California is known for many things. From the beaches in Los Angeles to the redwoods of San Francisco, there is so much to see and do in the Golden State. You might think this famous state has its fair share of foodie hotspots, too, right? Well, you’re right on!
When visiting California, you’re sure to experience the vibrant flavors that it’s well-known for. From an iconic burger joint in Los Angeles to the Northern coastal cities serving fresh seafood, you will discover what food California has to offer.
California food culture covers nearly all styles of American cuisine but is most well-known for Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, and health-conscious, all-natural food options.
There are thousands of places to experience unique cuisine in the state. But which dishes are really quintessential? This is a list of the most famous California foods that people can’t get enough of!
Visiting other destinations in California? Check out our other delicious guides:
- 11 Must-Try Tustin Restaurants
- 8 Best Fort Bragg, CA Restaurants
- The 7 Best Oceanside, CA Restaurants
- The 21 Best Restaurants in Costa Mesa
- 11 Must-Try Vallejo Restaurants
- 15 Must-Try Sanibel Island Restaurants
- 9 Must-Try Pier 39 Restaurant
- 7 Must-Try Ventura Restaurants
- 8 Must-Try Paso Robles Restaurants
- 10 Best Berkeley Restaurants
- 8 Best Livermore Restaurants
- 7 Must-Try Restaurants In Dublin CA
- 10 Must-Try Petaluma Restaurants
- 10 Best Restaurants In Downtown Santa Rosa
- 7 Must-Try Del Mar Restaurants
- 7 Must-Try Oxnard Restaurants
- 11 Must-Try Sebastopol Restaurants
- 6 Best Downtown Disney Restaurants
Best California Food
Food is a beautiful way to touch culture and a place, and if you’re going to have food that reflects a state, it has to be iconic. The cheeseburger, by any account, is probably California’s most iconic food.
The cheeseburger is a California specialty and is the preferred way to eat your burger, with melted cheese on top of a warm patty. It’s also one of the most popular dishes globally, particularly in the United States, which is perhaps what you would expect from such an iconic dish.
One bite of a cheeseburger, and you’ll understand why this humble dish has captured the hearts of so many Californians. The combination of melted cheese, hot meat, and condiments on a bun is truly a match made in heaven.
California’s wide variety of ingredients makes it the perfect place to enjoy a delicious cheeseburger that fits your preferences precisely.
When you want food that’s fresh, affordable, and delicious, the California Burrito is the thing to try!
The debate about where this delicious dish originated has thrown many people into heated arguments, but the reality is that it did not form in California. Instead, it was brought to California by Mexican immigrants during the late 19th century.
Burritos have been a favorite food item in the United States for over a century, and once you try it, you can definitely tell why!
There is nothing better than eating a burrito made from wheat flour tortillas folded over to enclose the delicious filling inside. The best part about it? You can choose your own fillings, depending on your taste!
A variety of ingredients are used for the filling, including meat, beans, rice, lettuce, guacamole, and cheese.
No matter which places in California you visit, you can always find a great burrito to enjoy!
When discussing the food California is known for, you certainly can’t leave out the sourdough bread!
The San Francisco Bay area is home to a unique sourdough starter that gives the bread the signature flavor The Golden State prides itself on.
Sourdough bread has existed for centuries, but the California Gold Rush boosted its popularity in San Francisco after the city developed a unique starter that gave the bread its sour flavors and density.
The Bay Area’s climate is ideal for the microorganisms found in the starter. In addition, this bread plays an integral part in California’s history, as the miners migrated from one part of the state to another, taking this bread with them.
Even today, the San Francisco 49ers mascot is called Sourdough Sam, showing the importance of this famous specialty!
You have probably heard of the number one salad dressing in the United States- it’s ranch dressing! The ranch is a creamy and tangy staple perfect for salads, sandwiches, and pretty much any other dish you could imagine.
The yummy, famous ranch dressing was invented in the 1950s by a young couple who turned their Santa Barbara ranch into a tourist attraction with many flavors of salad dressings.
Soon after that, the ranch opened to visitors who loved their homemade salad dressing, which became the only one available.
Everyone has been in love with it ever since! But what exactly makes this recipe so unique? You will have to find out for yourself and even make it at home if you have the right ingredients in reach.
To make the recipe, you’ll need buttermilk, garlic paste, onion flakes, dried parsley flakes, dried chives, salt, and pepper. That’s all it takes.
Ranch dressing is served with nearly every entree from the chain restaurants, bought in grocery stores, served at parties, and pretty much anywhere else.
