clock menu more-arrow no yes
Liz Birnbaum

15 Exciting Places to Eat and Drink in Santa Cruz

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

View as Map

Famed for its twenty-nine miles of beaches, Santa Cruz lures visitors with surf, sun, and a cheery, Coney Island-esque beach boardwalk. Yet, come mealtime, you aren’t limited to fried calamari and corn dogs. In recent years, Santa Cruz has upped its food and drink game while still maintaining its soulful surf and outdoor culture. Translation: you can enjoy gourmet Neapolitan pizzas in board shorts, and sip craft cocktails in flip-flops.

The region is engulfed by farmland — nearby Watsonville was the hub of frozen food packaging for much of the 20th century — and fresh, organic produce fills local menus. Plus, a recent explosion of craft breweries makes it one of the most exciting (if often underrated) beer destinations in California. You’ll even find local craft brews sitting next to cotton candy at the beach boardwalk.

The next time you head to the birthplace of mainland surfing, here’s where to get stoked on the latest in Santa Cruz’s contemporary dining scene.

Heading north instead? Here’s Eater SF’s guide to dining along the coast in Marina and Sonoma counties.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. HOME

Copy Link
3101 N Main St
Soquel, CA 95073
(831) 431-6131
Visit Website

Housed in a charming, early 20th century Soquel bungalow, the cozy, 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 pastas that’ll dazzle even the most noodle-jaded diners, with dishes such as squid ink spaghetti with manilla clams, pork belly, and fermented chili miso. During summer, Home throws lively garden shindigs in a light-strung backyard with BBQ plates and wine spritzes dished up from an outdoor bar.

Garrick Ramirez

2. Pretty Good Advice

Copy Link
3070 Porter St
Soquel, CA 95073
(831) 226-2805
Visit Website

Fleeing city life to tend to his Santa Cruz Mountain farm, chef Matt McNamara, former co-owner of SF’s Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters, teamed up with other Sons & Daughter 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 ricotta toast with honeynut pumpkin butter, and a quinoa bowl with fried egg, avocado, and braised greens. There’s Cat & Cloud coffee, too.

Courtesy of Pretty Good Advice

3. Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House

Copy Link
2504 S Main St
Soquel, CA 95073
(831) 477-9967
Visit Website

Find beer garden nirvana at this sprawling, pup-friendly taproom with shaded picnic tables, lawn games, and 30 rotating taps available in pints or 4 oz. tasters (with even more options available in a cold case). You can bring your own snacks — numerous food vendors are within walking distance — or belly up to an on-site take-out window that slings hearty grub such as al pastor tacos and fish and chips on the weekends.

Garrick Ramirez

4. The Penny Ice Creamery

Copy Link
913 Cedar St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 204-2523
Visit Website

Along with business partner Zachary Davis, former Manresa pastry chef Kendra Baker created a fresh, beloved local institution with this ice cream shop that features seasonal scoops made from scratch and served up in homemade waffle cones. True to Santa Cruz ethos, Davis and Baker source ingredients from over 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, Pleasure Point, and the upcoming Aptos Village.

5. Abbott Square Market

Copy Link
725 Front St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Opened in fall 2017, this indoor-outdoor food hall is a buzzy new addition to downtown. Housed in the city’s former jail — check the old cell door hanging inside — the bustling market is home to numerous food and drink offerings including blistery pies from Pizzeria la Bufala, an over 100-drink-strong cocktail menu at Front & Cooper, and the supergroup coupling of Companion Bakeshop and third-wave coffee darling Cat & Cloud. A sprawling outdoor patio takes advantage of Santa Cruz’s 300 days of sunshine, and the connecting Museum of Art & History is well worth a stop, especially during boisterous First Friday events.

Courtesy of Abbott Square

6. Birichino Winery Tasting Room

Copy Link
204 Church St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 425-4811
Visit Website

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. Enjoy a flight in their light-filled, downtown tasting room whose cast pewter bar, punched tin ceiling, and stylish vintage bric-a-brac lends the feel of a Parisian salon.

