California Bear

5 Old-School California Eateries to Visit Now

From a railcar-turned-diner in San Francisco to a beloved institution with a jovial mascot hoisting a massive double-decker hamburger in Burbank, here are five throwback diners to consider for the next road trip or mere nostalgia.

Photo courtesy of Grubsteak, San Francisco

Grubstake Diner, San Francisco

For 97 years, this quirky late-night diner (open until 4am daily) has served as the stomping grounds for San Francisco’s theater set along with culinary enthusiasts and discerning travelers seeking something a little off the beaten path. The retired railcar—with a fire engine red facade; hand-painted wall murals by artist Jason Phillips; and countless framed awards—is a city mainstay for breakfast anytime (think chocolate chip pancakes and hearty omelettes); deep fried onion rings; and homemade apple pie.

Photo courtesy of Buck’s of Woodside

Buck’s of Woodside, Woodside

Upon entering the 33-year-old institution, conversation pieces await at every turn from a small-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty and a yellow race car suspended from the ceiling from defunct charity race, The Sand Hill Challenge, to a sawfish shark snout once procured by Jack London in the early 1900s. The museum-like space of oddities and collectibles-gone-eatery—outfitted with cognac-hued leather booths and banquettes and cheeky alligator-patterned carpet throughout—offers breakfast menu items such as world-famous coffee cake drizzled with chopped walnuts and butter and Christmas huevos rancheros doused in red and green sauce. 

Photo courtesy of Sax’s Joint

Sax’s Joint, Petaluma

Marked by a hot pink door, the 1950s-inspired diner is a nod to the days of Sandy and Danny in Grease, and leather moto jackets, poodle skirts, and bobby socks. Lined with black-and-white checkered flooring, corrugated metal siding, and black-and-white photos of famed starlets, the joint features made-to-order scrambles paired with ample mounds of country potatoes, crabcake benedicts topped with hollandaise sauce, and melon-sized frosted cinnamon rolls. 

Photo courtesy of @mmm.pix

Pann’s, Los Angeles

Distinguished by its retro sign dating to the opening in 1958, the diner—appearing on-screen in films such as Bewitched—serves up thick strawberry milkshakes in old-fashioned glasses; buffalo chicken sandwiches with onion rings, provolone, pickles and bleu cheese dip; and country fried steak with buttermilk biscuits. 

Burbank Bob’s Big Boy patio

Bob’s Big Boy, Burbank

Built in 1949 by revered architect Wayne McAllister, the coffee shop is the oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy in the country. Now designated a California Point of Historical Interest, the trapped-in-time diner is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with classics like corned beef hash; patty melt on rye with Swiss and American cheese; and fountain-style orange cream milkshakes topped with whipped cream and Maraschino cherries. 

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