Options in Seal Beach are limited, but a good choice for seafood is Walt's Wharf, 201 Main St. (tel. 562/598-4433; www.waltswharf.com), a bustling, polished restaurant featuring market-fresh selections either plain or with Pacific Rim accents.

The Ramos House Café -- If you're anywhere near San Juan Capistrano, you have to stop for breakfast or lunch at the Ramos House Café, a petite restaurant in an adorable little old house in San Juan Capistrano's historic Los Rios district. Chef John Humphreys's swoon-inducing menu changes daily, and everything -- from his roast turkey hash scramble with apple cider gravy to his corn and buttermilk crab cakes and Southern fried chicken salad -- is made from scratch (even the ice cream is turned by hand). And if that's not the best soju bloody mary you've ever had, send me a better recipe. The cafe is at 31752 Los Rios St. -- the oldest remaining residential street in California -- near the train depot and is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday from 8:30am to 3pm (tel. 949/443-1342; www.ramoshouse.com).

Upscale Mall Dining

Leave it to designer-conscious Orange County to plop some of its best restaurants in super-upscale shopping malls. It turns out al fresco Fashion Island, 401 Newport Center Dr. (tel. 949/721-2000; www.shopfashionisland.com), is more than a playground for the Real Housewives of Orange County -- it's a foodie oasis. Highlights include Brasserie Pascal (tel. 949/263-9400), the more casual but still stylish bistro from acclaimed area chef Pascal Olhats; Rustica (tel. 949/706-8282), a fresh modern Italian temple of gastronomy; and True Food Kitchen (tel. 949/644-2400), a global fusion of healthy goodies. You'll find equally good food at luxury behemoth South Coast Plaza (actually in Costa Mesa), 3333 Bristol St. (tel. 800/782-8888; www.southcoastplaza.com). Both The An Family's Crustacean-offshoot Anqi (tel. 714/557-5679) -- a Vietnamese fusion eatery and gourmet noodle bar -- and Charlie Palmer (tel. 714/352-2525) -- a modern American fine-dining restaurant with an emphasis on wine -- are based in Bloomingdale's alone. Nearby there's also Hamamori (tel. 714/850-0880) for refined Japanese cuisine, and Seasons 52 (tel. 714/437-5252), for festival but casual American fare and nightly piano music.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.