Courtesy of Birichino

7. Soif

Copy Link
105 Walnut Ave
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 423-2020
Visit Website

This fetching restaurant-wine shop hybrid has been a reliable, welcoming spot for refined food and drink since 2002. Chef Tom McNary cut his teeth at Chez Panisse, and it shows in his seasonal, ingredient-led dishes sourced from local farms and fishermen. Menus shift accordingly, but recent items include diver scallops with caviar and uni butter, and grilled quail with salsa verde. As always, half the fun is pairing dishes with selections from their deep wine shelf whose labels extend far beyond the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Alyssa Twelker

8. Alderwood Santa Cruz

Copy Link
155 Walnut Ave
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 588-3238
Visit Website

This upscale newcomer represents a sign of Santa Cruz’s recent changes, replacing a former lunch deli space with sleek interiors, expert cocktails, and a menu of New American dishes and steaks. Chef/owner Jeffrey Wall made a name for himself at Atlanta’s lauded Kimball House, and woos Santa Cruz with an extensive raw bar, modern takes on steakhouse classics, and composed plates such as an Insta-worthy smoked beet tartare. The space fills up early thanks to a happy hour offering $1.25 oysters and discounted drinks and bar snacks. Tough to believe in Santa Cruz, but there’s usually a line out the door, and reservations are (gasp) a must.

Liz Birnbaum

9. Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets (location varies)

Copy Link

In addition to a riot of fresh produce and seasonal blooms, Santa Cruz’s weekend farmers’ markets host some of the best local food pop-ups. At Burn Hot Sauce, co-founder Amanda Heyse, who’s cooked at Ad Hoc, Manresa, and LA’s Lucques, dishes up brunch plates such as crispy potatoes with fried eggs, arugula, and dill sour cream (drizzled with Heyse’s delicious fermented hot sauce, naturally). Nearby, Gordo Gustavo’s slow roasted barbecue fills the air with enticing wood-tinged smoke, and informs dishes such as smoked cauliflower tacos, and a killer pulled-pork breakfast sandwich topped with gooey fried egg.

Courtesy of Burn Hot Sauce

10. East End Gastropub

Copy Link
1501 41st Ave i
Capitola, CA 95010
(831) 475-8010
Visit Website

You’ll find this delightfully stylish eatery hidden away in a nondescript strip mall in beachy Capitola. High ceilings and an open kitchen keep the split-level interior buzzing, as do 16 taps of house and guest beers. The menu features farm-to-table takes on gastropub staples — think burgers and Brussels — but don’t overlook the vibrant cheese plate, house salad with pumpkin brittle, and anything out of the wood-fire oven.

Courtesy of East End Gastropub

11. Lupulo Craft Beer House

Copy Link
233 Cathcart St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 454-8306
Visit Website

At this convivial downtown taproom named for the Spanish word for “hop,” 16 taps feature brews from Santa Cruz and beyond, while a notable food menu eschews the usual pub grub for Mexican and Spanish plates — family recipes of husband-and-wife owners Stuyvie Bearns-Esteva and Noelle Antolin —sourced exclusively from local organic farms. Think boquerones, cochinita pibil tacos, and carb-tastic sourdough bocadillos. A cold case offers an additional 300 cans and bottles to crack open on premises or take to go.

Courtesy of Lupulo

12. Humble Sea Brewing Co.

Copy Link
820 Swift St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 431-6189
Visit Website

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. Sustenance comes courtesy of the Bruxo food truck which dishes a globe-hopping menu of creative street foods.

Courtesy of Humble Sea

13. Bantam

Copy Link
1010 Fair Ave
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 420-0101
Visit Website

In an airy, transformed warehouse space on the hip Westside, owners Ben Sims (Chez Panisse) and Sarah Sims have been cranking out wood-fired Neapolitan pies since 2012. Creative combos include stinging nettles, hen of the woods mushrooms, Fiscalini cheese, and Calabrian chiles. Yet, pizzas are only half the story, with a sizable, daily selection of bites and entrees such as a clam-and-smoked trout chowder and fried chicken with chili butter. Local beers and wines keep the lively dining room humming, while a succinct cocktail menu nails variations on the classics.

