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Bread pudding.
Hanloh Thai Food is one of the numerous must-try restaurants in the Surf City.
Hanloh Thai Food

15 Must-Try Places to Eat and Drink in Santa Cruz

Catch a new wave of restaurants, craft breweries, and cocktail bars

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Hanloh Thai Food is one of the numerous must-try restaurants in the Surf City.
| Hanloh Thai Food

There’s a reason Santa Cruz’s nickname is Surf City: It’s because of all the surfing. But the city also has a wildly deep history, seeing residents from the Ohlone nation, Spain, Mexico, and the U.S. in the last few centuries. That kind of track record, coupled with all that water, makes for fascinating and phenomenal food. Relative newcomers Hanloh Thai Food and Seabright Social are just as worth a try as longtime favorites Ferrell’s and Pretty Good Advice. These 15 restaurants, cafes, and breweries showcase an all-star commitment to cuisine that matches the city’s profound lineage and flavor.

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Cat & Cloud Coffee

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This list is packed, but the ultra-charming botany vibes at 11th Hour Coffee need a shout-out — a particular favorite for pre-surfing energy — as does the first shop of the now-booming coffee company Verve. But the official pick goes to Cat and Cloud as it’s now synonymous with what Santa Cruz coffee can offer to the region and to the country: a business that touts inclusive practices and well-sourced coffee.

Humble Sea Brewing Co.

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Like the region’s famed surf breaks, craft breweries have become an integral part of the local landscape. Humble Sea stands out with exceptional New England-style IPAs; eye-catching graphics; and a pleasant, olive tree-shaded beer garden situated five blocks from the shore on the westside.

Courtesy of Humble Sea

Ferrell's Donuts

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NorCal is no stranger to exquisite doughnuts, but Santa Cruz has known what’s good since Ernest Ferrell opened the first Ferrell’s in 1949. This shop on Mission Street, not the first of the local outposts bearing the same name, is open 24 hours a day, meaning locals have gone to nab one of the 41 varieties before hitting the surf or the mountains for decades. Plus, a bear claw is only $3.50 — outrageous.

Donnelly Chocolates

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For almost 35 years Richard Donnelly has whipped up bonbons, pralines, and chocolate-dipped ice cream, including riffs on another local favorite Marianne’s Ice Cream. After all this time the chocolatier is still ideating, tackling chocolate mousse and baked goods for the first time.

Hanloh Thai Food

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Chef Lalita Kaewsawang grew up in Chiang Mai before moving to Berkeley as a 13-year-old. Years later she found herself at Michelin star-holding Manresa and, in 2017, she launched Hanloh Thai Food. The upscale destination for confit pork belly and yum woonsen is a mainstay at Bad Animal in Downtown Santa Cruz, taking up a residency in fall 2022. Grab a table for fancy boneless chicken thighs and ongoing events and partnerships with other local makers.

Bread pudding.
Bread pudding from a pastry chef team-up.
Hanloh Thai Food

The Penny Ice Creamery

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Along with business partner Zachary Davis, former Manresa pastry chef Kendra Baker created a beloved local institution with this ice cream shop that features seasonal scoops made from scratch and served in homemade waffle cones. True to Santa Cruz ethos, Davis and Baker source ingredients from more than 40 local farmers and foragers for flavors such as strawberry pink peppercorn and cardamom coconut blackberry. Just be sure to top it with toasted marshmallow fluff. Find locations in downtown and Pleasure Point.

Birichino Winery Tasting Room

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Don’t let the flood of craft beer let you overlook Santa Cruz’s original drink of choice: wine from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. At Birichino — the Italian word for “naughty” — industry pros John Locke and Alex Krause produce lush, richly flavorful wines that showcase local vineyards and lesser-known varietals such as the warm-weather fave, malvasia bianca. The tasting room offers tastings on the sidewalk patio’s seven tables; book one in advance to be sure.

Courtesy of Birichino

Zoccoli's Delicatessen

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Zoccoli’s is arguably Santa Cruz’s favorite deli — rightfully so, after 70-plus years serving custom-made sandwiches and house hoagies, like everyone’s favorite, the Mediterranean (mortadella, salami, prosciutto, and provolone cheese on a sourdough French roll with Italian dressing, olives and peppers). There’s a surprising number of vegetarian options, and hot and cold sandwiches all go for under $10, another reason to love it.

The Walnut Avenue Cafe

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Parents of teenagers headed to college are already familiar with this cafe, as it seems to always have a few families on their way in or out of the city enjoying diner coffee and an omelet. This downtown restaurant does breakfast and lunch like no one’s business and is still cranking out hits after almost 30 years in business. The vegan scrambles are worth a try.

