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Santa Cruz, CA City Guide

by Stephanie

Today’s Santa Cruz City Guide comes to us from Christa Martin, editor of the fashion and beauty blog, The Penny Rose, and a freelance writer who has been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Dwell.com, among others. Christa is a long-time resident of Santa Cruz and today she shares an insider’s glimpse into this oceanside, surf city.  Thanks so much for this wonderful guide, Christa! —Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump…

Santa Cruz City Guide Photo by Christa Martin

With its epic ocean views, mountains that pour into the ocean, towering redwood trees, organic fare, “nuclear free zone,” artistic community, and the influence of nearby Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Santa Cruz is a world-class destination. In putting together this guide, I carefully curated where to go and what to do when visiting, my favorite haunts, and ways to stay out of the tourist spotlight and keep in step with the locals.

Check out the Google Map of Santa Cruz with the below listings!


Downtown Santa Cruz is known for its shopping district, wide array of recognized restaurants, and local flavor by way of street artists and musicians. 


Dinner and Drinks:

Oswald’s: This is one of Santa Cruz’s top high-end eateries. Prepare to drop some dollars here, but it will be worth it. If you’re a meat eater, try the best steak in town—the rib eye with fries and blue cheese butter. It’s undeniably mouth-watering. The service is also top-notch.

Gabriella Café: This charming, romantic, all-organic restaurant is a winner in fine dining. Sourcing the goods of local farmers, Gabriella Café has a tasty, well-rounded menu that’s constantly changing. The pappardelle is scrumptious.

Chocolate: In the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, on its main thoroughfare of Pacific Avenue, sits this restaurant with its twinkly lights, outdoor seating and unbelievable dishes like the chicken molé and baked pasta rosettes. For dessert, of course, there is a wealth of chocolate offerings from truffles to an entire dipping pot of bittersweet chocolate.

Mobo Sushi: One of the best sushi restaurants in town, Mobo Sushi has an eclectic array of offerings. Don’t miss the seaweed salad or the Corrupter Roll with unagi, basil, macadamia nuts, and garlic.

Hula’s Island Grill: Renowned for its award-winning cocktails, Hula’s also delivers on the food front with its classic island fare. Try Duke’s Luau Pork Plate, the fresh fish options, or the sweet potato fries.

515 Kitchen & Cocktails: Recognized locally for its tasty variety of cocktails, 515 is an über classy two-story restaurant with sweeping views of downtown and a remarkable menu with some of the best food in town. Looking for a deal? Hit up 515 at happy hour for a steep discount on regular menu items.

Coffee and Snacks:

Verve Coffee Roasters: Undeniably, Verve is the go-to coffee destination in town. With three locations, the Pacific Avenue storefront is the most vivacious with plenty of space to find a seat, excellent java, myriad coffee drinks, and a staff that honors good service. Plus, Verve boasts unlimited wi-fi and a stylish, modern interior. Switch up your typical mocha for a Bowl of Soul that includes chamomile tea, honey and soy milk mixed together.

Buttercup Cakes & Farm House: No one ever said Santa Cruz was a leader in trends, and so we’ve only got one specialty cupcake shop in town, but it’s divine. Buttercup Cakes rivals any New York cupcake storefront. And if you’re a vegan or on a gluten-free diet, there are plenty of options for you, too. The Double Chocolate Eloise cupcake is decadent.

The Penny Ice Creamery: With made from scratch flavors like Wild Fennel, Mint Chip, and Whisky Custard, The Penny Ice Creamery has become a Santa Cruz institution. It has three locations, one in downtown Santa Cruz, one in Pleasure Point, and a kiosk on Pacific Avenue. The line will be out the door, but it’s well worth the wait. With “green” principles, original concoctions, and a priority on sourcing local ingredients, it’s no wonder that The Penny Ice Creamery has been making national news as of late.