Naveen Hattis

14. Venus Spirits

Copy Link
427 A Swift St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 427-9673
Visit Website

Since opening his Westside distillery in 2016, owner Sean Venus has racked up awards for his organic, small-batch spirits including single-malt whiskeys, California’s only blue agave spirits (they’d call them tequila if that term weren’t protected), and signature, floral gins that dial down the juniper for softer botanicals such as cardamom and citrus. The stylish tasting room welcomes guests to sample a flight of spirits, enjoy a freshly made cocktail, and, thanks to a 2018 state law, take home a bottle or two for the home bar.

Courtesy of Venus Spirits

15. Steamer Lane Supply

Copy Link
644-670 W Cliff Dr
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 621-7361
Visit Website

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 parklike setting outside, or head to the benches overlooking surfers shredding massive swells.

Garrick Ramirez

Loading comments...

1. HOME

3101 N Main St, Soquel, CA 95073
Garrick Ramirez

Housed in a charming, early 20th century Soquel bungalow, the cozy, 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 pastas that’ll dazzle even the most noodle-jaded diners, with dishes such as squid ink spaghetti with manilla clams, pork belly, and fermented chili miso. During summer, Home throws lively garden shindigs in a light-strung backyard with BBQ plates and wine spritzes dished up from an outdoor bar.

3101 N Main St
Soquel, CA 95073

2. Pretty Good Advice

3070 Porter St, Soquel, CA 95073
Courtesy of Pretty Good Advice

Fleeing city life to tend to his Santa Cruz Mountain farm, chef Matt McNamara, former co-owner of SF’s Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters, teamed up with other Sons & Daughter 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 ricotta toast with honeynut pumpkin butter, and a quinoa bowl with fried egg, avocado, and braised greens. There’s Cat & Cloud coffee, too.

3070 Porter St
Soquel, CA 95073

3. Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House

2504 S Main St, Soquel, CA 95073
Garrick Ramirez

Find beer garden nirvana at this sprawling, pup-friendly taproom with shaded picnic tables, lawn games, and 30 rotating taps available in pints or 4 oz. tasters (with even more options available in a cold case). You can bring your own snacks — numerous food vendors are within walking distance — or belly up to an on-site take-out window that slings hearty grub such as al pastor tacos and fish and chips on the weekends.

2504 S Main St
Soquel, CA 95073

4. The Penny Ice Creamery

913 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Along with business partner Zachary Davis, former Manresa pastry chef Kendra Baker created a fresh, beloved local institution with this ice cream shop that features seasonal scoops made from scratch and served up in homemade waffle cones. True to Santa Cruz ethos, Davis and Baker source ingredients from over 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, Pleasure Point, and the upcoming Aptos Village.

913 Cedar St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

5. Abbott Square Market

725 Front St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Courtesy of Abbott Square

Opened in fall 2017, this indoor-outdoor food hall is a buzzy new addition to downtown. Housed in the city’s former jail — check the old cell door hanging inside — the bustling market is home to numerous food and drink offerings including blistery pies from Pizzeria la Bufala, an over 100-drink-strong cocktail menu at Front & Cooper, and the supergroup coupling of Companion Bakeshop and third-wave coffee darling Cat & Cloud. A sprawling outdoor patio takes advantage of Santa Cruz’s 300 days of sunshine, and the connecting Museum of Art & History is well worth a stop, especially during boisterous First Friday events.

725 Front St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

6. Birichino Winery Tasting Room

204 Church St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Courtesy of Birichino

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. Enjoy a flight in their light-filled, downtown tasting room whose cast pewter bar, punched tin ceiling, and stylish vintage bric-a-brac lends the feel of a Parisian salon.

204 Church St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

7. Soif

105 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Alyssa Twelker

This fetching restaurant-wine shop hybrid has been a reliable, welcoming spot for refined food and drink since 2002. Chef Tom McNary cut his teeth at Chez Panisse, and it shows in his seasonal, ingredient-led dishes sourced from local farms and fishermen. Menus shift accordingly, but recent items include diver scallops with caviar and uni butter, and grilled quail with salsa verde. As always, half the fun is pairing dishes with selections from their deep wine shelf whose labels extend far beyond the Santa Cruz Mountains.