Steamer Lane Supply

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This modern, seaside snack shack dishes up affordable, from-scratch, handheld meals across from Steamer Lane, the city’s most iconic surf break. A butcher paper menu lists Sharpie-scrawled items including salmon poke bowls, fresh fish tacos, and panini-pressed quesadillas such as the Break-A-Dilla with scrambled eggs, hash browns, queso fresco, and salsa verde. Nab one of the Adirondack chairs scattered among the park-like setting outside, or head to the benches overlooking surfers shredding massive swells.

Seabright Social

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After taking over the former Midtown go-to Seabright Brewery, newcomer Seabright Social opened in 2020 under new owners. As of early February 2024, though, chef Desmond Schneider who cut his teeth as chef de cuisine at Alderwood and pop-up Pizza Bones has come in to bring a much-needed surge of deliciousness to the gastropub menu. Lookout reports the new $15 smash burger and the $18 smoked brisket melt are early favorites.

A burger at Seabright. Seabright Brewery

Linda’s Seabreeze Café

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The Seabreeze Cafe, also known as Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe, is the kind of business with constantly rotating specials written in multiple colored markers on a whiteboard. It’s cash or check only, and dishes range from classics like Denver omelettes and blueberry pancakes to rarer items like a Tex-Mex breakfast and orange poppyseed pancakes.

Lago di Como

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This Italian restaurant has been a local favorite since it opened in 2011, but in early summer 2023 new partners came on and gave the business a major facelift. A handsome fresh coat of green paint and neon signs in Italian adorn the walls, but it’s the spaghetti with clams and roasted branzino that remain the main attractions.

Interior of a restaurant. Lago di Como

Pretty Good Advice

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Fleeing city life to tend to his Santa Cruz Mountain farm, chef Matt McNamara, former co-owner of San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters, teamed up with other Sons & Daughters alums to open this casual breakfast and lunch spot in Soquel. The seemingly simple menu features homemade bread and ingredients sourced from McNamara’s farm in items such as fried egg sandwiches and sesame cashew brittle yogurt (plus, there are burgers too). In early 2024, the restaurant doubled its footprint by expanding to downtown Santa Cruz, too.

Courtesy of Pretty Good Advice

Housed in a charming, early 20th-century Soquel bungalow, this cozy and aptly-named restaurant features owner Brad Briske’s deeply flavorful cooking, which incorporates the bounty of local produce, meats, and seafood. In addition to an in-house butchery program that yields the restaurant’s beloved charcuterie, Briske is renowned for homemade pasta that’ll dazzle even the most noodle-jaded diners with dishes such as squid ink spaghetti with Manila clams, pork belly, and fermented chile miso.

Garrick Ramirez

Cat & Cloud Coffee

This list is packed, but the ultra-charming botany vibes at 11th Hour Coffee need a shout-out — a particular favorite for pre-surfing energy — as does the first shop of the now-booming coffee company Verve. But the official pick goes to Cat and Cloud as it’s now synonymous with what Santa Cruz coffee can offer to the region and to the country: a business that touts inclusive practices and well-sourced coffee.

Humble Sea Brewing Co.

Like the region’s famed surf breaks, craft breweries have become an integral part of the local landscape. Humble Sea stands out with exceptional New England-style IPAs; eye-catching graphics; and a pleasant, olive tree-shaded beer garden situated five blocks from the shore on the westside.

Courtesy of Humble Sea

Ferrell's Donuts

NorCal is no stranger to exquisite doughnuts, but Santa Cruz has known what’s good since Ernest Ferrell opened the first Ferrell’s in 1949. This shop on Mission Street, not the first of the local outposts bearing the same name, is open 24 hours a day, meaning locals have gone to nab one of the 41 varieties before hitting the surf or the mountains for decades. Plus, a bear claw is only $3.50 — outrageous.

Donnelly Chocolates

For almost 35 years Richard Donnelly has whipped up bonbons, pralines, and chocolate-dipped ice cream, including riffs on another local favorite Marianne’s Ice Cream. After all this time the chocolatier is still ideating, tackling chocolate mousse and baked goods for the first time.

Hanloh Thai Food

Chef Lalita Kaewsawang grew up in Chiang Mai before moving to Berkeley as a 13-year-old. Years later she found herself at Michelin star-holding Manresa and, in 2017, she launched Hanloh Thai Food. The upscale destination for confit pork belly and yum woonsen is a mainstay at Bad Animal in Downtown Santa Cruz, taking up a residency in fall 2022. Grab a table for fancy boneless chicken thighs and ongoing events and partnerships with other local makers.

