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The 10 Best Places to Dine by the Water in California
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The 10 Best Places to Dine by the Water in California

Here's a standout selection of the best waterfront restaurants in California with world-class water views and fresh seafood.

Dikran Seferian

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5 min read

June 20, 2022

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products mentioned in this article.

With scenic ocean views and charming beachside towns, it’s easy to see why California’s coastline provides the ideal backdrop for dining by the water; add good food to the equation and you’re good to go. A trip along the Golden State coast will show you that waterfront restaurants are as diverse as the different vistas you’ll come across. From the laid-back vibes of seaside shacks to the fancy settings of lavish seafood restaurants, you’re sure to find a place that suits your sensibilities. In any case. There’s one thing you’ll find in common: world-class views of the Pacific Ocean. 

1. Sam’s Chowder House, Half Moon Bay

You don’t need to go all the way to Maine for some good chowder or lobster. Just an hour away from San Francisco, Sam’s Chowder House is a popular destination for seafood lovers. Sink your teeth in highly acclaimed dishes while enjoying the idyllic views of Half Moon Bay from the deck or by the firepit. The Today Show even named this restaurant’s lobster roll one of the five “best sandwiches in America”. Other delicacies at this ocean-view restaurant include California king salmon with pomegranate reduction and the lobster clambake, a shellfish fan’s favorite featuring clams, mussels, and a full lobster.

The lobster sandwich at Sam’s Chowder House won accolades from NBC’s Today Show.

2. Santa Barbara Shellfish Company

At the very end of the historic Stearns Wharf lies the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, serving top-notch seafood in a modest setting. Formerly a shellfish buying station, this restaurant by the water has been a favorite among Santa Barbara locals ever since. Choose a table on the deck or grab a seat by the counter to witness the chefs doing their magic. Watch the skillets flaming up as the aroma of fried scallops spread throughout this seafood restaurant in California. Make sure to check the chalkboards for seasonal dishes like the spiny lobster or the local Dungeness crab. 

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3. Copa Cubana, Ventura

Ventura’s Copa Cubana beautifully combines authentic Cuban cuisine with views of the harbor. Watch boats gliding in and out of the marina at Ventura Harbor as you indulge in mouthwatering dishes such as ropa vieja alfresco or arroz con pollo. Music makes up a huge part of the vibes at this waterfront restaurant. During weekend brunch hours, you’ll see bands playing Latin music as well as blues and classic rock.

Adjacent to the Copa Cubana is the 805 Bar, a comfort-food eatery sharing a kitchen as well as an owner with the Cuban restaurant. The oceanside bar serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in addition to mac’ n cheese, salads, and soups.

Picturesque views of Ventura Harbor provide the ideal backdrop for relishing Cuban cuisine at Copa Cubana.

4. Spud Point Crab Company, Bodega Bay

Floating boats and squawking seagulls add to the coastal backdrop of Bodega Bay’s Spud Point Crab Company. Two hours north of San Francisco, this beachside restaurant serves fresh-out-of-the-ocean seafood, such as crabs and king salmon caught by owners Tony and Mark Anello. Also on the menu are crab cakes and sandwiches containing the catch of the day. One dish you should definitely consider trying is the restaurant’s award-winning clam chowder. The setting is relatively modest, handing the spotlight to the scenic views of the ocean. 

5. Geoffrey’s Malibu

While Geoffrey’s Malibu seems nothing out of the ordinary from a distance, it’s the sophisticated interior and the gorgeous terrace overlooking the ocean that really wows you. Designed by acclaimed architect Richard Neutra, Geoffrey’s is one of the fanciest restaurants with a view in Los Angeles. Stunning vistas of the ocean blended with lush greenery make this restaurant a popular destination for seafood aficionados — and the occasional celebrity or two. Watch the sunset as you treat yourself to a seafood paella followed by an espresso flan or a blueberry cheesecake.

Savor an explosion of flavors with every mouthful of seafood paella as you gaze at the Malibu sunset.

6. Studio, Laguna Beach

Nestled on top of a coastal bluff, Studio brilliantly combines Craftsman-style architecture with stunning ocean vistas and California-inspired French cuisine. Vaulted ceilings, stylish wood detailing, and panoramic windows that open to the ocean are the first to draw attention as you step into this waterfront restaurant in Laguna Beach. While fresh seafood takes center stage, organic produce from the restaurant’s own farm is also on the menu. Signature dishes include king salmon with heirloom carrots and seared swordfish with spicy lentils. And if you’re not sure what to get, consider going for the tasting menu to try a bit of everything. 

7. The Waterfront Restaurant, San Francisco

Located on Pier 7, the Waterfront Restaurant in San Francisco offers unparalleled views of the bay. This gastronomic haven was formerly a longshoreman’s bar before Al Falchi transformed it into a restaurant in 1969. The top-rated gourmet dishes have drawn celebrities, presidents, and even royals. Besides fresh seafood, grilled Wagyu steak, and other signature dishes, Waterfront Restaurant of San Francisco also offers several vegan and vegetarian options. Aside from the main dining area and first floor, you can also choose a table on the south patio, in the north room, on the mezzanine, or on the tented pier. 

The Waterfront Restaurant on Pier 7 offers appetizing dishes along with gorgeous views of the bay.

8. Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar, Marshall

Perched above the shallow waters of Tomales Bay, Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar carries hidden getaway vibes. Enjoy a plate of fresh oysters on the deck as you take in the coastal views. You can also pick a table in the main dining room, which feels a lot like a weathered hunting lodge. The menu highlights locally sourced dishes such as butter-roasted California Halibut, Dungeness crab mac ‘n cheese, and Tomales Bay clam chowder. If you’re on a weekend getaway, you can find accommodations at one of the oceanside restaurant’s rustic-chic cottages.

9. The Lobster, Santa Monica

A short walk away from the Santa Monica Pier, The Lobster first is a local favorite dating back to 1925, making it one of the oldest restaurants in California. As you may have guessed, this waterfront restaurant specializes in whole lobsters — steamed and grilled. The Lobster remained idle for ten years after a long history before it reopened in 1999 with a new look and new ownership. Enjoy views of the Pacific from the panoramic windows of the dining room or the wide terrace, while sinking your teeth into a grilled Yucatan or California spiny lobster prepared by Chef Collin Crannell. The menu also features pan-roasted rockfish and espresso barbeque Columbia river king salmon, among a variety of other specialties.  

Steamed and grilled whole lobsters are specialties at Santa Monica’s The Lobster.

10. Coasterra Modern Mexican, San Diego

Unless you have a boat, there’s no better way to view the waterfront skyline of San Diego than from Coasterra Modern Mexican on Harbor Island. This San Diego restaurant on the water offers Mexican classics with an innovative twist. Try the ceviche with bay shrimp and blue crab or the freshly shucked oysters with fire-roasted cocktail sauce. One spectacular dish that is sure to satisfy all your senses is the black Angus carne asada with flour tortillas, Mexican rice, pinto beans, chimichurri, chipotle garlic butter, and to top it all off, half a lobster. Let’s not forget to mention that every table in this San Diego dining destination boasts picturesque views of its own, especially at sunset.

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