

Cafe Aquatica, 10439 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450

Little River Inn Restaurant | serves dinner

Arriving deeper into the coastline of Mendocino County, make a stop at Little River Inn. Dining here is the perfect blend of laidback service meets refined cuisine. Local fare and fresh seafood are the pillars of the menu.

If you’ve had your share of seafood on your trip, don’t be afraid to try any of their heartier dishes. The braised short rib or the Roundman’s ground beef cheeseburger are fair choices.

If you want to grab a drink before dinner, walk into the Whale Watch Bar next door while waiting for your table. The views here are unbelievable, you may even see a whale in the distance.

Little River Inn Restaurant, 7901 CA-1, Little River, CA 95456

The Best Coastal Northern California Restaurants FAQs

When dining in Northern California, the iconic coastline stands out. It’s rich in seafood and abundant locally-grown ingredients. The Northern California coast spans along the Pacific Ocean with charming small towns, pastoral lands, and iconic viewpoints. Dining at these California coast restaurants offers a quintessential northern coast experience with fresh oysters and ocean air.

Some top recommendations include:

  • Coast Kitchen, located inside the Timber Cove Resort.
  • Cafe Aquatica, a cafe meets coffee shop in Jenner, California.
  • Little River Inn Restaurant in Mendocino County.
  • The Marshall Store on Highway 1 in the small town of Marshall.
  • Nick’s Cove, known for its bayfront cottages and fresh seafood.

The Northern California coastal restaurants offer a blend of local fare and fresh seafood. Dishes range from fresh Dungeness rolls, dishes made with local seaweed, hearty cast iron mac & cheese, and classic cioppino, to crispy fish & chips. The emphasis is on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients inspired by the region.

Baked oysters and sourdough on a metal plate with the ocean in the background

The Marshall Store | lunch

It’s an unassuming stop on Highway 1. If you blink, you may miss one of our favorite Northern California restaurants because there’s nothing else around it in this small town of Marshall near Point Reyes. However, the line of people placing orders at this seafood shack to chow down will catch your eye. Set on the edge of the brisk waters of Tomales Bay, their menu even landed themselves on the NY Times’ favorite restaurant list in America.

While the Rockefeller oysters are always a hit, a few fan favorites are worth mentioning on the menu. The New England Clam Chowder pairs beautifully with a cold, grey day on Tomales Bay.

Don’t overlook the Smoked Fish Plate. It’s a heavy hitter in portions, where house-smoked fish is plated with a hefty portion of local fromage blanc, pickled veggies, and crostini. Luckily, you can’t go wrong with anything on this menu.

The Marshall Store, 19225 CA-1, Marshall, CA 94940

Nick’s Cove | lunch and dinner

Known for its idyllic bayfront cottages, Nick’s Cove is also home to a restaurant you must stop at, at least once. A nostalgic location on Tomales Bay, it’s the place to stop for fresh seafood and views. You’ll go inside and place your order at the counter, and when your food is ready, head straight out onto the pier.

There is a selection of rustic wood tables along the way, and the historic Shack is where to sit at the end of the pier. Almost always, the fireplace is crackling with a hot flame, and maybe someone is playing the communal piano.

The menu is Northern California coast-inspired. Sourced from local fisheries and farms, each dish is delicious. Consider the hearty cast iron mac & cheese, the classic Nick’s Cove Cioppino, or the crispy Lagunitas I.P.A batter fish & chips. And don’t overlook the dessert; the warm pear bread pudding is as good as it sounds.

Nick’s Cove, 23240 CA-1, Marshall, CA 94940

Spud Point Crab Company | breakfast and lunch

Look no further for those seeking the best, mouth-watering California Dungeness crab. Tucked off the main road in Bodega Bay port, this family-owned crab company has served the local community for decades. All of the crab itself comes from the family’s boats themselves.

The menu is short and sweet. Pair their Manhattan Style Red Chowder, created by the owner Carol herself, with a fresh crab sandwich. It’s an easy stop on Highway 1 if you’re looking for food to go to or to sit down in a casual setting.

Spud Point Crab Company, 1910 Westshore Rd, Bodega Bay, CA 94923

Multiple plates of food including salad and oysters

The Restaurant at Harbor House Inn | lunch and dinner

There’s no other dining experience on the northern coast of California quite like this. The Two Michelin-starred restaurant at the Harbor House Inn is a destination for food lovers. The 25-seat dining room is petite but has grand Pacific Ocean views. You will want to snag a reservation well in advance, so much so you should consider planning a trip around it.

The menu is headed by Chef Matthew Kammerer, who forages many ingredients in their backyard. His dedication to what is found locally in Mendocino County is woven into every dish. You’ll find ingredients like sea lettuce, red abalone, and black cod smoked over bay laurel. Run, don’t walk to book a table to try his tasting menu.

The Restaurant at Harbor House Inn, 5600 CA-1, Elk, CA 95432

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Photo Credit: All photos by Jessica Wright

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