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10 Old-School Seafood Joints in the Bay Area

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When it comes to grub with a view, nothing beats old school fish and chowder joints.

You know, the kind that have been around for 50 years and, even though they haven't changed their decor or menu since, everyone still comes from miles around just for their fish tacos and barbecued oysters.


For that just-right fish shack vibe, check out these classic Bay Area seafood restaurants—some of which have been feeding seafarers for nearly a century—from Point Reyes to Half Moon Bay.

Paradise Beach Grille, CapitolaPhoto courtesy of Paradise Beach Grille

Paradise Beach Grille

Technically, the Paradise Beach Grille is only old-school in spirit—its current owners purchased and renovated the beachside property in 1998. But thanks to its privileged location on Capitola's esplanade and its large patio which hangs over the harbor, the Paradise fits right in with its historic seafood-hocking brethren. Stop in for happy hour following your afternoon on the beach for tasty treats like lightly fried crab rolls and coconut prawns. On weekend afternoons, musicians give the Paradise an especially beachy vibe. // 215 Esplanade (Capitola), paradisebeachgrille.com


Harbor Cafe

The Harbor Cafe has been a staple for local sailors and fishermen for over 50 years. Located three blocks from Santa Cruz's Schwan Lagoon, what the Harbor Cafe lacks in oceanside views it makes up for in communal good times at its dozen redwood picnic tables outside, each interspersed with heat lamps for foggy coastal days. Harbor Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch daily, serving up mean bloody Marys along with seafood Benedicts and fish tacos. They've even got a menu for your pup with treats like pig's ears and peanut butter cookies. // 535 7th Ave (Santa Cruz), harborcafesantacruz.com


Barbara's Fishtrap

Barbara's Fishtrap wins points for its kitschy mariner's decor and delightful name. But the real reason to make a stop after a day on the beaches around Half Moon Bay is Barbara's seafood, which has been sating patrons since 1971. The Fishtrap ain't fancy, but if you're craving fried or grilled fish, prawns, or something a little more on the Italian side (think cioppino or smoked salmon pasta), you'll find it here. The restaurant is small and fills up quickly, so if you're in a rush, stop by their to-go window instead of waiting for a table. // 281 Capistrano Rd (Half Moon Bay), barbarasfishtrap.com


Sam's Chowder House

If you've ever driven down Highway 1 near Half Moon Bay, you've definitely noticed Sam's Chowder House: This blue behemoth is hard to miss. Though it's actually been around less than two decades, Sam's virtually screams "old-school" from its award-winning clam chowder to its lobster rolls. With two outdoor oceanfront decks and a row of seaside Adirondack chairs, chances are good you'll be able to snag a seat even on the nicest of days. If you've got a group with a hankering for seafood, call ahead to organize one of Sam's famous New England-style three-course lobster clambakes. // 4210 N Cabrillo Hwy (Half Moon Bay), samschowderhouse.com

The early days of Moss Beach Distillery Photo courtesy of Moss Beach Distillery/Yelp

Moss Beach Distillery

Built in 1927, the Moss Beach Distillery, once known as Frank's Place, became a popular nightspot for silent film stars and politicians during Prohibition thanks to its somewhat hidden location in an ocean cove. It was less than a decade before tragedy hit the restaurant when a young woman in the throes of an illicit affair was killed while walking the beach below. Ever since, The Blue Lady, as her ghost is now known, has haunted the premises. You may just catch a glimpse of her if you can tear your eyes away from the Distillery's stunning view. // 140 Beach Way (Moss Beach), mossbeachdistillery.com


Nick's Seashore Restaurant

Back in 1927, Greek immigrant Stalios Karagianis bought a stretch of seafront property and opened a modest sandwich, seafood, and candy shop. Over the last 90 years, the restaurant has changed hands a few times and gone through a handful of renovations, but at its core it remains a family-operated seafood joint with an unbeatable ocean view. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can get just about any seafood dish your heart desires here, from oysters Rockefeller to lobster ravioli. On Friday and Saturday nights, the restaurant's banquet hall turns into a dance floor with live music from 8pm to midnight. // 100 Rockaway Beach Ave (Pacifica), nicksrestaurant.net


Anchor Oyster Bar

Though it's a good five miles from the beach, Anchor Oyster Bar is worth the trip after a day ocean-side (or just at Dolores Park). This tiny diner-style seafood joint has formed an essential part of the Castro's restaurant landscape since it first opened in 1977. Anchor's concise menu is heavy on fresh, sustainable shellfish, from oysters on the half shell to steamed mussels, and their big, steaming bowls of cioppino are hard to beat on foggy SF nights. And if you've ever had an oyster and thought "man, this would be great floating in liquor," Anchor's oyster shooters and saki oyster shooters will quench your thirst. // 579 Castro St (Castro), anchoroysterbar.com


Cliff House

High above the Pacific Ocean overlooking the historic Sutro Baths, stands the stoic Cliff House, the current iteration of which is the fifth replacement for the original version built in 1858. Regardless of its tumultuous past, this place has been doing fabulous things with seafood since 1937. At the upstairs bistro, brunch on eggs San Francisco—poached eggs with Dungeness crab in brandy cream sauce—with a side of the restaurant's free and airy popovers. If you plan to imbibe, try the Ramos Fizz, the Cliff House's famous gin drink made with egg whites and cream. // 1090 Point Lobos (Outer Richmond), cliffhouse.com

Sand Dollar Restaurant, Stinson BeachPhoto courtesy of Sand Dollar Restaurant/Yelp

Sand Dollar Restaurant

Of all the seafood joints on this list, the Sand Dollar is the only one to actually be located at the sea. Soon after it was built atop barges in 1921, the restaurant was floated from Tiburon up to Stinson Beach where it has been ever since, making it Stinson's oldest continuously operated restaurant. Sand Dollar has a wide outdoor deck and a sort of maritime-saloon feel, not to mention a variety of fresh seafood including oysters three ways—raw, grilled, or baked with spinach and parmesan cheese. // 3458 Shoreline Hwy 1 (Stinson Beach), stinsonbeachrestaurant.com


Tony's Seafood Restaurant

Just north of Point Reyes Station and perched atop Tomales Bay, Tony's has been a coastal mainstay since 1948. That is, until they quietly closed down last year. Happily, Hog Island Oyster Company, just down the road from Tony's, stepped in to take over and, under their ownership, the historic seafood joint will be reopening this July. The new menu will be a riff on the original version and, eventually, will bring back Tony's beloved barbecued oysters. Here's hoping the kitschy, barnacle-laden decor remains. // 18863 Hwy 1 (Marshall), tonysseafoodrestaurant.com

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