Seafood on the Central Coast

By Don Sonderling

We’re spoiled by many things here along the Central Coast — weather, views, people, and food among them. One of our favorites, which have not yet been fully explored in these pages, is the wealth of seafood restaurants in this area. Take a road trip between Malibu and Cambria and you’ll discover a variety of them, from casual eateries to elegant upscale restaurants, many with knock-out views. Following are just a few delicious choices to consider.

Malibu/Ventura County Line

Neptune’s Net Described as “an iconic Malibu beach shack,” Neptune’s Net (featured in several films and TV series) has been serving up a wide assortment of seafood, burgers, and their “world-famous New England Clam Chowder” since 1956. Located across from County Line Beach in Malibu, come here to people-watch while savoring the seafood with the scenic Malibu Coast in front of you. On any given day, tourists, locals, celebrities, surfers, beach lovers, and bikers will be gathering at The Net.

There is a dedicated motorcyclye parking area out front to admire your ride while enjoying the food and view.

Of course, the emphasis is on seafood. I always order the New England clam chowder (you’ll recognize a pattern in this piece), and their crispy coated, tasty fish ‘n chips. But, whether it’s scallops, clams, mahi-mahi, ceviche, a seafood sampler, or picking up live lobster, Dungeness crab, or shellfish as available, The Net is the place to immerse yourself in Malibu’s unique California coastal scene.

Neptune’s Net is located at 42505 CA-1, Malibu. For more: neptunesnet.com

 

Ventura and Santa Barbara

Brophy Brothers

This family-owned restaurant has two killer locations. As you drive up the coast, stop in at the Ventura or Santa Barbara Brophy Brothers for some calamari, chowder, and fresh catch as available. During the season, the Dungeness crab salad is chock full of fresh, sweet Dungeness meat.

Views of the harbor, from Brophy’s Santa Barbara location.

The food may bring you into the restaurants, but the location will bring you back again and again. Both locations are harbor-side, with the docks and bay right outside the windows. Come for lunch, happy hour, or dinner. Brophy Brothers has been a staple go-to destination for almost four decades, for locals and visitors alike. Friendly with an energetic vibe, experience “the Brophy effect” as you seafood your way along the coast.

The Ventura location of Brophy Brothers is at 1559 Spinnaker Dr, Ventura. For more: brophybrosventura.com. The Santa Barbara location is at 119 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara. For more: brophybros.com

Brad’s Restaurant

Back in the middle of the last century, Pismo Beach was known as the clam capital of the world. Even though commercial and recreational clamming is gone, Pismo still celebrates its past with an annual Clam Festival that began in 1946.

Brad’s Restaurant is an iconic coastal restaurant with roots deep in that Pismo history. Opened in 1956, it is under the ownership of the original founder’s family. Named after Brad Phillips, the current owners (Brad’s daughters and grandchildren) still own and operate the restaurant.

Brad’s has the largest patio dining area in Pismo Beach. Photos courtesy Brad’s

Brad’s is famous for its seafood, barbecue, and clam chowder made from scratch daily. If you are a chowder fan, you must try Brad’s. It’s just the right consistency — not too many potatoes, plenty of delicious clams, and perfect flavoring. Come for a cup but take home a quart!

Order the fish and chips, made from the highest quality wild-caught cod from Alaska. And, when available, the fresh, locally caught halibut and salmon are among the best.

You may not actually see the sea from this iconic restaurant, but you can still feel the vibe of the ’50s and ’60s surf scene. Aside from a great menu, servers are super fun and friendly, and echo the decor with surf-themed shirts. Eat at Brad’s and experience this three-generation restaurant!

Brad’s Restaurant is located at 209 Pomeroy Avenue, Pismo Beach. 
For more: bradsofpismo.com

 

Morro Bay

Windows on the Water

When dining at Windows on the Water, you will be treated to a changing artist’s palate of beauty every time. This white tablecloth restaurant is elegant, inviting, comfortable, and laid back. When you combine the view, atmosphere, food, and wine, you will appreciate the bounty of life.

Overlooking Morro Bay and Morro Rock, you will be mesmerized as you watch Mother Nature’s sunset display. Combine that with Chef Neil Smith’s creations, and you will create memories.

Cocktails and appetizers overlooking Morro Rock.

As executive chef for 17 years, Chef Smith tries to source most ingredients locally, from neighboring areas or the West Coast. Fruits and vegetables are sourced mainly from local farmers’ markets, and halibut and sanddabs are from local waters.

The menu changes to match seasonal availability, and the catchwords are always “fresh and creative.” Try the halibut and chowder, award-winners in several cooking challenges. Come for happy hour and choose from a selection of craft cocktails or sip a glass of wine from the extensive California-represented wine list.

Enjoy creative California coastal cuisine, with an epic view of the magnificent Pacific at Windows on the Water.

Windows on the Water is located at 699 Embarcadero #7, Morro Bay. For more: windowsmb.com

 

Cambria

You know there’s something special when you have two seafood specialty restaurants located less than half a mile from each other, each with magnificent Moonstone Beach oceanfront views. When you go to Cambria, try to plan two nights so you can eat more great California coastal seafood.

Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill is the “newer” of this duo, owned by John MacKinnon and family since opening 31 years ago, in 1993. The menu is expansive with burgers, salads, pasta, and beef, but let’s focus on seafood, which they proudly describe as “Fine American Seafood Dining.”

Seafood is sourced as locally as possible, and you will always find fresh, locally caught fish of the day on the menu. Oysters are flown in fresh from the East Coast, with an eye on quality and size. You’ll find many specials to choose from, but my favorite (especially when it’s crab season), is the Cioppino! It’s zesty, tasty, and full of seafood, shellfish, and lots of sweet Dungeness crab as available. Produce is also sourced from purveyors that focus on locally grown wares, and the hot, mouth-watering bread comes from a local bakery daily.

Sit inside or outside on the well-heated patio to enjoy a straight-on oceanfront view. Having a cocktail and cup of house-made clam chowder while enjoying the flaming sunset courtesy of Mother Nature is hard to beat!

Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill is located at 6550 Moonstone Beach Dr, Cambria. For more: moonstonebeach.com

The Sea Chest Oyster Bar

is another Cambria pearl. Originally opened almost 50 years ago, there is a loyal customer and employee base here. The original owners told Steve Kniffen — who started at The Sea Chest back in 1985 — that the restaurant would be his one day. That day happened in January of 2022, and today, Steve, his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and son are all involved in the business. Additionally, several staff members have been there for 15 to 25 years!

Jaw-dropping views from The Sea Chest. Photos courtesy of the Sea Chest

As to the bounty of the sea, The Sea Chest specialties include red snapper from Big Sur, wild-caught white sea bass, swordfish, mahi-mahi — the list goes on. Sit at the oyster bar for oysters sourced from British Columbia, the East Coast, Baja California, and Washington State. Fresh seafood, arriving daily, is what The Sea Chest is known for. And, if you love great calamari, this is the place to go!

The Sea Chest opens at 5:30 pm and does not take reservations. Feel free to bring your beach chair and a bottle of wine (only outside consumption), and get in line. Mingle with other seafood lovers enjoying the vista of the sea while waiting for great seafood along the coast.

The Sea Chest Oyster Bar is located at 6216 Moonstone Beach Dr, Cambria. For more: seachestoysterbar.com

Don Sonderling is a freelance writer, covering wine, food, and travel lifestyle experiences from Southern California up through Northern California. He may be reached at: donsonderling@gmail.com.

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