There really isn't much available along the Big Sur coast and what is there is expensive and mediocre at best. We usually recommend Nepenthe on the south end of the Big Sur "village" area, but if you leave Monterey early and don't plan on visiting Point Lobos, Andrew Molera or Pfeiifer Beach, you'll probably pass it far too early for lunch.
My suggestion would be Sebastian's General Store across the highway from Hearst Castle. Sure, it's closer to SLO than Monterey, but the sandwiches are not only HUGE, but they're excellent, as well. Big enough to share! You can get it to go and drive around the corner to where the San Simeon pier is located and enjoy your lunch with a pretty view of the ocean and San Simeon Point.
Sebastions is GREAT, but be aware they can be closed Mondays/Tuesdays and if they are crowded, you can wait 15-20 minutes for your meal. If you're just happy to be out of the car for a bit, the atmosphere makes the wait well worth it.
Another choice is about 30 minutes further south in Morro Bay. Tognazzini's Dockside II is across from the power plant stacks - you can't miss them from Highway 1. Off at Main Street and a right turn onto Main, then onto Beach Street at the 4 way stop sign. They are over the water and outdoor seating only (dog-friendly) and have a big menu from fish tacos, fish and chips, salads to oyster sandwich and BBQ'd oysters (locally farmed). It's not expensive and even when crowded you can get your meal and be on your way within an hour or so. It's always fun to be able to taste the local foods, and the boats deliver their catches right next to this restaurant. Just watch out for the hungry seagulls.
The Big Sur Bakery is nice. If it's morning and you're not starving you can always grab some pastries (or even sandwiches to go?) and then each them later, at a spot with a view. Nepenthe is the most famous place. Great view.
If you're too early for lunch at Nepenthe, consider Cafe Kevah - at Nepenthe, also with spectacular views. I also love breakfast at Deetjens, If you want to hold out for lunch, Lucia Lodge has good food with nice views as does Ragged Point. Farther south there is Moonstone Bar and Grill, lovely views right across from the ocean in Cambria. Too many choices!
That greatthanks. I love the sound of the sanwiches at Sebastions and we are travelling on Sunday so hopefully they will be open? Also Big Sur bakery sounds positive and with either we can make a picnic. I am writing all of you suggestions into my intinerary and at least one of them should work with whatever time we are making on the day.
Somany great suggestions I am sure one of them will work! Thanks again. I love this site even though I have been around for 10 years now, I am still amazed at what you can learn if you ask the right question!
You've nailed it Abbey - ask the right question! Too many posters go in with a "I want to visit California (BC, the Rockies, wherever). What should I see?" approach, which give you nothing useful.
I too am saving most of these to My Trips folder as we will be doing almost the exact same trip in reverse! As I want to include Hearst Castle in our day, Sebastian's sounds like a fit for us!
Also, Sebastian's closes their kitchen at 4pm, so if you find the clock running down on you, then keep the other options mentioned close at hand.Edited: 6:20 pm, March 25, 2013
Hoppe's Garden Bistro in Cayucos is usually our choice for lunch after a morning tour at Hearst Castle. Delicious, freshly prepared food and a nice wine list.
We stay at our Worldmark resort just north of Monterey, get an early start for San Simeon (down Hwy 1). After lunch at Hoppe's, we'll stop at a winery or two on the west side of Paso Robles, then head back to Monterey on 101. Makes for a long, busy day, but it's always fun.
Lunch out on the patio at Moonstone Bar & Grill is always very nice. Beautiful views and delicious fish tacos here! :).
We like to do picnics when we drive through Big Sur - pack a lunch (or just pick up something premade from a deli) and then stop and eat wherever we are when we get hungry.