Fashion and Beauty:

Stripe: To walk into Stripe is like happening upon a favorite treasure trove: geometric necklaces, hand-crafted leather goods, luxurious bath products, and one-of-a-kind garments from local fashion designer Sally Esposito make this fashion and housewares boutique a special place. Swing by to find a gift for someone (or for yourself).

Synergy: This flagship store for the company’s international organic clothing line is the perfect place to find “green” yoga clothes. It’s also the only place in town that sells baubles from nationally recognized bohemian jewelry artist, Laamie Young, of Blank Verse Jewelry.

Sockshop & Shoe Company: Looking for some original kicks while you’re in town? Or maybe a pair of heavy duty socks for that hike you’re going to take? Try the Sockshop & Shoe Company, a long-time Santa Cruz bastion for footwear.

Legs: Next door to Sockshop is Legs, a perfect place to find a pair of retro stockings or eclectic tights.

Home and Décor:

DIG Gardens: This is a gardener’s paradise. Thoroughly modern in its outdoor décor, DIG offers a wealth of hard-to-find plants, succulents, terrariums, and plenty of DIY greenery projects.


Bookshop Santa Cruz: Since 1966, this independent bookstore has been thriving and brings in national authors to do guest readings and book signings on a regular basis. This is a Santa Cruz book lovers must.

Well Within: Luxurious massages and soaking tubs with garden views are the big draw here. For $15 you’ll score a 50-minute solo tub soak that’s unforgettable.

Del Mar: The Del Mar is yet another Santa Cruz “must” in terms of experience. This independently owned movie house showcases original (and restored) art deco interiors. Indie movies are shown in this grand theater.


Pacific Blue Inn: This sweet bed and breakfast is found on the outskirts of downtown Santa Cruz. It’s walking distance to restaurants and shops in one direction, and the boardwalk in the other direction. Upscale modern rooms, luxurious amenities and a noteworthy breakfast make this a memorable place to stay.

Adobe on the Green: A hidden gem, this bed and breakfast is tucked into a residential neighborhood on a hill in downtown Santa Cruz. It’s quiet, beautiful, spacious and within minutes to everything notable in the downtown area.

Babbling Brook Inn: The Babbling Brook Inn is a relaxing hide-away. Surrounded by redwood trees and lush greenery, staying here feels like you’ve checked out of the city and into a mountain town, only you haven’t. The beach is just minutes away as is the boardwalk, but when staying here, you’ll feel out of the tourist fray.

Santa Cruz City Guide Photo by Nick Chao


The Westside of Santa Cruz offers hiking trails, sweeping ocean views, the famous boardwalk, and the wharf.


Dinner and Drinks:

Bantam Pizza: Bantam Pizza is one of Santa Cruz’s newest eateries and the reviews are outstanding. Share a salad and a gourmet pizza along with a glass of wine, then take a leisurely stroll down to the water on the Westside of town.

Olitas: While the Municipal Wharf is tourist friendly, it’s still a sight worth seeing. There are a bunch of authentic seafood restaurants on the wharf, but for a change of pace, check out Olitas, a delicious destination for Mexican food with a view of the Pacific Ocean that’s unforgettable.

Ristorante Avanti: This is by far one of the town’s most revered Italian restaurants. While the location isn’t noteworthy (it’s at the corner of a busy intersection), the food is outstanding. Order a glass of red wine, share a salad with your dinner partner, and try the ravioli of the night. Outstanding fare.

Vasilis: As one of two Greek restaurants in town, Vasilis specializes in authentic cuisine and original recipes. Swing by here at lunchtime when you’re on the Westside for a value meal. Try the meatballs and get some pita bread with the garlic infused skordalia dip.

Coffee and Snacks:

Kelly’s French Bakery: Kelly’s French Bakery offers a generous patio area for casual dining. Pick up a latte and one of their homemade goodies, or if you stop by for breakfast, try the poached eggs and polenta.