Bread pudding.
Bread pudding from a pastry chef team-up.
Hanloh Thai Food

The Penny Ice Creamery

Along with business partner Zachary Davis, former Manresa pastry chef Kendra Baker created a beloved local institution with this ice cream shop that features seasonal scoops made from scratch and served in homemade waffle cones. True to Santa Cruz ethos, Davis and Baker source ingredients from more than 40 local farmers and foragers for flavors such as strawberry pink peppercorn and cardamom coconut blackberry. Just be sure to top it with toasted marshmallow fluff. Find locations in downtown and Pleasure Point.

Birichino Winery Tasting Room

Don’t let the flood of craft beer let you overlook Santa Cruz’s original drink of choice: wine from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. At Birichino — the Italian word for “naughty” — industry pros John Locke and Alex Krause produce lush, richly flavorful wines that showcase local vineyards and lesser-known varietals such as the warm-weather fave, malvasia bianca. The tasting room offers tastings on the sidewalk patio’s seven tables; book one in advance to be sure.

Courtesy of Birichino

Zoccoli's Delicatessen

Zoccoli’s is arguably Santa Cruz’s favorite deli — rightfully so, after 70-plus years serving custom-made sandwiches and house hoagies, like everyone’s favorite, the Mediterranean (mortadella, salami, prosciutto, and provolone cheese on a sourdough French roll with Italian dressing, olives and peppers). There’s a surprising number of vegetarian options, and hot and cold sandwiches all go for under $10, another reason to love it.

The Walnut Avenue Cafe

Parents of teenagers headed to college are already familiar with this cafe, as it seems to always have a few families on their way in or out of the city enjoying diner coffee and an omelet. This downtown restaurant does breakfast and lunch like no one’s business and is still cranking out hits after almost 30 years in business. The vegan scrambles are worth a try.

Steamer Lane Supply

This modern, seaside snack shack dishes up affordable, from-scratch, handheld meals across from Steamer Lane, the city’s most iconic surf break. A butcher paper menu lists Sharpie-scrawled items including salmon poke bowls, fresh fish tacos, and panini-pressed quesadillas such as the Break-A-Dilla with scrambled eggs, hash browns, queso fresco, and salsa verde. Nab one of the Adirondack chairs scattered among the park-like setting outside, or head to the benches overlooking surfers shredding massive swells.

Seabright Social

After taking over the former Midtown go-to Seabright Brewery, newcomer Seabright Social opened in 2020 under new owners. As of early February 2024, though, chef Desmond Schneider who cut his teeth as chef de cuisine at Alderwood and pop-up Pizza Bones has come in to bring a much-needed surge of deliciousness to the gastropub menu. Lookout reports the new $15 smash burger and the $18 smoked brisket melt are early favorites.

A burger at Seabright. Seabright Brewery

Linda’s Seabreeze Café

The Seabreeze Cafe, also known as Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe, is the kind of business with constantly rotating specials written in multiple colored markers on a whiteboard. It’s cash or check only, and dishes range from classics like Denver omelettes and blueberry pancakes to rarer items like a Tex-Mex breakfast and orange poppyseed pancakes.

Lago di Como

This Italian restaurant has been a local favorite since it opened in 2011, but in early summer 2023 new partners came on and gave the business a major facelift. A handsome fresh coat of green paint and neon signs in Italian adorn the walls, but it’s the spaghetti with clams and roasted branzino that remain the main attractions.

Interior of a restaurant. Lago di Como

Pretty Good Advice

Fleeing city life to tend to his Santa Cruz Mountain farm, chef Matt McNamara, former co-owner of San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters, teamed up with other Sons & Daughters alums to open this casual breakfast and lunch spot in Soquel. The seemingly simple menu features homemade bread and ingredients sourced from McNamara’s farm in items such as fried egg sandwiches and sesame cashew brittle yogurt (plus, there are burgers too). In early 2024, the restaurant doubled its footprint by expanding to downtown Santa Cruz, too.

Courtesy of Pretty Good Advice

Home

Housed in a charming, early 20th-century Soquel bungalow, this cozy and aptly-named restaurant features owner Brad Briske’s deeply flavorful cooking, which incorporates the bounty of local produce, meats, and seafood. In addition to an in-house butchery program that yields the restaurant’s beloved charcuterie, Briske is renowned for homemade pasta that’ll dazzle even the most noodle-jaded diners with dishes such as squid ink spaghetti with Manila clams, pork belly, and fermented chile miso.

Garrick Ramirez

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