If you’re driving in some of America’s major cities and have time to stray away for half a day, you’ll want to make sure you eat just as well. Consider these nearby towns where chefs and other food lovers have powered up multiple community spots to feed you while you’re passing through and arm you with outstanding snacks and thoughtful gifts to go.
1. Los Gatos, CA
Chef David Kinch presides over a charming collection of places in Los Gatos, about 50 miles south of San Francisco. He’s earned an elusive three Michelin stars for his fine-dining restaurant Manresa, which offers an evening of culinary entertainment via a constantly changing tasting menu. And he has opened two more casual businesses within walking distance: Manresa Bread, a café with pastries, fresh bread, and coffee, and The Bywater, a neighborhood Cajun bar with po’boys, weekly boils, and a raw bar. A day spent hitting all three for breakfast, lunch, and dinner would seemingly hit all the food groups with style.
2. Costa Mesa, CA
About 40 miles from Los Angeles in Orange County, Costa Mesa may be a surprising place for learning about fine French confections, but Stephané Tréand’s Pastry School and ST Pâtisserie Chocolat boast the expertise of one of the highest rated dessert masters in the country. He offers one-day classes to learn how to make your own fancy sweets (think strawberry macarons, lemon tarts, and mille-feuille pastries), and then you can load up on prepared treats next door.
3. Ann Arbor, MI
One of the most food-centric day trips you can take in the Midwest is to Ann Arbor, which is just over 40 miles from Detroit. Ann Arbor is home to Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, which include (but are not limited to) a world-famous deli, coffee company and creamery, baking school, food tours, a Southern-themed Roadhouse eatery, and a Korean restaurant called Miss Kim. Zingerman’s also makes a dizzying array of confections and other take-home products that can help you finish your holiday shopping very early.
4. Providence, RI
An hour’s drive from Boston is Providence, Rhode Island, where many of the country’s notable chefs went to culinary school (at Johnson & Wales University), so there’s something in the water here. Spend the day with the food of chef James Mark, whose restaurant, North, is just a two-minute walk from his North Bakery, which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and unexpected sweets like brown butter miso cookies and lemon cake with coffee curd.
5. Round Top, TX
Named one of “America’s Best Little Food Towns” by Food and Wine, Round Top (about 80 miles east of Austin) has a population of just 90. But it includes two noteworthy family-owned food businesses: Royer’s Round Top Cafe, known for giant portions, and the more recently opened Royer’s Pie Haven, where it costs more to not get ice cream on your pie. That’s a philosophy that must be supported.
6. Spruce Pine, NC
An hour from Asheville is Spruce Pine, a town with just over 2,100 residents. There chef Nate Allen, a self-described entertainer who has cooked all over the world, flexes all his utensils for locals and the occasional culinarily clued-in traveler. His stick-to-your-ribs and locally sourced Knife & Fork restaurant is conveniently just a two-minute walk from his cocktail bar, Spoon.
7. Kaimuki (Honolulu), HI
If you’re going to Honolulu, you’re probably headed to the beach, with few plans to move. But if you’re willing to veer just a few miles from Waikiki’s magnetic coastline to the local neighborhood of Kaimuki, you can get to know the heart and vibe of the non-touristy part of the city by grazing among chef Ed Kenney’s three restaurants: Town, Mud Hen Water, and Kaimuki Superette, which are all on the same block. He cooks for his neighbors, who return again and again, and will tempt you to stay and become a familiar face yourself.