Fashion and Beauty:

Cameron Marks: Cameron Marks is one of Santa Cruz’s (and the Bay Area’s) standout women’s boutiques. With modern décor, cutting edge fashion by up-and-coming designers, and beautiful apparel and accessories curated by Vanessa Ambrose, this is a fashionista’s haven.


Steamer Lane: Steamer Lane is one of the most noteworthy surfing destinations on the West Coast. Big waves are soul soothing and scores of surfers dot the water. When they catch a wave, the ride is so long you’ll be craning your neck to see how far they’ve gone.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the epitome of a tourist attraction during the summer months, but check it out on a weeknight for a less crowded experience. This is a perfect place to bring kids with bowling nearby, rides galore, a famous roller coaster, and a huge arcade.

Hiking/bike riding in Wilder Ranch: Locals tip: Park along Highway 1, where you’ll see other cars are parked and hoof it around the corner to avoid paying for parking. Enjoy the bluffs walk and find the hidden beach to relax at. If you’re a mountain biker, head to the other side of Highway 1 (not the beach side) for some strenuous biking trails with ocean views. Other spectacular trails will tuck you into dense redwood forests. And at the ranch itself, you’ll find some friendly goats and chickens.


Santa Cruz Dream Inn: The rooms overlook the ocean, beach and wharf, and it’s located in a tourist-friendly area. But if you prefer a more “locals” experience, try for one of the small but classy bed and breakfasts in nearby downtown.

West Cliff Inn: The West Cliff Inn is located just a half block from the Dream Inn and has a completely different feel—nautical, coastal-inspired décor is found throughout, and benefits include the intimacy of a smaller lodging option.

Santa Cruz City Guide Photo by Nick Chao


Pleasure Point feels very “old school Santa Cruz.” The East Cliff Drive walk was recently renovated and this is an area that’s home to the local surfing community, as well as Jack O’Neill, inventor of the wetsuit. 


Dinner and Drinks:

Pleasure Pizza: From the outside, Pleasure Pizza looks like just another pizza joint, but the pies are tasty and locals know to go there on Tuesdays for $1 cheese slices. Plus, it’s just a few minutes walk from renowned surf spot, “The Hook.”

Betty Burger: With all the classic staples of a burger joint, Betty Burger has a surfer flair and Santa Cruz vibe, and with that comes antibiotic-free and hormone-free burgers. Gluten-free buns, of course, are available.

Coffee and Snacks:

Verve: See above for downtown Santa Cruz location info. Verve also offers a Pleasure Point destination that’s just minutes from the ocean. Locals like to get their coffee to go in the mornings and go for a stroll along East Cliff Drive.


Fashion and Beauty:

O’Neill Surf Shop: Pleasure Point is a bastion for surf culture, and if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill at his green house atop the bluffs. Or, you can swing by his store, O’Neill Surf Shop for all things ocean-related.


Walk: The newly restored East Cliff Drive/Pleasure Point walk is dreamy. Start out on 41st Avenue and swing around the entire loop with ocean views, gorgeous homes, surfers, hidden beaches, and plenty of places to rest and enjoy the view. If the water is receding, you must take the “low-tide walk,” a locals’ favorite, which will take you on a lengthy tide pool hopping adventure.


Beach Bungalow Vacation Rentals/Pleasure Point Retreat: This bed and breakfast has one of the best views on this side of town and looks like any other home in the Pleasure Point area. With a rooftop hot tub, this lodging option is like a personal retreat.

Santa Cruz City Guide Photo by Christa Martin


Mid-town has a lot to offer in the way of cool restaurants and bakeries, a rock climbing gym, and a favorite yoga haunt.


Dinner and Drinks:

Lillian’s Italian Kitchen: Locals who frequent this restaurant say it’s like having dinner at your Italian grandmother’s home. With authentic cuisine and lengthy waits, there’s a reason this is one of the favorite Italian destinations in town.

Charlie Hong Kong: This is the ultimate healthy fast food joint. Infused with organic produce and an Asian flair, Charlie Hong Kong is a local delight and offers lots of vegan options. Spicy Dan’s Peanut Delight is a favorite.

