15 California Foods to Explore on Your Visit

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Visiting California? Get ready to treat your taste buds to some genuinely iconic eats that were produced or invented in the Golden State.

California is the biggest agricultural producer in the U.S., offering an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and a food scene that’s as diverse as its people, from farm-to-table eateries to vibrant street food. Iconic produce like avocados, which you can add to nearly anything, and street-style tacos are staples here. They embody the spirit of California cuisine.

What are California foods? It’s a rich mix of locally produced ingredients and original dishes. Think of the globally popular California Roll, the classic sourdough bread native to San Francisco, and even the iconic cheeseburger in Pasadena. Even if you’ve tasted these flavors elsewhere, there is nothing like enjoying them where they are from.

featured blog image of a collage featuring iconic California foods, including avocado toast, sourdough bread, and a cheeseburger, with the text "FOODS FROM CALIFORNIA" placed in the center.Pin

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Part of the foodie travel fun is enjoying local ingredients and dishes when we travel to a destination. This list shares the foods from California to keep on the lookout when you visit.

1. Sourdough Bread

A loaf of sourdough bread on a red and white checkered cloth, with a red pot in the background.Pin

Originating from San Francisco’s Boudin Bakery over 175 years ago, sourdough bread is a California icon, though it may have ancient Egyptian roots. The bread’s tangy flavor, derived from a unique starter culture, makes it ideal for sandwiches or as a robust bread bowl for clam chowder.

Nothing beats a warm slice of sourdough with butter. If you’re in San Francisco, stop by Boudin Bakery for their famous clam chowder in a bread bowl. They also have a presence at Disneyland California Adventure, offering a brief tour with a taste of their freshly baked bread.

While sourdough is widely available across California—from bakeries to supermarkets—it remains a local favorite.

Tour Idea:
San Francisco Food Tour with a Local [book here]

2. French Dip

A French dip sandwich with melted cheese and roast beef on a crusty roll, accompanied by crinkle-cut fries and a small bowl of au jus for dipping, all served on a wooden board.

Contrary to what its name might suggest, the French Dip sandwich is not from France—it’s a Californian creation! This beloved dish originated at Philippe the Original in Downtown Los Angeles in 1908, where it was founded by French immigrant Philippe Mathieu.

Legend has it that Philippe accidentally or intentionally dipped a sandwich into some leftover beef juice before serving it to a customer. The result was delicious, and the sandwich quickly became a staple of the menu, a status it maintains today.

For the full experience, try the French Dip sandwich at Philippe’s, preferably double-dipped, and don’t skip the hot mustard. While Philippe’s may be the birthplace, other spots around Los Angeles also serve up excellent versions of this iconic sandwich.

Read more: Top Places to Visit in Los Angeles, CA

3. The Cheese on the Cheeseburger

A cheeseburger with double beef patties, cheese, lettuce, and tomato, on a bun, presented on a black slate surface with a rustic wooden backdrop.

Hamburgers are a staple in American cuisine, with over 50 billion served annually across the United States. While the hamburger’s origins are somewhat unclear, with influences noted from German cuisine, the burger on a bun has become universal.

However, the cheeseburger has a definitive California claim to fame. Lionel Sternberger pioneered the idea adding cheese to a hamburger in Pasadena, California. At just 16, while working at a roadside stand called the Rite Spot on Route 66, Sternberger experimented by adding cheese to a burger, creating the first cheeseburger.

Although the Rite Spot no longer exists, you can visit a plaque on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena that commemorates this tasty invention.

When it comes to enjoying a modern California burger, nothing beats In-N-Out. Our favorite is the double-double animal style with well-done fries. Don’t forget to ask for some extra spread to dip your fries. While big burger chains like McDonald’s started here, In-N-Out maintains the classic California burger tradition with its specialty smash burgers.

For those interested in the broader history of the hamburger, the book Hamburger: A Global History is a great read

Read more: Pasadena Foodie Spots We Love As Locals

4. Chocolate-Dipped Frozen Bananas

Chocolate covered frozen banana covered in peanuts
Chocolate covered frozen banana covered in peanuts

A standout treat during my first trip to Southern California was the chocolate-dipped frozen banana, a staple seen in the hands of many Disneyland visitors. Originating in the 1940s, the trend was set by Don Phillips, also known as the Frozen Banana King, who sold these chilly delights from his stand on Balboa Peninsula near The Fun Zone.

The treat gained further popularity in the 1960s with the opening of Bluth’s Original Banana Stand on Balboa Island, famously featured in the show Arrested Development.

Although the original stands have closed, chocolate-dipped frozen bananas remain a beloved snack across Newport Beach. They are widely available in ice cream shops, fruit stands, Disneyland, and California Adventure throughout California.

5. Balboa Bars

Balboa Bars take their name from their place of origin, Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula. These treats are simply vanilla ice cream bars on a stick, which are dipped in chocolate and coated with your choice of toppings like nuts, coconut, or sprinkles.

