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9 Food Experiences To Have In California
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9 Food Experiences To Have In California

The world of unique dining has expanded to feature many more options you can add to your food bucket list.

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5 min read

August 02, 2021

What do you get when you mix California’s delicious produce with impressively innovative chefs? Food experiences you won’t find anywhere else. Sky dining, bubble dining, and dark dining restaurants were the firsts of their kind when the world started paying more and more attention to eccentric experiences. And while all those were massively impressive for their time, the world of unique dining has expanded to feature many more options you can add to your food bucket list.

Plan a summer date night, eat delicious food, and enjoy a dining experience you never have before. This food tour through the Golden State is all about the atmosphere and history of California’s unique restaurants—it’s a culinary adventure that you’ll never forget.

Dining Experiences to Have in NorCal

Clad in rustic wood, this Taco Bell in Pacifica blends in with Linda Mar Beach. Photo courtesy of Taco Bell.

1. Linda Mar Taco Bell

Location: Pacifica

You might be thinking what’s so special about Taco Bell? Well, this isn’t just any old Taco Bell you drive by. The neon lights and Baja Blast machines here are replaced by the sunlight flickering through the Northern California fog—this spot has come to be dubbed as the “greatest Taco Bell in the world” by the San Francisco Chronicle and practically anyone else who has been here.

Set in an angular 1960s cabin, this beautiful Taco Bell deserves a spot on your restaurant bucket list. Your views on the fast-food restaurant will completely change—its spectacular views and better-than-average architecture are quite impressive. Blending seamlessly with the Linda Mar beach aesthetic, this Taco Bell even offers surfboard parking upfront; how cool is that? 

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2. Napa Valley Wine Train

Location: Napa

Dining aboard an old-school train like a 20th-century aristocrat is already a cool enough food experience on its own, but the Napa Valley Wine Train doesn’t stop there. Offering a variety of fantastic lunch and dinner experiences on a historic rail car, the Napa Valley Wine Train really spoils you for choice with its unique food trips.

Choose the Vista Dome dinner experience and enjoy gourmet, fresh California cuisine. Your three-hour journey aboard a two-story elegant vintage train features luxuriously plush booths and incredible views from practically every angle. Looking for an even more unique food trip? Opt for the Murder Mystery Experience. 

You’ll still get to enjoy three courses of fine gourmet meals on your journey, but you’ll also be solving a murder on the side a la Agatha Christie.

Foreign Cinema remains a magical destination for everyone as one of San Francisco’s most enduring dining centers. Photo courtesy of Foreign Cinema.

3. Foreign Cinema

Location: San Francisco

Foreign Cinema is an award-winning restaurant that seamlessly weaves together food, film, and art into a super cool food experience. An awesome spot for a romantic date, Foreign Cinema will definitely wow anyone you’re trying to impress with its sensual environment, ever-evolving menu, and harmonious ambiance.

Catch a flick and taste delicious California fare as you cross off this famous destination from your restaurant bucket list. Foreign Cinema has been A San Francisco Chronicle “Top 100 Restaurant” for 18 consecutive years, so you know for sure it has achieved a must-visit status in the Bay Area without a single shadow of doubt. 

Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar entertains guests with its tropical decor and decadent cuisine. Photo courtesy of Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar.

4. Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar

Location: San Francisco

Step back in time to experience 1940s Tiki culture at the kitschy Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar, where drinks are served in tiki vessels and periodic indoor tropical rainstorms take place every half hour, complete with lighting and thunder. A fun NorCal dining experience, this restaurant in the iconic Fairmont San Francisco Hotel is sure to deliver good vibes with tropical decor, Polynesian fusion cuisine, and live music. Dance your heart out, enjoy delicious meals, and have yourself a super fun food experience as you experience the unique and time-honored tiki glory.

5. The Steinbeck House Restaurant

Location: Salinas

Are you looking for a food experience that combines your love of the literary and culinary arts in one? We have just the spot for you. The Steinbeck House in Salinas is not only the birthplace and boyhood home of the legendary Californian author John Steinbeck, but it’s also a full-fledged restaurant serving delicious meals.

Honor the beloved author’s legacy by reserving a table for lunch or taking part in the Saturday tea service. Freshly baked scones and finger sandwiches are served by volunteers in period dress, making for a truly unique food bucket list experience you won’t forget soon.

SoCal Food Experiences

Relive the magic of flying and dining onboard a luxurious Pan Am 747.Photo courtesy of Pan Am Experience.

6. Pan Am Experience

Location: Santa Clarita

Ever wondered what it would be like to fly with Pan Am in the 1970s? You don’t have to wonder much longer. Instead, relive the experience right in California by stepping back in time with the Pan Am Experience. A weekly retro-themed event for aviation enthusiasts and people looking for a new food experience, this unique establishment is a must-visit if you haven’t been.

Immersed in all the passion and elegance that the famed airline service was known for, the food tour includes a fashion show, a check-in process with tickets and boarding passes, and a five or six-course meal, all at a true-to-life set. 

7. Albert’s

Location: San Diego

Located in the Lost Forest zone in the heart of the famous San Diego Zoo—one of the best in the countryAlbert’s offers full-service dining that’s way beyond the standard burger and fries. The restaurant is tucked in a treetop and offers an awesome dining experience on an open-air deck overlooking a private waterfall. And what’s a better way to fuel for a safari than a french toast and a refreshing drink? 

Clifton's Republic is dedicated to a resurgence of old-world style and romance that once dominated Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Clifton's Republic.

8. Clifton’s Republic

Location: Los Angeles

From stuffed bison to a giant 40-foot fake redwood smackdab in the middle of the restaurant, California’s past is alive and well at Clifton’s Republic. Originally opened in 1932, this spot offers a restaurant bucket list experience like no other. What originally used to be a cafeteria is now a full-fledged dining hall with multiple experiences and attractions to check out.

Keep an eye out for kitschy details like the miniature chapel designed for kids or the hidden staircase leading to another bar. Clifton’s Republic also features a live performance and private event space, with taxidermy created in consultation with the Natural History Museum. In short, the four-story playground has something for everyone—bars for mocktail enthusiasts, attractions for kids, dining rooms for private parties, and spaces that create a sense of wonder in every nook and cranny. And if that’s not a bucket list dining experience, we don’t know what is.

9. Pitch Black: Dining in the Dark

Location: Los Angeles

Dining in the Dark is coming back to Los Angeles! Set to take place in a secret location in L.A., this food experience is only scheduled to happen four times over the course of two days in August, so book your tickets early. The event promises a fun evening with entertainment, a good menu, and, of course, a heightened dinner experience in the dark. Does the mystery of a dark dining restaurant excite you? That’s what we thought.

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