Skip to main content

The Most Iconic Foods in California

The Most Iconic Foods in California

From fresh oysters and clam chowder to avocado toast and garlic ice cream, here are California's famous foods.

Ani Karibian


6 min read

January 23, 2024

Is there a better way to experience California than by taking a culinary road trip and tasting each region's famous, flavorful dishes? We think not, so pick a place on the map and start your journey.

From fresh oysters and creamy clam chowder to avocado toast and garlic ice cream, there's no shortage of unique delicacies to try in the Golden State. Here are the best foods to savor in each region.

Iconic Dishes in the San Francisco Bay Area

If you haven’t already, it’s time you tried clam chowder San Francisco style—served in a warm, fluffy sourdough bread bowl.

Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl

San Francisco is home to many famous foods, but one of the timeless dishes is clam chowder in a bowl of freshly baked sourdough bread. During the Gold Rush, miners moved to San Francisco and carried their sourdough starters with them, which is how the popular bread came to be. Sourdough primarily gained prominence with the opening of Boudin Bakery in 1849. The bakery’s flagship location is at Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can still enjoy some of the best clam chowder in the city. 

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter Your Zip Code

Enter Your Zip Code


California is home to numerous top-notch oyster bars. But for truly fantastic oysters, there’s no place better than Hog Island Oyster Co. Take your date on a romantic drive along the coast and hang out on The Boat Oyster Bar in Marshall. If you prefer full-service sit-down restaurants, check out the eatery’s Marshall-based sister restaurant: Tony’s Seafood. (Make a reservation in advance to guarantee your spot.) If Marshall is a bit far out for you, feel free to check out Hog Island’s Napa or S.F. location.

Recomended businesses

Show me
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.
The sushi burrito is an indecisive foodie's savior, filled with everything you love about both and sure to fill. .

Sushi Burrito

If you love Mexican and Japanese food, this revolutionary invention is for you. The sushi burrito combines delectable sushi ingredients with the shape and size of a burrito. The result? Pure bliss. Head to Sushirrito to try this life-changing dish (but be prepared to wait in line).

Mission-Style Burrito

With origins in San Francisco’s Mission District, this hearty, rice-free burrito is a local favorite. Get a taste of the S.F. classic at La Taqueria. The mouthwatering Mission burrito here is stuffed with meat, guacamole, refried beans, salsa, and sour cream—and will leave you craving more.

This croissant-muffin cross has made a name for itself and every fluffy and flavor-filled bite of a cruffinwill prove why.

Must-Try Foods Along the Central Coast

A drive down the coast of California is not complete without a finger-licking barbecue stop.


If you’re a BBQ lover, then Santa Maria is the place for you. Known for serving up some of the best BBQ in California, Santa Maria’s simple style will keep you coming back for more. Cooked over an open fire with red oak or coast live oak, the grilled meat is seasoned with just salt, pepper, and garlic powder—it’s so good, you won’t miss the sauce. Get your hands on some of the tastiest Santa Maria–style barbecue at Jocko’s Steakhouse.

While you’re at it, visit Firestone Grill for the signature tri-tip sandwich. Topped with house-made barbecue sauce and served on a toasted, buttered roll, the juicy tri-tip here will have you looking forward to your next visit. In addition to its flagship restaurant in San Luis Obispo, Firestone Grill has locations in Fresno and Bakersfield.

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter Your Zip Code

Enter Your Zip Code

Garlic Ice Cream

When traveling through California’s Central Coast region, you must make a pit stop in Gilroy. Garlic ice cream (and basically all things garlic) is all the rage in this small town. If you plan ahead, you can time your trip around the Gilroy Garlic Festival, where you can savor everything from garlic-stuffed olives to garlic jelly. 

Santa Barbara Spot Prawns

Santa Barbara is a coastal gem known for its sandy beaches and gorgeous architecture. But did you know the town is also famous for its delicious spot prawns? The spot prawn, aka pandalus platyceros, is technically a large shrimp and is only found in the North Pacific. 

Popular Foods Grown in California’s Central Valley

Sweet strawberries are merely one of the many crops grown in the agricultural hub of California's Central Valley.