Despite this, many people find the ranch a bit bland and try mixing it with salsa or other condiments to bring out the flavors – but it remains popular amongst Americans!
California Roll (Uramaki)
The California roll, also known as the inside-out roll, is a variant of sushi popular in North America. This is one of the most popular sushi rolls worldwide since it became a staple on American menus.
This sushi roll is prepared with sticky rice, nori seaweed, crab or surimi, avocado, and cucumber. Sesame seeds are often used in the California Roll.
It varies from most other types of sushi in that the rice is on the outside rather than the traditional placement of the seaweed (nori).
The history of this California roll creation is unknown but is suspected of being created somewhere in Southern California when sushi came into popularity in North America in the 1960s.
Despite their simplicity, they are becoming increasingly popular in many restaurants because they are so unique!
San Francisco is the birthplace of cioppino, a seafood stew made with any mix of squid, Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, and white fish swimming in a tomato and wine sauce base.
Cioppino, like much of California’s food, is an eclectic mix of cultural influences. It is one of California’s dishes that are not to be missed. It’s only natural to order the Italian-American dish in North Beach, San Francisco’s Little Italy neighborhood, where the stew was supposedly invented.
You can find plenty of places where you can get the classic fish stew, but what I recommend is you grab a seat at Ferry Plaza Seafood while getting a fantastic view of Washington Square Park.
Garlic Ice Cream
The city of Gilroy is a mecca of sorts for garlic lovers. And, of course, it grows garlic. Lots of garlic!
If you’re a garlic fanatic or just have a weakness for the potent allium, you may already know Gilroy from its famed annual Garlic Festival each summer. But did you realize the region also is home to some serious ice cream? One unique product of the Golden State that you may not have heard of is – garlic ice cream.
Sounds odd, right? But, you‘d be surprised!
Salted Caramel ice cream from Gilroy’s ice cream shop Garlic City Cafe uses garlic powder in place of salt. Tired of the same old food? Grab a cone (or bowl) of this creamy dairy treat!
California is known for many foods, but apple pie is one of the State’s most famous desserts.
Julian Pie Company in Southern California is a family-owned operation with the reputation of baking the best apple pies on the entire West Coast! Their delicious, hand-made pies come in many different varieties; you won’t even know where to start when choosing a treat.
The business was founded by Liz Smothers in 1986 when she staked her claim in the pie market. Later, they bought their apple farm and planted 17,000 apple trees.
These days, you won’t find a better apple pie anywhere, and once you try it, you will know why this Santa Ysabel bakery puts apple pie on the list of California’s most famous dishes!
A classic Dutch Apple with a crumb-top is the most popular, but the Original Apple is simply perfect. My quick tip – order it with a side of ice cream!
While the dish is relatively new, avocado toast has been a staple of California cuisine long before it became a worldwide phenomenon.
High-quality produce is grown in abundance in California’s fertile climate, and avocados are no exception. Served on crusty bread, mashed avocados make for a creamy-green experience!
The topping is made by mixing mashed avocados with salt, pepper, and (sometimes) citrus juice. Various ingredients can be added to this dish, such as salmon, tomatoes, onions, eggs, garlic, cheese, olive oil, or red pepper flakes, but keeping it simple can be just as delicious!
Although the dish is quite simple and straightforward, the location of its origin is not – some claim that it is an Australian invention, while others proclaim that Los Angeles is the place where it was born.
Despite its origins, avocado toast started reviving on Instagram in the modern era, and it’s been trending globally ever since!
I could not have finished this list without just thinking of the Cobb salad! This is a California must-try, and it’s interesting to know why.
Cobb salad originated in the 1930s in The Brown Derby, a famous Los Angeles restaurant whose owner, Robert Cobb, discovered leftovers in the kitchen, including hard-boiled eggs, salad greens, chicken breasts, avocados, bacon, tomatoes, and Roquefort cheese.
He mixed everything with some salt, pepper, and a vinaigrette of olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and garlic, and created this colorful (and flavorful) plate!
Each ingredient is prepared carefully and their distinct textures, from juicy to crunchy to creamy, which is what pushed this dish to become so popular!
The Cobb salad is an excellent compromise if you don’t like eating a salad but still want to get in your leafy greens. So, the next time you are in California, make sure to try this salad, which has a bit of everything in it!
California is a massive state with a diverse population and environment. So it should come as no surprise that California’s cuisine is equally diverse.
It would make sense that the food ranges from Mexican to Italian and Asian, but it also stretches far beyond. If you love California-style cooking, I hope this list of the top ten foods that originated in the Golden State helps you eat your way through the country.