A California road trip in 15 cookbooks

Last updated on January 22, 2024

One of the indisputable highlights of our California road trip was the amount of amazing food we ate along the way – it’s a land of exquisite cusine, from the farm-to-table traditions of the North to the Mexican influenced tastes of the South, plus two of the country’s top culinary hotspots of San Francisco and LA.

At this time of lockdown, one way we can experience a taste of those travels is to bring the recipes to our own kitchens and try to recreate our favourite dishes at home. Here I’ve compiled a list of the best California cookbooks, including catch-all California cooking and books that are specific to regional cuisines or even made by individual restaurants.

It’s time to bring the taste of California home!

And if this gets you California dreaming, have a look at my California guides to start planning your next trip (once the lockdown is over, of course). We have guides to places including Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and more. Plus guides to the best Airbnbs and hotels in many cities, including cabins in Joshua Tree and the most hip boutique hotels in Palm Springs and San Francisco.

Also see my guide to the best ways to armchair travel and the best online international cooking classes.

All of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy something (at no extra cost to you). It’s one of the ways I keep this blog going. Thank you for your support. You can read more about my affiliate policy here.

The Best California Cookbooks

I Love California

by Nathan Turner

Designer Nathan Turner has created a gorgeous handbook/homage to the laidback glamour of California living, including a few family recipes for dishes such as cioppino, cheesy sourdough and gorgonzola and roasted tomato polenta. I Love California is a perfect coffee table book, filmed with stunning photography that will have you Califrornia dreaming for days.

Buy I Love California now

California: Living + Eating: Recipes Inspired by the Golden State

by Eleanor Maidment

This celebration of Californian food has recipes from the deserts of Palm Springs up to the rolling vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. There are over 80 recipes with a focus on seasonality and easy home cooking, plus introductions to the staples of California cuisine, including farm-to-table dining. Dishes in the California: Living and Eating book include many colourful salads, brunch dishes, tacos and all that healthy, fresh food that defines California cooking.

Buy California: Living and Eating now

Inside the California Food Revolution

by Joyce Goldstein

Inside the California Revolution isn’t a recipe book, but instead a a brilliant catch-all guide to the history of the state’s cooking, showing that it goes beyond the iconic fresh and local produce and is located in the wider California context of counter-culture, openness and creativity. Chef Joyce Goldstein takes us on a tour of the development of California cuisine from the hippy 1970s to the present day, featuring interviews with almost 200 people from the California food scene, including chefs, winemakers, food writers and artisans.

Buy Inside the California Food Revolution now

The L.A. Cookbook

By Alison Clare Steingold

The L.A. Cookbook is a compendium of recipes from some of the best restaurants, bakeries and bars in Los Angeles, including drinks, appetizers, mains and desserts. Highlights include Gracias Madre’s Mezcal Mule, Maple Block’s mac and cheese, and Little Flower Candy Co’s olive oil cake.

Buy the L.A. Cookbook now

California Cooking and Southern Style

By Frances Schultz

Frances Shultz combines Southern hospitality with California cuisine and has created a guide to the secrets of entertaining, told from her ranch in Southern California’s wine country. In California Cooking and Southern Style, the Southern Belle takes you through everything from a picnic for two to a huge dinner for 20, and the book is filled with simple but impressive recipes. It’s a little more traditional California than some of the other books on this list, but no less fresh and tasty.

Buy California Cooking and Southern Style now

The New Wine Country Cookbook: Recipes from California’s Central Coast

By Brigit Binns

The central California wine country often gets overlooked in favour of Napa and Sonoma, but there’s a whole scene from Monterey to Santa Barbara. On our road trip, we particularly enjoyed visiting Paso Robles. In The New Wine Country Cookbook, you’re treated to 120 recipes from the Central Coast, all wine-friendly of course, and lots of photos and stories that bring to region to life. Recipes include fresh fig tart with honey, goat cheese, and pistachios and a shaved artichoke and pancetta salad with lavender.

Buy The New Wine Country Cookbook

Cookbooks from California Restaurants

Tartine: A Classic Revisited

Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Tartine is a must-visit on any trip to San Francisco. We stayed nearby, so were able to make multiple trips for their famous pastries, which were just as good as the hype. Luckily, with this book of over 120 recipes means you can recreate some of those incredible treats at home, including matcha-glazed crosissants, sour cream coffe cake and the famous Tartine morning buns.