Coffee and Snacks:

The Buttery: If you’re longing for a slice of chocolate ganache cake or a fruit filled pastry, The Buttery is a one-stop-shop for sweets and more. This place is always packed and reasonably so; it’s definitely a bakery where you’ll want to have your cake and eat it, too.

Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe: At Linda’s you’ll find the best cinnamon roll in the entire town. In fact, even the New York Times gave these toasty buns a shout out. But of course, try any of the omelette plates, or breakfast specials, which are equally delicious. Located just down the street from the beach, this is a locals’ enclave.


Fashion and Beauty:

Tomboy: Unleash your inner cowgirl at Tomboy, a store that epitomizes its moniker with boots, belt buckles, button up shirts, and much more.

Home and Décor:

Blithe and Bonny: You might recognize this bath and body product line as being found in stores like Anthropologie. But it’s here in Santa Cruz where the family-operated company holds its roots. It just opened its first storefront and inside is a dazzling array of bath and body products in a variety of soothing scents like Eucalyptus Mint and Tuberose/Orange Blossom.


Yoga: Known as a refuge for people wanting to get away from it all, Santa Cruz is home to dozens of yoga studios. At the top of the list is DiviniTree, a popular studio that will be opening up a second location on the Westside in the fall of 2013. Especially noteworthy is a lunchtime class with teacher Hannah Muse who recently was voted one of the best yoga teachers in the area.

Kayak Connection: You can’t visit Santa Cruz and not spend some time in the water. So if surfing isn’t your thing, rent a kayak for a few hours and take a self-guided ocean tour (with a friend) of this paradise city by the sea.

Pacific Edge Climbing Gym: One of the world’s best rock climbers, Chris Sharma, has been spotted here (he has local roots). This enormous building houses a giant indoor rock climbing wall, classes, daily equipment rentals, and more.

The Crepe Place: Catch some local live music (or out of town acts) while dining on a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even dessert crepe.


Chaminade: There might be no better view in the Santa Cruz area than that from the Chaminade outdoor patio on a clear evening. From up in the hills, the vista sweeps all the way down to the ocean. Stay the night in this luxury resort, take a hike on its hidden trail, or enjoy drinks and appetizers with a romantic view.

Santa Cruz City Guide Photo by Nick Chao


Capitola is most definitely a favorite neighborhood for the tourists, but you can’t miss the creek walk by vacation rentals that leads to the ocean. Swing by Mr. Toots for a café mocha and sip your coffee with an ocean view at this cool and funky hole in the wall.


Dinner and Drinks:

Shadowbrook: This is one of the most beautiful and ambiance-laden restaurants in the county. Shadowbrook offers jaw-dropping window views of the ocean, a short and romantic trolley ride down to the lobby, lush outdoor gardens, and an exquisite menu.

Café Cruz: The location belies its splendor. Café Cruz is found on a busy commerce street near the highway but tucked inside the restaurant is a place for a perfect date night. The rotisserie chicken and flavored mashed potatoes are unforgettable. And, like most restaurants in Santa Cruz, there’s an entire vegan menu.

Pizza My Heart: This is a long-time locals’ favorite pizza joint with locations all over town. The array of pizza offerings is dizzying and equally tantalizing—from clams and garlic mixed together, to bacon, black figs, sage, and feta. Order any slice and it will be ready in minutes.

Coffee and Snacks:

Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria: This popular bakery/coffee shop, cafeteria-style restaurant is a bustling place. Grab a number and when it’s called you’ll point out to your server all of the goodies you want loaded up on your plate. Try the macaroni and cheese, the spinach gorgonzola pasta, or the Blue Plate Dinner in the evening. There are endless dessert options to choose from.

Mr. Toots: This funky coffee shop sits above a bar in Capitola and offers a gorgeous view of the nearby beach and ocean. Grab a latte and a game of chess, and relax for a while.