When visiting Balboa Island, the two classic spots to indulge in Balboa Bars are Sugar n’ Spice and Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop, which also offers delicious frozen bananas. Be prepared for long lines during peak seasons, as these establishments are hugely popular among locals and tourists.

6. Garlic Ice Cream

Do you love garlic? You’re in good company! An impressive 90% of the garlic sold in the U.S. comes from California, with Gilroy claiming the title of the Garlic Capital of the World. Here, you can find something as unusual as garlic ice cream.

Although I haven’t tried garlic ice cream, friends who are garlic aficionados mention that the garlic flavor starts subtly and grows stronger with each bite. You can find varieties like chocolate, pistachio, and vanilla.

Where to try Garlic Ice Cream:

  • Gilroy: Visit Garlic World or Pacheco Pass Farmers Market to taste this unique treat.
  • San Francisco and Beverly Hills: The Stinking Rose offers garlic ice cream, where the entire menu celebrates garlic.

Interested in making garlic ice cream yourself? Check out a recipe from The Spruce Eats to whip up this quirky dessert at home.

7. Cruffin

A plate of cruffins dusted with powdered sugar.

If you find yourself in California, do yourself a favor and hunt down a Cruffin. What’s a Cruffin, you ask? It’s a magical blend of a muffin and a croissant, taking the best bits of each to create something spectacular. With the airy, buttery layers of a croissant and the sweet, stuffed goodness of a muffin, it’s a match made in pastry heaven.

Dreamed up by the inventive folks at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in San Francisco, the Cruffin quickly became a local legend. Though the original bakery has closed its doors, the spirit of the Cruffin lives on throughout California. Many local bakeries have taken up the mantle, each adding their own twist to this delightful treat.

So, if you spot a Cruffin, grab it! It’s not just a pastry; it’s a culinary adventure—one that’s deliciously Californian.

8. Cioppino

A bowl of cioppino garnished with herbs and served with grilled slices of bread, presented on a white plate with a striped napkin and a gray textured background.

If you’re a seafood lover, Cioppino is a must-try when visiting California, especially with a side of warm sourdough bread. Originating from San Francisco, this rich fish stew combines an array of seafood like Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, and mussels, all simmered in a hearty tomato-based broth.

The dish was created by Italian fishermen in the late 1800s, using the day’s leftover catch. Originally considered “peasant food” for its humble beginnings on fishing boats and in fishermen’s homes, Cioppino gained fame in the 1930s when it became a staple at restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf.

Today, Cioppino is celebrated across California seafood restaurants. To taste history, visit Alioto’s, one of the oldest restaurants still dishing out this beloved stew.

9. Cobb Salad

a plate of salad toppings to make a cobb salad
A typical cobb salad

A classic Cobb Salad is more than just a dish; it’s a slice of Hollywood history. Invented in the 1930s at The Brown Derby in Hollywood, this salad owes its name and fame to the restaurant’s owner, Robert Cobb. Legend has it that Cobb concocted this salad late one night from leftovers he found in the fridge, tossing them together with a dressing. He first shared it with the owner of the infamous Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and it wasn’t long before it became a hit among the Hollywood elite.

The typical Cobb Salad features a bed of romaine or lettuce topped with hard-boiled eggs, bacon, tomatoes, cucumber, blue cheese, avocado, and chicken or turkey. However, the ingredients can vary slightly from one restaurant to another.

Today, the Cobb Salad is a staple on menus nationwide, a testament to the lasting appeal of a good, hearty salad made from simple ingredients.

10. Ranch Dressing

A hand dipping a French fry into a small container of ranch dressing, with a side of salad and more fries on a white plate.

“Would you like a side of ranch with that?” This question is often heard in casual dining spots across California, reflecting the popularity of a homegrown favorite: ranch dressing.

Invented in the 1950s by Steve Henson during his time at a dairy farm known today as Hidden Valley Ranch, this creamy dressing quickly soared in popularity. Steve, alongside his wife Gayle, originally crafted this buttermilk dressing as a delightful addition to salads at their ranch. Little did they know it would become a nationwide sensation.

Today, Ranch dressing is a staple in California and beyond. Whether drizzled over a Cobb salad, used as a dip for fries and onion rings, or slathered on burgers and veggies, Ranch adds a zest that enhances almost any dish.

11. Fortune Cookie

fortune cookie with the fortune that reads Luck is coming your way

Did you know the modern fortune cookie was invented in San Francisco? It’s a delightful piece of culinary history that traces back to the 1890s, credited to Makoto Hagiwara at the Japanese Tea Garden. While there have been competing claims from Los Angeles, a court ruling solidified Hagiwara’s legacy as the true inventor.

Initially a novelty, these crisp cookies with hidden messages quickly captured diners’ hearts and became a staple dessert in California’s Chinese restaurants. Now, they’re a familiar and fun finale at Chinese dining spots nationwide. Do you remember the best fortune you’ve ever received?

