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10 favorite restaurants in: Venice, San Diego & Santa Barbara

This post is the follow up on this one, with favorites in San Francisco and Sonoma. These are a few delicious food spots I discovered during our honeymoon in Santa Barbara, Venice Beach and San Diego. From the best donuts in town to my favorite acai bowl. These 10 places are not to be missed!

1. Lucky Penny, Santa Barbara
In Santa Barbara’s State Street you’ll find many restaurants, but a bit further away is the Funk Zone, which is much less touristy. Right next to the well-known The Lark restaurant, you can find cheaper (and even more fun) little sister Lucky Penny. You order your pizza at the bar in a very casual atmosphere and dine at simple wooden tables. And it’s exactly that relaxed vibe that makes Lucky Penny so cool. Also helpful: the pizzas are crazy good – same goes for the wine, by the way – and everything is very affordable.
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2. Backyard Bowls, Santa Barbara
Backyard Bowls is famous for its acai bowls and this place has now several locations in California. Never had such a thing? It’s a bowl with a thick, soft serve-like frozen fruit puree with a very healthy image, but also with a delicious taste. At Backyard Bowls you can choose between all kinds of bowls and toppings, which are also available to go. The perfect healthy breakfast or cooling snack, if you ask me.
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3. McConnell’s, Santa Barbara
To counterbalance the acai bowls, you probably need an ice cream now and then and those from McConnells are highly recommended. This place has been open for years and ordering pretty much always involves waiting in line, but believe me when I say that’s justified. This ice cream is just amazing. My favorite was the Salted Caramel Chip, but everything I tried was good. Also: their manifesto on the wall made me laugh: “We believe that, when in doubt, that you should always get two scoops (it’s a no-brainer). As for sprinkles? We believe that they’re a distant relative of unicorns.”
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4. Gjelina & GTA, Venice Beach
In Venice Beach you can find the famous restaurant Gjelina on the very stylish Abbot Kinney Boulevard. It’s totally possible here to dine next to celebs like Rihanna or Beyoncé. It’s a bit “seen and been seen” and the prices are a bit steep, but more importantly: the quality of the food is amazing and the place is simply beautiful. I was very enthusiastic about their breakfast as well: with some amazing American pancakes with blueberry compote and crème fraiche. Personnaly, I though that Gjelina Take way (GTA) next door was even cooler. Here, you can take away most of the Gjelina menu to go. Or just eat your lovely bowl of granola on their cute mini terrace.
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5. Gjusta, Venice Beach
Also part of the Gjelina empire is Gjusta and this place was recently awarded one of the best new restaurants in the United States. That doesn’t surprise me a bit, because Gjusta has a very unique concept and amazing quality dishes. In this bakery-patisserie-fermentation bar-smoker-restaurant-coffee bar you can pretty much eat the entire day. I was in love with their bialy (somewhat like a bagel) with house-smoked salmon, labneh instead of cream cheese (brilliant!) and pickled red onion. Definitely go for one of their shrubs as well: lemonade based on drinking vinegar. Sounds weird, tastes crazy good.
Website

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6. Poke-Poke, Venice Beach
The Venice Beach Boulevard usually offers a mix of artistic types, homeless people and a pretty minimal range of food. But much to my surprise I also discovered the little restaurant Poke-Poke. The apparently very popular Hawaiian poke is a salad with marinated tuna and this take-out place makes a great version. I went for the spicy poke with brown rice, seaweed and avocado and absolutely loved it.
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7. Superba Food & Bread, Venice Beach
Somewhat remotely located next to a busy road, you can find this gorgeous light restaurant, with garage doors that will be opened on warm days. The menu consists of little dishes to share and there’s much attention for patisserie in the desserts. I enjoyed dishes like amazing pillowy-light ricotta gnocchi and a gorgeous tart with hazelnut and caramel. Very much recommended!
Website

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8. Juice Saves, San Diego
California has an enormous amount of juice bars and Juice Saves in San Diego was one of my favorites. It’s also the perfect place for an acai bowl: I especially loved the version with mango and coconut. And although the shakes and smoothies are originally invented for juice cleanses (not my thing), they’re also great as a snack. And that is totally my thing.
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9. Donut Bar
According to many, you can eat the best donuts in San Diego at the Donut Bar and seeing the Lamborghini (no joke) from owner Santiago, donuts mean pretty good business here. In weekends waiting time can be over an hour (again, no joke), but I kind of enjoyed that experience, especially when Santiago himself came outside to entertain the line by explaining his favorite ingredients. The donuts here are crazy big, but surprisingly airy and available in many flavors. My favorite was the salted caramel, although the bright pink “Homer” wins for its looks.
Website

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(Juice Saves & Donut Bar: credits TLT)

10. Comun (and more)
For amazing Mexican tostadas, you need to visit Comun in San Diego, where they also have a cool beer-tap-with-wristbands Lovely seafood is served in the gorgeous Ironside (“my oysters bring all the boys to the bar”). Just around the corner is the stylish Juniper & Ivy, where the prices are steep and the dishes impressive. Their famous yodel dessert (a chocolate log with chocolate sauce and much crunch/nuts/cream/ice cream inside) is a winner. Please save room.

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