Fashion and Beauty:

Pacific Trading Company: A long-time family owned clothing store, Pacific Trading Co. in Capitola sits next to Gayle’s, so when you’re done eating, head over here to try on some perfect beach weather clothing. The store is especially recognized for its extensive line of denim, bounty of dresses, and beautiful baubles.

Home and Décor:

Three Little Birds: Right next door to Pacific Trading Co. is the perfect gift shop—Three Little Birds. Selling locally crafted jewelry, bath and body products, and housewares, this is a great place to stop and pick up a gift for a friend back home.


Monarch Cove Inn: Often used as a destination for intimate weddings, the Monarch Cove Inn is also a gorgeous 11-room bed and breakfast set on a hilltop in Capitola, and it’s located walking distance from the beach, restaurants, and the shopping district. The views from this inn are enchanting.



These two neighboring cities are on the south side of Santa Cruz County. Soquel butts up to the Santa Cruz Mountains and boasts beautiful hiking trails at the Land of Medicine Buddha (a Buddhist retreat center), and Aptos offers a quiet get-away from the hubbub of Santa Cruz, but with all of the ocean amenities.


Dinner and Drinks:

Bittersweet Bistro: While dinner here is outstanding, so are the desserts. Split the Chocolate Trio with a friend and indulge in three favorite chocolate treats.

burger.: Sometimes, there’s just nothing better than a hamburger and fries. With bleu cheese. And bacon. On both the burger and fries. That’s the kind of experimental burger fare you’ll find at “burger.” With spacious digs, “burger.” has affordable prices, a bounty of creations to choose from, and a second location on the Westside.

Pizza 1: This hidden pizza joint near the water attracts not only neighborhood pizza lovers but connoisseurs from all over the county will drive to Pizza 1 for its outstanding pies. If there’s one pizza place in town you have to try, it’s Pizza 1.

Coffee and Snacks:

Aptos Coffee Roasting Co.: In the middle of the Aptos commerce area, and in a strip mall of sorts, sits Aptos Coffee Roasting, a great place to order a cup of java and kick back for hours. The coffee is spot on, parking is free and unlimited, and you’re just minutes from Nisene Marks State Park.

The Ugly Mug: With plenty of character, local flavor, and live music, The Ugly Mug is a popular coffee destination on this side of town.

The Farm Bakery & Cafe: The quiche—amazing. The fresh fruit tart—it’s outstanding. The list goes on and on. With bakery goods, sandwiches, sides, and more, you won’t go wrong with anything on the menu. A cozy gift shop offers an array of unique children’s toys, housewares and more.


Home and Décor

Patine: Finding the La Selva Beach area on the south end of Santa Cruz County can be a bit of an adventure and a drive, but once you discover this hidden and delightful beach community, you won’t want to leave. If you’re an interiors person, stop in at Patine for textiles, pillows, soaps and more.


Land of Medicine Buddha: While it’s a Buddhist retreat center, everyone is welcome to roam the grounds. Park wherever you can find a spot and hit the Eight Verses Trail for some stunning hiking trails amongst the redwoods in the hills of Soquel.

Nisene Marks: One of the area’s most epic hiking and mountain biking destinations, Nisene Marks is friendly to families (the fire road allows strollers and takes you on a gorgeous hike). And for those who want to take it to the next level, endless trails zip in and out of the mountains. The Five Finger Falls trail delivers you to a breathtaking wading pool and waterfall.



The Tannery: Located near downtown, The Tannery Arts Center is home to many of Santa Cruz’s artists. Swing by and most likely you’ll find a local artist who will show you around the grounds (home to a former leather tannery). In addition, there’s a performing arts center, café, and lots of artists’ studios where you can catch a creative person hard at work.

First Friday: Visit the First Friday website to learn more about the walking art tours that happen around town on the first Friday of every month. Stores, restaurants, and more turn into galleries as locals walk around town and check out what artists are up to.