If visiting San Francisco, don’t miss the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Take a tour to see firsthand how these iconic cookies are crafted.

12. California Roll

sushi roll filled with avocado, crab and cucumner

While sushi is quintessential Japanese cuisine, the California Roll is a uniquely American twist, invented in Los Angeles during the 1960s. This sushi roll combines avocado, cucumber, and crab meat, all wrapped in seaweed paper and sticky rice.

Since its creation, the California Roll has become a staple on sushi menus throughout California and the United States. Thanks to its familiar and less intimidating ingredients, it’s often recommended as an introductory sushi for newcomers.

California boasts some exceptional sushi spots, so whether you’re a sushi novice or a seasoned enthusiast, the California Roll is a must-try when exploring the state’s diverse culinary landscape.

13. California Hass Avocado

A person's hands holding a halved Hass avocado over a dark green plate, with another whole avocado beside it.

In California, the avocado isn’t just a fruit; it’s a culinary staple, revered and added to nearly everything. This beloved produce, primarily the wide and buttery Hass variety, makes up ninety percent of the U.S.’s domestic avocados, with the peak season running from spring through summer.

Whether enhancing a burger, topping toast, or enriching salads, eggs, and meats, avocado is a versatile add-on that elevates any dish. And, of course, it’s essential for whipping up that perfect guacamole.

Adding avocado is always a good idea in California—the additional touch takes the dish to the next level. Don’t miss out on experiencing avocado in its prime here in the Golden State.

One of the top ways to enjoy avocado in California is by ordering Avocado Toast for breakfast and brunch. Even though it originates from Australia, you’ll find that we love our Avocado Toast here.

14. Olive Oil

close up of olives growing on olive treeasPin

While most olive oil in the U.S. is imported from Spain, Italy, and Greece, California stands out as the leading domestic producer. Experiencing an olive farm in California is a treat for any food enthusiast. We had a lovely visit to an olive farm in Ojai, where the beauty of the grounds was only matched by the quality of the olive oil. After some enjoyable taste-testing, we couldn’t resist bringing home a bottle of this golden-green liquid gold.

Many California restaurants pride themselves on using locally sourced olive oil, adding a touch of freshness and regional flavor to their dishes. If you’re visiting California, consider exploring one of the olive oil tasting rooms. Not only is it a chance to taste premium oils, but it’s also an opportunity to bring home a unique and tasty souvenir. Here are a few places to start:

15. Wine

glass of wine overlooking winery

No list of California’s iconic offerings would be complete without mentioning its world-renowned wine. While technically a beverage, wine is integral to the California foodie experience and cuisine, derived from the rich vineyards of San Diego, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, and more.

California is a powerhouse in the wine industry, producing 81% of all U.S. wine across more than 4,200 bonded wineries. This prominence makes the state a special destination for wine enthusiasts. Exploring California’s scenic wineries could fill a month with taste testing and vineyard tours alone. We recommend visiting Northern California’s wine country.

If you’re enjoying a meal at a local restaurant or browsing a wine shop, you’ll find an excellent selection of local wines that embody California’s spirit and flavor. Be sure to take home a bottle—or several—to continue your California culinary experience long after your visit.

Tour Ideas:
All-Inclusive Wine Tasting Tour of Temecula Valley [book here]
Introductory Wine Tour of Paso Robles on Electric Bikes [book here]
Napa Valley & Sonoma Combo Wine Tour from San Francisco [book here]

Famous Food in California
What food is California known for?

When our guests visit California, they want to eat In-n-Out, Street Tacos, or simply good Mexican food.

The first In-n-Out opened in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948, and it is a well-loved fast food chain with the best fast food burgers around. So we can’t exactly blame them for wanting to run to the first In-Out they see.

Though tacos and Mexican cuisine hail from beyond California’s borders, our state’s rich cultural tapestry is deeply woven with influences from our Mexican neighbors. This vibrant connection brings some of the finest Mexican cuisine anywhere outside Mexico. The most authentic experiences are from the street taco stands and small mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants. So, if you see a taco stand set up on the side of the road, stop to get some tacos.

Kathy Ava

Meet Kathy Ava, a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena, and the owner and main writer of Tasty Itinerary. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she's become a pro at crafting unforgettable tasty itineraries. She's always on the hunt for delicious, fun travel destinations and cruise itineraries. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it, so always say yes to dessert.

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  1. Your blog has it all! Very yummy post. The frozen bananas! Was totally thinking about Arrested Development before you mentioned it.😅 I don’t think I’ve ever had a frozen banana but I think I would enjoy it. I’d want one with chocolate & peanut butter!😋
    I also would love to invent something like a cheeseburger. It’s so simple but thank you to that teen! Cheeseburgers all the way. I can’t have it without cheese. And yes, I do mean my Impossible burger or other kinds of veggie burgers.
    Garlic ice cream though? I’m not too sure about that one. I’ll try it but…🤔
    Onto wine…I do hope to go to wineries in Cali one day. I would love that trip.