Are you craving the feel of the open road beneath your wheels, the wind in your hair and an amazing veggie burger in your belly? Are you ready to plan your next west coast adventure? Well, we have some fun tips to entertain and engage you from the bright lights of Los Angeles to the heart and soul of the Pacific Northwest, the City of Roses, Portland, Oregon.
Gone are the days of the lonely vegan and vegetarian left with little to no desirable food options when hitting the open road. We now have choices that run the gamut from fast food to five star and all points in between.
For this dreamy little itinerary, we have chosen the road less traveled. The only reason to take the interstate and trudge along on the I-5 from LA to Portland is if you are in a rush because there isn’t much to see or do until you hit the northern reaches of Cali and southern Oregon. Best advice, if you are in a rush, fly there! But if you have the appetite for a real road trip, buckle up because this is a show stopper.
Any good road trip starts with great snacks! We start our journey at an LA staple since 1934, the original Farmer’s Market at 6333 W. 3rd and S. Fairfax. This gem is home to almost 100 merchants and vendors. Among my favorites are Nonna’s Empanadas in stall 330 (the veggie samosa and mushroom are two of my favs) and Moishe’s Middle Eastern, stall 336 (great falafel!). There are also several awesome bakeries and produce stands featuring local growers and fresh crops. Numerous killer coffee options also abound to get your trip started.
So now that you are fueled up and properly hydrated and possibly well caffeinated, make your way north to Hwy 1, also known as the Scenic Coastal Route. You will pick it up in Santa Monica. This will wind you through Malibu, perhaps one of the most scenic sections of Hwy 1. The stretch from Pepperdine University towards Oxnard is positively breath taking.
Once you hit Oxnard, CA Hwy 1 will merge with US Hwy 101. Just north of the Gaviota Tunnel (which is north of Santa Barbara), Hwy 101 turns inland, and you won’t see the ocean again until you get to Pismo Beach, and then only briefly.Hwy 1 splits off from Hwy 101 north of Gaviota, passing through Lompoc and Guadalupe before rejoining Hwy 101 just south of Pismo Beach. This 50-mile section is sometimes called the Cabrillo Highway. You could drive it if you want to cover every single inch of the famous highway, but there’s little of interest if you’re just sightseeing. From Pismo Beach to San Luis Obispo, Highways 1 and 101 are the same.
San Louis Obispo, proudly know as “the Happiest Town in America”, is a wonderful place to pull over for the day. It is situated about halfway between LA and SF. The town is also well known for its famous Farmer’s Market on Higuera St, held on Thursday evenings from 6p-9p. There are beautiful tree lined streets and numerous outdoor cafes. While there be sure to take a photo op at the infamous Bubblegum Alley. Vegan and vegetarian friendly options abound. Burger Village, 698 Higuera St, Ziggy’s, 594 California Blvd and Novo, 726 Higuera St are all notable options but far from the only available choices. For accommodations, I would suggest a short drive north to Morro Bay. Great place to wake up and explore before venturing north to Monterey. Shine Café is a wonderful breakfast/brunch spot at 415 Morro Bay Blvd. It is attached to a great little co-op grocery shop.
The drive between Morro Bay and Monterey is only about 120 miles but the abundance of sightseeing and photo opportunities coupled with the ebb and flow of Hwy 1 will make for a full day’s trip. Along the way you will pass through some of the most pristine coastline in the world. Piedras Blancas, named for the rugged white rock formations that jut out of the ocean just off its coast, is one of the first places you will want to stop. I’ll never forget the first time I saw northern elephant seals at this site. They migrate from Alaska to mate, nest, and rest. It is also home to the historic lighthouse which went into service in 1875. About 15 miles north of San Simeon is Ragged Point. If you haven’t already fueled up, it would be advisable as there are little to no options on this next leg. Same for bathroom stops, so plan ahead. Be sure to take in the coastal views from the 400 foot high bluffs that rise above the Pacific here.
Another notable stop is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. One of the many trails at this 3,000-acre park, named for a Big Sur pioneer, leads to a vision of paradise — an intimate cove where turquoise waves caress a pure-sand beach. At the shore’s south end, a narrow waterfall cascades 80 feet from granite rock to the doe-colored sand. Unfortunately, the park was among the Big Sur sites scarred by wildfires in July 2018.
A little further north you will find Point Sur. The unforgettable stretch of central California coast known as Big Sur, where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the ocean. From here continue north to Monterey for a relaxing night. Hands down my favorite eatery here is El Cantaro, 791 Foam St. I’m a huge fan of the crispy potato taco plate. Yum!!
Next stop is Santa Cruz, home of the beloved original Saturn Café, A vegan and vegetarian icon for decades. Known for their kitschy décor, late night hours and amazing comfort food dishes, the Saturn team is currently in search of a new location in SC to call its next home. Stay tuned for updates on new location and re-opening dates. While in Santa Cruz, a trip to the 100 yr old historic boardwalk is a must do for all ages. Be sure to check out the Big Dipper, one of the last remaining, operational wooden rollercoasters of its era. Among other favorite stops are the Bookshop Santa Cruz at 1520 Pacific Ave. It’s a great place to find that perfect holiday read. Be sure to look at their events section as they frequently have guest authors in the shop. You are in search of a great breakfast or brunch spot nearby, be sure to visit Zachary’s at 819 Pacific Ave. If it’s a good micro-brew you are after, definitely pay a visit to the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery. They are an award-winning organic brewery located in the super cute Swift Street Courtyard,402 Ingalls St S. Their dog friendly taproom features a wide variety of beers and a solid snack menu. My personal favorite is Alden’s Radical Redwood Rootbeer.