Wharf to Wharf Race (make it your own): In the summer each year, thousands of Santa Cruzans take to the streets and run the six mile distance from the Municipal Wharf (near the Boardwalk) to the Capitola Wharf. It’s a beautiful jog, and you can make it your own any time of the year. Just start at one wharf and run to the other wharf, catching all the favorite views and sites around town.

Farmer’s Market: Santa Cruz County offers an array of farmers’ markets at various locations and on rotating days of the week. Here, the best of the best in organic produce and food comes out. Don’t miss it.

Music at The Catalyst, Crepe Place, and Rio Theatre: These three venues are favorite places in town to catch live local music or national acts passing through.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz: Renowned nationwide for its outdoor Festival Glen, Shakespeare Santa Cruz offers some of the most innovative interpretations of the Bard’s work ever seen. Bring a picnic and catch a show at sunset during the summer.

Santa Cruz Surf School: If you come to Santa Cruz, there’s one thing you have to do—try your hand (or feet) at surfing. The Santa Cruz Surf School takes newbies to the calm/safe waters at Cowell Beach for introductory lessons.

Wineries: The Santa Cruz mountains are home not only to limitless hiking trails and mountain biking routes, but also to a wealth of wineries without the snobbery, and with a relaxed Santa Cruz vibe.

Open Studios: Every October, hundreds of Santa Cruz County artists open their studios to the public who can stop by for drinks, treats, ask the artists questions, and maybe take home a painting or two.

Big Basin: One of the Bay Area’s largest state parks, Big Basin is about a 30-minute drive out of town up Highway 1. Park on the shoulder of the freeway and explore the beach end of the park by walking the fire trail into the deep redwoods, or go up Highway 9 to CA-236 for the main entrance and explore hiking paths with waterfalls, gorgeous views, and California’s own majestic redwood trees.

Roaring Camp: For both children and adults, the big attraction at Roaring Camp in Felton (in the Santa Cruz mountains) is its train that takes riders from the camp down to the boardwalk in Santa Cruz and back again. The ticket price is well worth it, especially for children who will thoroughly love the ride through the redwood forest.

Henry Cowell: It’s like hiking in your own backyard. Just 15 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz, Henry Cowell has numerous trails and if you stay on the fire trail, at one point, you’ll come across a breathtaking view of the ocean.


Notable locals from Santa Cruz include:

Jack O’Neill, wetsuit creator

Nell Newman, runs Newman’s Own Organics

John Robbins, best-selling author

James Durbin, “American Idol” finalist

Jonathan Franzen, novelist

Nikki Silva, radio producer, Kitchen Sisters

Suggested For You


  • I adore Santa Cruz. I lived there for two years while I went to UCSC. We also loved Logos Used Bookstore. The largest and best stocked used bookstore I have ever been too. Santa Cruz Diner is also a low cost favorite with huge portions. You also cant forget about Marianne’s Ice Cream. Some of the best ice cream I have ever had.

    If you are looking for stuff to do, UCSC has lots of galleries, gardens, sculptures, ponds, caves, and many fun geocashe type adventures all for free.

  • had a fantastic meal at La Posta in May, and a very affordable and quaint stay at Sea & Sand Inn (woke up to the sounds of barking seals and crashing waves, free breakfast with a great view of the water).

  • Thanks for highlighting many of the things that, even as a local, you can forget are at your fingertips. What a great reminder of all the beautiful and yummy adventures to be had in the Santa Cruz community!

  • Great guide! Can’t wait to try some of the newer restaurants and shops mentioned.

    Side note: “the practice of park users avoiding fees creates problems. State parks rely on user fees to help maintain the state park system. Park users who do not pay user fees will still use the park restrooms, trails and picnic areas. They will still need to dispose of garbage and will still need assistance at times from park staff.

    When the Department of Parks and Recreation is faced with the decision of which parks to close, parks with low revenue are the first on the chopping block. That means that parks where people avoid paying fees may be at risk of closure- because although the park is getting usage, it is not generating revenue to offset operational expenses.

