California’s abundance of spectacular produce mixed with its innovative chefs is always a recipe for delicious meals. But the state also offers a number of opportunities that take food from the basic breakfast, lunch, and dinner to full-blown experiences you will never forget. Historic and highbrow, quirky and cool, weird and wonderful—there’s something for everyone with these 10 unique experiences (listed south to north).
Sip Mimosas in a Tropical Treehouse Surrounded by Exotic Animals
Albert’s, San Diego
With more than 4,000 species of animals from everywhere on earth, the San Diego Zoo is one of the city’s most popular attractions—and its marquee restaurant is worth a visit in and of itself. Tucked in a treetop, Albert’s goes well beyond the standard fries-and-ice cream fare. Make sure you nab a seat on the terrace for maximum jungle vibes; the private waterfall and verdant fauna create a lovely backdrop for Albert’s weekend brunch. What better fuel for an urban safari than panettone French toast and bottomless mimosas?
Dine in a Wine Cave 75 Feet Underground
The Cave at Oak Mountain Winery, Temecula
Did you know the world’s first wine cave was constructed in California in the 1860s? Over 150 years later, the state boasts dozens of subterranean structures—and Oak Mountain Winery is one of the best. Its restaurant, simply called The Cave, is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Savor whites, reds, blushes and bubbles as you enjoy the charcuterie tray, served with housemade blackberry jam. At 75 feet underground, The Cave provides not only an alluring interior, but a blessedly temperate one too, especially when summer temperatures spike.
Rethink the Meaning of “Restaurant” Over a 15-Course Meal
Playground 2.0, Santa Ana
Playground founder and head chef Jason Quinn has a central dining commandment: “You have to submit to our whim.” But don’t worry, a meal at the restaurant’s culinary theater spinoff, Playground 2.0, doesn’t require a blindfold or even predetermined safewords. Instead, you’ll be treated to an out-of-the-box culinary experience with 15-plus courses of incredible food. Every omasake-style meal is different, but we love the recurring “Trustin Dinner” where chefs go wild with ingredients like Wagyu beef, baby peaches, and foie gras.
Enjoy an Elevated Meal in the Clouds
71Above, Los Angeles
There’s one place in the world where you can dine simultaneously among two sorts of stars. Opened in the summer of 2016, 71Above is perched atop the highest building west of the Mississippi River smack in the middle of Downtown L.A. Put your camera on pano-mode, because the 360-degree views are simply stunning. The food lives up to dining room’s lofty promise with an incredibly refined three-course dinner menu. Pair your meal with a neighborhood-inspired cocktail like the Echo Park, made with mezcal, pisco, aloe, cinnamon, and lime.
Shuck Oysters With Your Toes in the Sand
The Jolly Oyster, Ventura
Oyster lovers, this one’s for you. Ever dreamed of shucking your own Kumatos while watching the tide roll in? The Jolly Oyster brings your briny fantasy to life. Reserve a picnic table at Ventura State Beach, pack a cooler full of your favorite beverages and snacks, and get in line at one of this shellfish farm’s two beachside food trucks. Prepared seafood can be purchased at The Jolly Oyster Kitchen, while The Shuck Shack serves up raw shellfish at a discount for you to DIY. Booze and dogs (on leash) are welcome; open Saturdays and Sundays only from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Enjoy High Tea in the Former Home of a Nobel Laureate
The Steinbeck House, Salinas
On February 27, 1902, in Salinas, Olive Hamilton gave birth to a son who would change the world. John Steinbeck authored an incredible 27 books, many of which were inspired by his hometown: The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men to name a few. Today, Steinbeck’s former house has been transformed into a restaurant. Honor the author by visiting for lunch or reserve a spot at one of the Saturday tea services where finger sandwiches and freshly baked scones are served by volunteers in period dress.
Enjoy an Opulent Dinner in a Moving Train
Napa Valley Wine Train, Napa
Channel your inner 20th-century aristocrat (monocle optional) with a multi-course meal aboard a historic rail car. You can choose from a handful of adventures, but we recommend the three-hour “Vista Dome” dinner. A private booth on the second story of an elevated train car provides pure luxury, while the curved glass windows, forming a domed top allow for unparalleled views of Napa Valley. Sip your welcome champagne on a velveteen chair while chefs one car over prepare your pan-seared Pacific halibut with white truffle-pea puree.
Dig Into Seasonal Salads Where Miners Struck Gold
The Argonaut, Coloma
After James Marshall discovered a few nuggets of the shiny stuff in a small stretch of the American River, the little town of Coloma went wild, setting the country ablaze with Gold Rush fever. Tucked against Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, The Argonaut plays homage to this era with a distinctly new-California twist. Located inside a historic building, the restaurant sources fruits and vegetables from one of the oldest pioneer farms in the West. Sample the seasonable blackberry smoothie and avocado toast before you try your luck in the river ($7 for a pan).
Feast in a Family-Owned Farmhouse
Campovida, which translates to “field of life,” sets expectations high before guests ever enter through the estate’s stunning driveway, hugged on either side by stretching oaks. The family-owned farm more than lives up to its name with twisting gardens, bountiful produce (more than 500 varieties of plants live here), working honey bees, egg-laying chickens and trellised grapes. During regular winemaker dinners, visitors can enjoy a meal crafted with ingredients plucked straight from the soil paired with house wines—all under the rafters of their farmhouse or a clear night’s sky.
Cruise Alongside Caverns
Lake Shasta Dinner Cruises, Lakehead
Thanks to emerald-blue waters surrounded by a national forest, Shasta is the perfect place to embrace lake life. Lake Shasta Dinner Cruises offers packages for visitors to experience one of the area’s most magical sites—its caverns—before relaxing over dinner on the water. Enjoy the shockingly good tri tip (or chicken or salmon) as you take in views of Mount Shasta and its iconic bridge as the sky turns from blue to pink. Non-alcoholic beverages are served, or you can bring a bottle of wine on board.