California is your one-stop shop for many of the essentials, including almonds, milk, cheese, grapes, lettuce, pistachios, potatoes, olives, oranges, strawberries, and tomatoes. Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in the Golden State, and the majority of those crops come from the Central Valley. (Seriously, what would the rest of the U.S. do without us?)

Incorporate California’s bounty into your everyday life; whether you want to enjoy fresh strawberries in your pie or sprinkle pistachios and artisanal cheese on top of your salad, you can make a feast from California-grown products. 

For a fun experience, grab your girlfriends and head to one of the California U-Pick Farms. You can spend the day picking your favorite fruits and veggies while simultaneously supporting local farmers

Famous Foods in L.A.

The Cobb salad was invented at a Hollywood restaurant in the 1930s and has maintained its popularity over the years.

Cobb Salad

Invented in Hollywood’s Brown Derby in 1937, the Cobb salad is still a popular dish that can be found in countless restaurants around Los Angeles and beyond. As the story goes, restaurant owner Robert Cobb crafted the salad using leftovers in the fridge—lettuce, blue cheese, chicken, tomatoes, and scraps of bacon—and the dish quickly became a hit and a menu mainstay. Though the Brown Derby closed in 1985, the legacy of its invention lives on. For one of the best Cobbs, check out Fundamental LA.

Tacos and Nachos

The vibrant city of Los Angeles is home to varied cuisines, but tacos and nachos are among the most beloved L.A. food staples. So, spice up your life by checking out some of the acclaimed Mexican restaurants such as Vamos Vamos.

The California roll is another staple in the state, featuring creamy avocado, crab, and crunchy cucumber.

California Roll

Although it's disputed which sushi chef actually invented the California roll, this ingenious, iconic dish became a nationwide sensation in the 80s. While the California roll is pretty simplecontaining a bit of cucumber, avocado, and crabit's a classic that can be found at most sushi restaurants. For a delicious California roll, head to Nomura Sushi in Sherman Oaks or The Sushi House in Studio City.

French Dip Sandwich

It would be a tragedy to skip over Philippe’s while in L.A. Established in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu, this prominent restaurant is celebrating its 112th anniversary this year. Philippe’s is famous for its French dip; rumor has it that Mathieu accidentally created the sandwich in 1918, when he dropped the French roll into a hot roasting pan filled with juices. Even if you aren't a big fan of sandwiches, you'll enjoy the restaurant's charming, early 1900s vibe and extensive menu of salads and breakfast fare.

San Diego’s Most Iconic Foods

Avocado toast has captured the hearts of many Californians, proving this trendy dish is here to stay.

Avocado Toast

Though grapes and berries have their place in sunny Southern California, it’s the avocado that takes the spotlight. (Fun fact: The name of this revered fruit, aka the alligator pear, is derived from the Aztec word ahuacatl.) We know Californians love getting avo-control, and since San Diego is the largest grower of domestic avocados, it’s no wonder avocado toast reigns supreme here. Check out San Diego’s Smashed Avocado Toast, which provides several excellent variations of the classic avocado toast.

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter Your Zip Code

Enter Your Zip Code

Cali-Baja Cuisine

Cali-Baja dishes combine the cross-border influences of San Diego with those of Baja California to create a unique flavor and cooking style. Cali-Baja cuisine is light, fresh, and all about seafood. If you’re into shrimp and sea bass ceviche, Puesto is definitely the place for you. Puesto has several SoCal locations, including Seaport Village and La Jolla. 

California Burrito

If there’s one thing you need to try in San Diego, it’s definitely the California burrito. The brainchild of a San Diegan, this mouthwatering burrito is traditionally stuffed with carne asada, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, and french fries—yes, french fries. That extra crunch, that additional bit of salt, and wonderful potato texture will change your life in just one bite. So, when you’re out and about in San Diego, make sure to check out Mike’s Taco Club and Nico’s Mexican Food for the best California burritos in town.

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter Your Zip Code

Enter Your Zip Code

RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We're committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that's just the beginning…
Purpose section
Purpose section