    When you pay your entrance fee, you are doing your part to make sure that state parks have funding to keep state parks open and maintained.” http://www.savestateparks.org/visit.html

    If you use State Parks a lot consider getting an annual pass which will save you money and still contribute to keeping our parks open. Thanks!

  • Great round up! I also think Cafe Brasil is worth mentioning. Best breakfast in town, I’ve never had an acai bowl quite like it anywhere else.

  • This is a fabulous guide to my old home town! One other spot you have to go if you visit is Artisans Gallery downtown – its an art gallery and shop with all American made art, ceramics, woodwork, and jewelry.

  • Malabar and The Crow’s Nest are a couple of restaurants worth visiting in Santa Cruz. Over on the Westside near Kelly’s Bakery, a bunch of local wineries have set up tasting rooms too…

  • I live over the hill in San Jose, but Santa Cruz is a fun get away from the city. My boyfriend took me on our first date to Gabriella Cafe. This restaurant is truly intimate. Located in an old house, the entire restaurant maybe has a total of 15 tables. I highly suggest making reservations!

  • Can’t believe you left the Bagelry off the list! Amazing bagels / bagel sandwiches and multiple locations.

  • Great list!! I would definitely add Cafe Brasil as a breakfast place on the Westside, and Saffron and Genevive as a mid-town Home and Garden destination.

  • Interesting list. I would add Pono Hawaiian/The Reef for Downtown as well as Natural Bridges Beach on the Westside. And for Aptos….A MUST is Aptos St BBQ.

  • Wonderful article Christa! Thank you for mentioning Tomboy and the Midtown section of Santa Cruz! Home to a number of great restaurants and wonderful retail shops including Childish and Amoureuse Lingerie.

  • Weirdly, even though I lived in SC for 4 years, I haven’t been to the majority of these restaurants. Ah, the limitations of the college budget (plus not having lived there in 10 yrs…).

    Agreed on Cafe Brasil! Best banana pancakes ever. I also have to give a shout out to the Delmarette – the little cafe right next to the Delmar theater. Fabulous fresh/seasonal sandwiches, salads, and yummy cupcakes. Ooh, also Taqueria La Cabana on Mission – excellent food. And don’t forget to grab a sandwich at Zocolli’s Deli! Essentially I go to Santa Cruz to eat at my old haunts and end up too stuffed to try anything new.

    I like to take people up onto the UCSC campus, maybe take a hike along the Pogonip – great views of the town and bay and you’re almost guaranteed to see a banana slug. Don’t forget to head to Natural Bridges when the butterflies are in town!

    I miss Santa Cruz…

  • What a wonderful surprise-I lived in SC in the mid 70’s (truly a hippies dream:sun, surf, redwoods, co-ops and the SC Flea at the drive in . .is it still going?) and nearby Watsonville in the 80’s until moving to the Portland area in ’96. I truly miss swimming in the ocean. Need to take a road trip and visit old friends.

  • What a surprise-I lived in Sta Cruz in the mid 70’s (a hippies dream:surf,sun, redwoods, co-ops,music, love and the Flea Market-is it still going?), then south county in the 80’s and moved to Portland area in ’96. I miss swimming in the sea . .will need to take a road trip to visit old friends.

  • This is killing me! My mom just sold her home in Capitola, so I will no longer be able to come and stay at the beach when I visit the states. Waaaaahhh! This list is making me mourn the loss even more. But oh, the Buttery, and Gayles… I would recommend eating at the bar at Shadowbrook, with great cocktails, lighter menu and wonderful fireplace, which might be even better than sitting in the ‘proper’ restaurant.

  • Hula’s is disgusting, food totally lacking and very overpriced for run-of-the-mill chain restaurant food. Prices are WAY off for the dismal quality and portions of food. Go somewhere else during your stay like The Picnic Basket.

