Why toil over a hot stove during Thanksgiving—or subject yourself to someone else’s less-than-Michelin-starred home cooking? In foodie-friendly California, Turkey Day is a great chance for local and celebrity chefs to strut their stuff. Taking well-sourced gobblers (many from Tuolumne County’s acclaimed Diestel Family Ranch), chefs add bells and whistles from their choices of brine to veggie sides and miles of pies, tarts, and more. There are quirky surprises too, from global twists to character dining at Disneyland or dinner inside an aquarium. No need to diss the in-laws, either—invite them to tag along. Here are 17 great excuses to be thankful that you decided to spend Thanksgiving in the Golden State:
Fairmont Grand Del Mar, San Diego
This luxury resort north of San Diego makes for a plush long weekend, but it also has serious foodie street cred. The resort’s more traditional Amaya and Clubhouse Grill have their own feasts, with turkey as well as options like pan-seared California bass and goat-cheese-and-butternut-squash ravioli, and desserts ranging from pumpkin tarts to macarons and a coffee cheesecake with chocolate ganache. For a uniquely decadent feast, go to the gastronomy lovers’ Forbes Five-Star Addison, helmed by Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef William Bradley, which will offer an eight-course “Thanksgiving-inspired” menu with French flair.
Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim
Share your Thanksgiving feast with Disney characters who will be strolling the Grand Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel. Beyond the turkey, the buffet includes charcuterie, crab legs, prime rib, sweet potato soufflé, and kid-pleasers like mac and cheese, chocolate mousse, and a build-your-own sundae bar.
Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach
Marine life is on display but not on the menu at this unique feast at Long Beach’s don’t-miss aquarium, which is open most of the day on Thanksgiving (the meal runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in its Café Scuba). The turkey feast also includes roasted pork loin with Dijon cream sauce and fruit cobbler.
Akasha, Los Angeles
This California-meets-global cuisine restaurant in Century City keeps its feast sustainable but also a little exotic. Choose from starters such as a roasted cauliflower bisque or fuyu persimmon-and-pomegranate salad. Then move on to herb-roasted Mary’s turkey or West Coast sablefish—or even a vegan option of herb roasted king trumpet and hen of the woods mushrooms. The annual “pie buffet” beckons, meanwhile, with entries like organic pumpkin, sour cherry slab, and chocolate-bourbon banana cream.
Gwen, Los Angeles
Take your Thanksgiving to a haute level at Australian-born chef Curtis Stone’s upscale butcher shop and restaurant, serving a turkey with roasted crown and sides like chestnut ravioli with kale and squash blossoms, stuffing in cocotte, biscuits and gravy, and pumpkin or pecan pie topped with whipped crème fraiche.
Purple Room, Palm Springs
First opened in 1960, this classic on Palm Canyon Drive used to be a prime Rat Pack hangout, and today it offers a retro-lounge-style Thanksgiving. The menu features throwback delicacies like shrimp cocktail, mint-crusted lamb, and gelato, along with turkey and the restaurant’s beloved pumpkin cheesecake.
Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo
There’s nothing traditional about this quirky hotel on the Central Coast, but its exuberant spirit makes a great setting for the feast of turkey, ham, or roast duck with trimmings. Save room for the famous desserts—13 kinds of pie or eight cakes, including its famous Pink Champagne cake.
The Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park
The grande dame resort at Yosemite National Park knows how to put on a feast—its Taste of Yosemite and Bracebridge Dinners are two more good reasons to come to the park during fall and winter. Its Turkey Day dinner menu offers a Diestel turkey but also options like a Snake River Kurobuta pit ham and steelhead trout, along with pies and profiteroles for dessert.
Granlibakken, Tahoe City
This classic lodge on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe makes a picture-perfect setting for a family feast, with your turkey carved tableside (along with vegetarian options). Best of all, they welcome you to take leftovers. If there’s snow, don’t miss out the famed sledding hill.
Bluestem Brasserie, San Francisco
The New American-style restaurant, a few blocks off Union Square, has a creative menu that includes turkey plus grass-fed filet mignon, and accents like apple-pecan salsa, a delicata squash stuffed with quinoa and pepita romesca, and a goat-gouda-and-pumpkin-seed brittle.
Brenda's French Soul Food, San Francisco
If you like your Thanksgiving early, go to the brunch (from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) at this French-Creole favorite in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which serves twists on classics like deep-fried turkey, pumpkin pie pancakes, and gingersnap streusel.
International Smoke, San Francisco
Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry’s epic buffet adds some heat to the usual Thanksgiving, with additions such as a jerk turkey leg with habanero mango glaze, Korean beef short rib with toasted sesame and kimchi, and cornbread with red curry-honey butter.
La Toque, Napa
This Michelin-starred restaurant in the Westin Verasa Napa has made its Thanksgiving an annual tradition (this year is No. 21): the four-course menu is known for delights like the Combi-oven-slow-roasted Willie Bird Turkey, and sides like chestnut herbed stuffing and steamed broccoli hollandaise. At the end, you’ll take with you one of the chef’s famous “leftover” sandwiches.
Set your Thanksgiving against Napa Valley’s lovely fall landscape on this 3.5-hour train-ride-meets-dinner with turkey, acorn squash bisque, a rich pumpkin dessert—and plenty of local wine. Choose from 11 a.m. or 5 p.m. departures.
The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena
This Napa Valley resort’s three-Michelin-star restaurant features a traditional feast, with two kinds of turkey and stuffing along with butternut squash soup and Maine Lobster. Dinner is served in the Vintner’s Room, with its huge stone fireplace and overlooking a forest.
Nov. 17: Charles M. Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa
The “Thanksgiving Feast with Snoopy”—at the Sonoma County museum devoted to the life and work of the Peanuts creator—comes a few days early. But that’s a good thing, since its menu mostly mirrors the meal in a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: toast, popcorn, and jelly beans (this version adds ice cream). Festivities include a screening of the TV special as well as crafts and other kid-friendly activities.
Trillium Café, Mendocino
Local flavors abound at this inn and restaurant with ocean views, set in the heart of Mendocino. The menu includes wild mushroom paté, Pennyroyal Farms blue cheese salad, and a Dungeness crab strudel. Choose from Diestel turkey, locally caught ling cod, red-wine braised lamb shank, or Covelo filet mignon.