Before venturing into the big city, a great last stop off is the Half Moon Bay animal sanctuary, Sweet Farm. It is an amazing organization. Here is their mission statement…” Sweet Farm is the first non-profit sanctuary in the world to address the global impacts of factory farming across animals, the plants, and the planet. Our food web is incredibly complicated and it’s impossible to move forward without first acknowledging how these pieces are connected. By linking veganic agriculture, farm-animal rescue, education, and the technology that is revolutionizing food and agriculture production — Sweet Farm is redefining what it means to be a sanctuary.” Find out more at www.sweetfarm.org
Next stop, the City by the Bay. So much to see and do here that it really warrants it’s own vacation but for this road trip we only have time for a few noteworthy stops. I will highlight some crave worthy foodie stops and leave you to your personal tastes to figure out what sights you want to see. For a nice sit-down dinner, Gracias Madres in the heart of the Mission District at 2211 Mission St. is always a solid, if not somewhat predictable option. My tastes tend to lean more towards international cuisine when I am in a city big enough to get it right. This is where San Francisco excels on a culinary level from street tacos to five-star vegan sushi. You can find it all nestled in the various burgs of the city. Getting around is a fun adventure in itself, so park the car and try hopping a streetcar or trolly for a bit of history and use the Muni trains to get just about everywhere else you could possibly want to explore. My one must do stop in San Fran is the iconic Ferry Building. Tons of amazing artisan vendors and a legendary Saturday morning farmer’s market. Best tip for accommodations here is Airbnb. There are some affordable, centrally located spots to choose from that should prove far more interesting than most hotels here.
Your last leg of this epic trip will take you 680 miles north along the US 101 and I-5. This route winds you through some of the best road trip attractions in Northern California, including Humboldt County, wine country, beaches, and redwoods, as well as Eugene, OR. Ashland, OR, home of the world renowned annual Shakespeare Festival, is an enjoyable overnight stop. From here you will want to stick to the I-5 and finally arrive at your destination, Portland, Oregon. Famed for its stunning Rose Gardens in Washington Park, the breathtaking views of the dormant volcano, Mt. Hood, and the numerous historic and modern bridges and completely walkable neighborhoods. Portland truly has something for everyone. Portland takes great pride in its many small, chef owned restaurants, bars and bistros that make up the culinary fabric of this foodie town. There is a huge emphasis placed on local and sustainable sourcing for a true farm to table experience.
As a vegetarian and Portland local for almost 30 yrs, I had a front row seat to watch the blossoming of a robust vegan and vegetarian food culture. There are far too many options to list them all but among my personal favorites are:
Pixie Retreat, 432 NW 11th featuring all organic, raw, and mostly raw deliciousness, don’t leave without stocking up on their “lil’puddin”, beyond good and good for you, they are a bit addictive!
Kati, 2932 SE Division. The restaurant is all-vegetarian; customers can request no eggs for entirely vegan dishes. The menu includes tom yum soup, larb tofu salad, green veggie curry, and pad kee mao fried rice noodles, as well margaritas and palomas to go from neighboring sister restaurant Mestizo.
Epif, 404 NE 28th Ave. Epif offers a vegan twist on traditionally meat- and seafood-heavy South American fare. Pepe Arancibia serves up baked empanadas with house ají verde salsa, pimentones rellenos (stuffed pickled sweet peppers), vegan quiche made of house-made mung bean “eggs,” and aquafaba-based pisco sours.
Aviv, 100 NW 10th Ave. Israeli inspired restaurant serving plant based dishes like hummus, falafel, shakshouka, bagel and cashew cheese, non-dairy feta, and weekend brunch.
Farm Spirit, 1403 S.E.Belmont St. Farm Spirit is serving vegan deli-themed lunches. Dinner is served Wednesday through Saturday, with seats available in advance by reservation only: a cozy dinner party consisting of plant-based, locally sourced modernist cuisine, served over multiple courses at a 14-seat chef’s counter. Wine and non-alcoholic beverage pairings are available, as well as gluten-free options with advance notice. Except for sugar and some spices, all produce served comes from less than 100 miles from the restaurant.
Tons more to explore in and around Portland. Try a round trip run on the Portland Streetcar. You can get on and off as much as you like. It’s a great way to see and explore the modern but welcoming Pearl District, the cozy shops along NW 23rd in the Alphabet District, the world-famous Powell’s Books, Downtown and south Waterfront.
I hope you enjoyed the read and better yet, enjoy the journey through some of the countries most jaw dropping landscapes and culinary delights. Bon Appetite and safe travels!
*Please be sure to check ahead for COVID and forest fire related closures before you leave. This information is changing daily.
By Jae Larsen
Jae is joining the Saturn family as a guest blogger and long-time fan of vegetarian and vegan cuisine. She is a chef and former restauranter from the Pacific Northwest, who is currently riding out the pandemic in rural New Hampshire. She is an avid writer, predominately around the topic of sustainability and the built environment. She has owned a small design build firm for the past two and a half decades and is passionate about her commitment to building healthy, responsible spaces and communities. She is using her time in New Hampshire to explore her gardening skills, something this long time urbanite has had little opportunity to cultivate. #covidskills