  • Yeah! Also glad to see Santa Cruz here. Thank you Christa!
    I also wanted to let people know the shop Beklina (www.beklina.com) is based in Aptos & La Selva Beach and I am open by appointment. xox -Angelina
    (most people think we’re in NY or LA but we’re in Santa Cruz!)

  • Thanks for the shout-out Christa! This is such a thorough guide to Santa Cruz! I’m getting married in Santa Cruz in October and it was awesome to grab items from this to include on a list of “things to do” for people traveling here!

  • Ahh, this is making me all teary eyed! Born and raised in Santa Cruz, it’s so bizarre to go over this list, reminding me everything that I had and the memories surrounding each place. I now live in Portland (another wonderful town) so visiting friends and family back in SC is always a treat.

    One little note: I believe “Three Little Birds” in Capitola is now closed. The owner opened another store in a different location called Water at Morrissey to focus on selling her Blythe & Bonnie soap/lotion/candle collection. Just a hint ;) http://www.blitheandbonny.com/

    Also: Yes to Malabar being one of the best restaurants in town. Vegetarian Sri Lankan cuisine. Raj is the best. And Tacos Morenos!! Supreme veggie burrito!

  • Thank you for the shout out for Sockshop & Shoe Company and Legs, Christa! You mention so many of my favorite places and a few that I haven’t checked out yet but will now. It’s so hard to decide where to take out of town guests when they visit (too many choices!). I could just start with this list.

  • And while you’re visiting this lovely town, there’s nothing better than getting pampered. Indulge yourself at Salon on the Square…a hidden gem in the heart of downtown where you can be treated like local royalty by the amazing and talented team there- specializing in cutting and coloring.

  • thanks for this. it seems that I go to santa cruz every 2 years and every time we go, we revert back to college years (friends went to college there) and eat cheap food. this would be great for my next time there!

  • Hi Kylie, Three Little Birds is still open! Yay! The owner expanded to open a second store, the first storefront for the recognized bath and body products line, Bath and Bonny. Best, Christa.

  • Companion Bakeshop is missing from this list. They have awesome sourdough bread, pastries, and Blue Bottle Coffee! I drive over the hill early in the morning on weekends to eat a scrumptious baked good, cappuccino, and read the Sunday NYTimes at Natural Bridges.

  • Love the Santa Cruz area and I try to get there every 2 years, as I have a dear friend who lives in Soquel – right near the antique shops! I usually stay at the Best Western Capitola-By-The- Sea. Very nice hotel with the most friendly staff. There is so much to see and do in the Monterey area (the Monterey Bay Aquarium is only about an hour or so drive away, plus Phil’s Fish Market for excellent seafood in Motts Landing). For those who inquired, yes, the Santa Cruz Skyview flea market at the old drive-in is still there! Complete with a farmer’s market, new items, old items, and unique treasures you find anywhere else! :) I go there nearly every trip to SC. Last time I was there (April 2012) I found so much great stuff that my friend shipped everything back(4 boxes!) to NJ for me (yes, I paid her back). Between the ocean, the woods, shops, SC Boardwalk, art galleries, cafes, etc, you will not be bored there! I have been to SC about 8 times and looking forward to going again next year.
    Funny thing is, I have never yet been to Florida (everyone I know has been there) and it’s a lot closer to NJ! *sigh*…

  • By the way, the Clint Eastwood movie “Sudden Impact” (also starring Sondra Locke) was filmed in Santa Cruz (especially the Boardwalk and the Carousel house). Several other movies have been filmed in the SC vicinity as well, but their titles escape me right now… :(

  • woohoo! thanks for featuring my home town. I worked at the Farm Bakery all though high school, so happy to see it get mentioned! We always got skipped over in favor of Gayles. However, the spinach gorganzola from Gayle’s is the my favorite thing in the world!

  • Santa Cruz is where I live and work! Thanks for featuring our wonderful city! As a local REALTOR, I work with people everyday that are looking to move here. We live in a truly beautiful part of the world!