105 Walnut Ave
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

8. Alderwood Santa Cruz

155 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Liz Birnbaum

This upscale newcomer represents a sign of Santa Cruz’s recent changes, replacing a former lunch deli space with sleek interiors, expert cocktails, and a menu of New American dishes and steaks. Chef/owner Jeffrey Wall made a name for himself at Atlanta’s lauded Kimball House, and woos Santa Cruz with an extensive raw bar, modern takes on steakhouse classics, and composed plates such as an Insta-worthy smoked beet tartare. The space fills up early thanks to a happy hour offering $1.25 oysters and discounted drinks and bar snacks. Tough to believe in Santa Cruz, but there’s usually a line out the door, and reservations are (gasp) a must.

155 Walnut Ave
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

9. Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets (location varies)

Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Courtesy of Burn Hot Sauce

In addition to a riot of fresh produce and seasonal blooms, Santa Cruz’s weekend farmers’ markets host some of the best local food pop-ups. At Burn Hot Sauce, co-founder Amanda Heyse, who’s cooked at Ad Hoc, Manresa, and LA’s Lucques, dishes up brunch plates such as crispy potatoes with fried eggs, arugula, and dill sour cream (drizzled with Heyse’s delicious fermented hot sauce, naturally). Nearby, Gordo Gustavo’s slow roasted barbecue fills the air with enticing wood-tinged smoke, and informs dishes such as smoked cauliflower tacos, and a killer pulled-pork breakfast sandwich topped with gooey fried egg.

10. East End Gastropub

1501 41st Ave i, Capitola, CA 95010
Courtesy of East End Gastropub

You’ll find this delightfully stylish eatery hidden away in a nondescript strip mall in beachy Capitola. High ceilings and an open kitchen keep the split-level interior buzzing, as do 16 taps of house and guest beers. The menu features farm-to-table takes on gastropub staples — think burgers and Brussels — but don’t overlook the vibrant cheese plate, house salad with pumpkin brittle, and anything out of the wood-fire oven.

1501 41st Ave i
Capitola, CA 95010

11. Lupulo Craft Beer House

233 Cathcart St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Courtesy of Lupulo

At this convivial downtown taproom named for the Spanish word for “hop,” 16 taps feature brews from Santa Cruz and beyond, while a notable food menu eschews the usual pub grub for Mexican and Spanish plates — family recipes of husband-and-wife owners Stuyvie Bearns-Esteva and Noelle Antolin —sourced exclusively from local organic farms. Think boquerones, cochinita pibil tacos, and carb-tastic sourdough bocadillos. A cold case offers an additional 300 cans and bottles to crack open on premises or take to go.

233 Cathcart St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

12. Humble Sea Brewing Co.

820 Swift St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Courtesy of Humble Sea

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. Sustenance comes courtesy of the Bruxo food truck which dishes a globe-hopping menu of creative street foods.

820 Swift St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

13. Bantam

1010 Fair Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Naveen Hattis

In an airy, transformed warehouse space on the hip Westside, owners Ben Sims (Chez Panisse) and Sarah Sims have been cranking out wood-fired Neapolitan pies since 2012. Creative combos include stinging nettles, hen of the woods mushrooms, Fiscalini cheese, and Calabrian chiles. Yet, pizzas are only half the story, with a sizable, daily selection of bites and entrees such as a clam-and-smoked trout chowder and fried chicken with chili butter. Local beers and wines keep the lively dining room humming, while a succinct cocktail menu nails variations on the classics.

1010 Fair Ave
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

14. Venus Spirits

427 A Swift St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Courtesy of Venus Spirits

Since opening his Westside distillery in 2016, owner Sean Venus has racked up awards for his organic, small-batch spirits including single-malt whiskeys, California’s only blue agave spirits (they’d call them tequila if that term weren’t protected), and signature, floral gins that dial down the juniper for softer botanicals such as cardamom and citrus. The stylish tasting room welcomes guests to sample a flight of spirits, enjoy a freshly made cocktail, and, thanks to a 2018 state law, take home a bottle or two for the home bar.

427 A Swift St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

15. Steamer Lane Supply

644-670 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Garrick Ramirez

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 parklike setting outside, or head to the benches overlooking surfers shredding massive swells.

644-670 W Cliff Dr
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Related Maps