That life-changing fish taco you devoured after a long day at the beach, the fabulous pie from a road-trip pit stop—great food can deliver some of the very best vacation memories. If you’re the type of traveler who falls in love with a destination stomach-first, consider planning a trip around one of California’s food trails.
These culinary adventures showcase regional specialties around the state and offer a self-guided approach, as you make whichever stops strike your fancy. From fried chicken in Sacramento to tacos in Oxnard, you’ll discover under-the-radar delights while eating your way through delightful parts of the Golden State. Let your taste buds take the wheel on one of these culinary-themed excursions, listed north to south.
The top producer of dairy in the country, California makes magic with its homegrown milk. Sample rich and delicious cheeses from nearly 80 creameries along the cheese trail from San Diego to Humboldt County. Highlights include La Mancha goats and award-winning chèvre at Stepladder Ranch & Creamery in Cambria, soft-ripened goat cheese at Cypress Grove in Arcata, the unique Dry Jack from Rumiano in Crescent City, and the herd of mozzarella-producing water buffalo from Ramini in Tomales.
Taste craft beer made in the shadow of Mount Shasta as you sip your way through 10 breweries, many of which also offer jaw-dropping views. Try a blackberry blonde ale from Etna Brewing in Etna, a jalapeño ale from Mt. Shasta Brewing Co. in Weed, a British-style “Taddy” porter at Siskiyou Brew Works in McCloud, and a crisp IPA from Dunsmuir Brewery Works.
Southern hospitality is strong in the NorCal city of Sacramento. America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital is home to a slew of restaurants serving up this classic comfort food. Try the spicy, Nashville-style sandwich at Nash & Proper, or get in an aloha state of mind with the mochiko chicken at Track 7. Taste as many varieties as you like and rack up points to win fun chicken-themed prizes.
Explore Sonoma County’s rich agricultural heritage and get a taste of the good life along its Farm Trail. Visit farmers markets, u-pick spots, tastings, tours, special events, and more to get a better sense of how the food we love ends up on our plate. There are even opportunities to spend the night, with farm stays at New Carpati Farm, Cumbria Garden, and Beltane Ranch.
Thirty-five miles east of San Francisco, the Tri-Valley area is marked by warm temperatures and sunny skies—an ideal climate for eating ice cream. Try exotic flavors like honey-candied kumquat at Lottie’s Creamery in Danville, or keep it classic with a hot fudge sundae at Loard’s in San Leandro. Earn a free ice cream scooper when you make five stops.
There are few sensations more satisfying than biting into a piece of fruit that’s perfectly at its peak. Take a scenic tour along the Fresno County Fruit Trail to experience this magical moment at dozens of sweet little farm stands where you can find just-picked apricots, peaches, berries, and nectarines. The season typically lasts from mid-June through September. Explore the area’s Fresno County Blossom Trail in early spring to enjoy the eye candy of seeing fruit trees in bloom.
Cradled by the Los Alamos, Santa Maria, and Santa Ynez Valleys, the Santa Barbara area offers up some serious vino—and thanks to dozens of little tasting rooms, you can sample different varieties on foot without leaving town. Make sure to stroll through the trendy and aptly named Funk Zone to try the bubbles at Riverbench and get the VIP treatment at appointment-only Sanguis.
Oxnard boasts strong Mexican-American roots and has the delicious food to prove it. With countless taquerias, taco trucks, and restaurants in town, the selections are practically endless. Try the fish tacos and aguachiles from Sabor, the al pastor from Tacos El Caporal, or the easy-to-love, Instagram-worthy platter at The Taco Shop in the shape of a corazón.
This massive metropolis delivers incredible dining options at every turn—but if you only have a few days to explore the city, try this self-guided foodie tour that packs 16 essential L.A. experiences into 72 hours. The itinerary starts with a Latin-inspired coffee drink at Tierra Mia, and finishes with endless California craft beer offerings at Tony’s Darts Away; no matter how many stops you make, you’re guaranteed to leave town blissful and absolutely stuffed.
Slurp to your heart’s content in Torrance. The L.A. County city serves up some of the best bowls of creamy broth and noodles on the West Coast. Find your favorite version of the classic Japanese street food at local spots such as Matsui, Josui Ramen, Ramen Yamadaya, and Santouka.