Buy Tartine: A Classic Revisited

Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California

by Travis Lett

Gjelina is one of Los Angeles’ most popular restaurants, famous for is California/Mediterranean vegetable-centric food. And I can promise it lives up to its reputation. Here chef Travis Lett presents 125 of his recipes, including some beautiful salads, topped toasts, pizzas and more hearty mains. It’s wholesome, on-trend cooking at its best.

Buy Gjelina now

American Sfoglino

by Even Funke

Abbot Kinney Boulevard is one of L.A’s hot spots for food, and Felix Trattoria is one of the most popular tickets in town. This book, American Sfoglino, by chef Evan Funke is a homage to pasta makers and hand-rolled fresh pasta (not a pasta machine in sight). It’s time consuming, but what better time to try and perfect it that during this lockdown?!

Buy American Sfoglino now

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book

by Jake Godby and Sean Vahey

Some of the best and most inventive ice cream in California can be found at Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco and this book has over 50 recipes to try at home, including ice cream, toppings and sundaes. Flavours to try include crumbled curry cookie, chocolate smoked salt and the famous Secret Breakfast (soooo good!).

Buy Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book now

Manresa: An Edible Reflection

This cookbook from one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s star chefs, David Kinch at Manresa, is a celebration of farm-to-table dining at its best. The restaurant in Los Gatos has two Michelin stars and the recipes follow exactly what they do in the restaurant, so you could have very fine dining in your own kitchen. Some of the more unusual things to try are cultivate your own salt from salt water and making butter.

Buy Manresa now

My Nepenthe

by Romney Steele

Nepenthe is an iconic stop on the Pacific Coast Highway. Perched over 800ft above the ocean at Big Sur, the gorgeous restaurant has breath-taking views and a history as a celebrated bohemian haunt for artists and writers. This book, written by the owner’s granddaughter who grew up at the restaurant tells the tale of the restaurant and includes recipes as well as stunning photography of the local area.

Buy My Nepenthe now

Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

By Michelle Wojtowicz, Phillip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson

Another classic stop on the PCH is the Big Sur Bakery where travellers can stock up on hearty baked goods or tuck into a classic American meal. Classic dishes include nine-grain pancakes, breakfast pizza and a peppermint ice cream sundae.

Buy Big Sur Bakery cookbook now

Malibu Farm Cookbook

by Helene Henderson

Malibu Farm is a beloved restaurant at the end of Malibu Pier with sweeping views of the coastline and out to sea. It has a focus on fresh, local ingredients, and meals that can be shared. The Malibu Farm Cookbook features over 100 recipes including ricotta and pea frittata and grilled chocolate cake with caramel sauce. If you’ve ever sat at the end of that pier, these recipes will take you right back.

Buy Malibu Farm Cookbook now

Baco: Vivid Recipes from the Heart of Los Angeles

By Josef Centeno

This seasonal cookbook from Baco captures some of the most innovative cooking from Los Angeles and covers the diversity of the city’s tastes. With everything from sauces to mains to desserts, it’s a collection of chef Josef Centeno’s mastery of layering flavours to transform the most simple ingredients. Interestingly, the recipes are split by flavour themes such as ‘spicy, salty, pickled, preserved’ and ‘flaky, fruity, caramel, tart’.

Buy Baco now

Let me know what you decide to make!

Our California travel guides

We also have detailed guides to loads of California destinations that can help you plan even more. They’ll especially suit you if you’re a bit like us, keen on discovering the creative side of a destination and in pursuit of all the best cafes, ice creams, doughnuts, bookshops, murals and beauty spots. And we have lots of family guides if you’re travelling with kids.

Road trips: California Road Trip | Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip

Handpicked travel guides: Laguna Beach | Mendocino |San ClementeSan Diego  | Santa Barbara  | Santa Cruz|Shasta Cascade and Redding Sonoma |Tuolumne County Yolo County

California family travel guides: California with kidsLos Angeles with kids | Sacramento with kidsSan Diego with kids | San Francisco with kids

California accommodation guides: Joshua Tree Airbnb | Laguna Beach Airbnb | Hip Palm Springs Hotels | Palm Springs Airbnb | Palm Springs VRBO | San Diego Airbnb | Santa Cruz Airbnb | Santa Barbara Airbnb |Santa Monica Airbnb | Sonoma Airbnb | Venice Beach AirbnbHip San Francisco Hotels

California attraction guides: How to get the most out of Disneyland with toddlers | The ultimate guide to Universal Studios with babies and toddlers

If you’re heading elsewhere in the USA or even worldwide, see more of our family travel tips here.

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