Between Los Angeles and San Diego lies some of California's prettiest coastline, but the glimpses you get while driving down I-5 don't really do it justice. Chef Luis Cardenas has made that drive many times, having moved to L.A. from San Diego to open La Carmencita on Highland Avenue in Hollywood. Cardenas adores the beach; he hails originally from Baja Mexico and based most of his menu on the fresh fish he finds every morning at the fish market. He even recently commissioned Mexican artist Alfredo Libre Gutierrez to paint a giant mural that covers the façade of La Carmencita, which looks like a fish shining in the sunlight.
After years of making the drive between L.A. and San Diego, Cardenas has discovered excellent restaurants along the way with fantastic ocean views. Here are his seven favorites, listed in directional order from north to south.
7. 21 Oceanfront
“A true old-school, fine-dining classic. I describe the menu in one word: lobster!” 2100 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach; (949) 673-2100, 21oceanfront.com.
6. Stone Hill Tavern
“This is where I send everyone to splurge and celebrate — an extraordinary panoramic view, offering one of the state’s most impressive wine menus. Chef [Michael] Mina’s team prepares modern American cuisine — don’t miss the tamarind chicken popsicles or the dry-aged bone-in rib-eye. Come here to be impressed.” 1 Monarch Beach Resort North, Dana Point; (949) 234-3200, michaelmina.net.
5. The Fisherman’s Restaurant
“I love this kind of classic restaurant, where you smell the old woods from the San Clemente Pier and also the grease from the fryer. I just love it. It's a nice place where you can enjoy a nice lager beer with a bucket of clams with the entire family. If it's cold and cloudy, the fisherman’s chowder is a must.” 611 Avenida Victoria, San Clemente; (949) 498-6390, thefishermansrestaurant.com.
4. 333 Pacific
“Great place to chill after an easy bike ride on the ocean paths. You can enjoy a great glass of wine with a 333 ceviche, and the seared scallops with beluga lentils are to die for.” 333 N. Pacific St, Oceanside; (760) 433-3333, cohnrestaurants.com.
“Classic Italian cuisine with a great cava. Fantastic spot for date nights, and the romantic ocean views will take your breath away.” 3878 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad; (760) 434-2580, vigiluccis.com.
2. Pacifica del Mar
“Great for enjoying the sunset with a hamachi plate, or mussels in a red curry sauce. The astonishing views here will make you weep.” 1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar; (858) 792-0476, pacificadelmar.com.
1. The Marine Room
“Chef Bernard Guillas creates stunning French cuisine. The must-try dish is the blue crab and cobia. This dining room is so close to the waves that the sea often dramatically sprays the dining room windows.” 2000 Spindrift Drive, La Jolla; (858) 459-7222, marineroom.com.