For a town of its size, Santa Cruz has a surprising variety of great places to eat. From breakfast to fine dining, there’s several local restaurants that offer everything from basic dining staples to ethnic food, vegetarian dishes, and fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Santa Cruz has a reputation as a classic California beach town and it’s well deserved. With miles of beaches and countless tiny nooks among the cliffs, there are a ton of great beaches to choose from, depending on what sort of experience you’re after. Whether you’re looking for great surf, a beachside stroll, or just soaking in an evening sunset, Santa Cruz has something for every beach lover.
Here’s our guide to the best local beaches in Santa Cruz, as well as a little information about each one:
Natural Bridges State Beach - Named after the now eroding land bridges that once graced the beach, Natural Bridges is one of the most beloved beaches in Santa Cruz. You can still see the remnants of the natural bridges and take in the gorgeous view, either up close and personal, or from the parking lookout at the end of West Cliff Dr. The beach is part of a large adjoining park, which draws thousands of monarch butterflies during migration season in October—definitely a signature Santa Cruz experience.
Seabright State Beach - Seabright is one of the more popular beaches in Santa Cruz and gets crowded during summers and extended weekends. It’s easily accessible since it’s centrally located and it’s a large open each in between the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and Main Beach (in front of the Boardwalk). Since it’s in the Seabright neighborhood, there’s also a variety of places to eat in the area, making it a great option for a beach day.
Lighthouse Field State Beach - One of iconic beaches in Santa Cruz, Lighthouse Field State Beach has several great local spots all wrapped up in one. The lighthouse itself is home to a small surf museum dedicated the history of surfing and the famous Steamer Lane, which is just over the cliffs. One the other side of the lighthouse is Its Beach, sometimes referred to as “dog beach” since it’s one of the off-leash beaches in town.
Pleasure Point Beach - One of the favorite local surf spots, Pleasure Point in Capitola is also a piece of surf history. The 38th Ave. break was the favorite surf spot of wetsuit inventor and surf icon, Jack O’Neill, whose house overlooks the water. If you’re an experienced surfer, this is a place you’ll want to visit and it’s one of the best places to watch surfers from the bluff above the beach.
Twin Lakes State Beach - Twin Lakes Beach is on the opposite side of the harbor from Seabright Beach and is similarly open and accessible. It’s a great beach for picnicking or relaxing as you watch boats sail in and out of the harbor near Walton Lighthouse. The Crow’s Nest restaurant uses the area nearest the harbor for its Summer Beach Party Series, which is a favorite event of locals and visitors during the summertime.
Sunny Cove Beach - Sunny Cove is just what the name implies: a small section of beach nestled between two bluffs. It’s not a surf spot, but is a quaint and relaxing place you could have to yourself at certain times of day. Parking requires a permit at some times of day, so it can be tough to find a parking spot that’s close to the water.
New Brighton State Beach - This is a campground as well as a state beach located in Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz. It’s an expansive stretch of beach and the RV park looks out onto the water. There’s also hiking trails and nearby Seacliff State Beach is home to the retired concrete warship, the SS Palo Alto, at the end of the pier. The “concrete ship,” as it’s often referred to, had an interesting backstory before it was parked at the end of the pier.
26th Avenue Beach - This is a nice little beach in Capitola that’s not typically very crowded. Though there is not much parking available, there is a nice view of open water dotted with surfers when you take the stairs down to the water. There’s also several coves along the shoreline that offer some privacy for beachgoers.
Cowell Beach (Cowell’s) - Cowell’s is next to the Santa Cruz Wharf, opposite the side of the Boardwalk. The gentle waves are good for beginning surfers and there’s plenty of surf lessons going on throughout the day. The adjoining beach, Main Beach, has beach volleyball and the rides and attractions of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Santa Cruz may have a reputation as a sleepy beach town, but when the
day gets started, coffee is the first priority of the day for most of us. There
are many coffee shops and cafes tucked in just about every corner of town, and there are even multiple drive-through options for your morning Cup of Joe. We definitely love our coffee and local preferences tend toward small batch, fair trade, and organic options; as well as the occasional breakfast sandwich, snack or bagel to go along with it. With those criteria in mind, here is a list of the 10 best coffee shops you’ll find in Santa Cruz.
Verve Coffee Roasters - With locations from the Westside to 41st Ave.,
Verve has your caffeinated beverage needs covered in most parts of Santa Cruz. The downtown location is the perfect spot on Pacific Ave. to grab a cup of coffee, do some people watching, stroll through downtown, or set up shop with a laptop to get some work done. You can also visit their roasting facility in the Seabright neighborhood, located in what used to be a local cannery.
Firefly Coffee House - Firefly is a funky little coffee shack on Front St. that
has outdoor seating on the patio and some limited seating inside the cozy
cafe. They have several delicious standard brews, as well as specialty
drinks such as the Frosted Firefly and London Fog. If you’re looking for a
place to have a great cup of coffee and a delicious bagel, this is a place
you’ll want to try.
Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company - Opened in 1978, Santa Cruz
Coffee Roasting is a longtime favorite of locals. Situated in the heart of
downtown, the spacious cafe has a variety of organic, fair trade coffees.
(There is another location in the Rancho Del Mar shopping center in
Aptos.) The downtown cafe has some outside seating and plenty of room inside to get work or studying done while enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
Fins Coffee - Fins is a hip, somewhat surf themed coffee shop on Ocean
St., which means it’s an easy spot to stop in if you’re going in or out of
town. They have many choices when it comes to beverages, caffeinated or otherwise, and have a nice selection of pastries and desserts. While coffee lovers enjoy Fins, they also have some of the best chai in town.
Lulu Carpenter’s - Another great downtown cafe, Lulu Carpenter’s is more
than just a classic coffee house. They serve breakfast and brunch and
have foods that are easy to take on the go like breakfast sandwiches,
croissants, and burritos. Both the coffee selection and the food are very
good, all in an atmosphere that is unlike any other coffee shop in town.
Lulu Carpenter’s is in an old brick building at the end of Pacific Avenue and has the distinction of being one of the first downtown businesses to reopen following the damages of the 1989 earthquake. Coffee Cat, which is in nearby Scotts Valley is under the same ownership of Lulu Carpenter’s, which also operates a small drive-through location in the Whole Foods parking lot in Midtown Santa Cruz.
The Abbey - The Abbey definitely has good coffee, but it’s also one of the
most comfortable places to relax and enjoy a good cup, either with friends or while getting some work done. It has an open, spacious interior and plenty of power outlets, making it a welcoming cafe for the numerous
workers and students on their computers. The coffee and selection of other beverages are very good and the atmosphere makes for a place you want to spend some time in. They do not have a large food menu, but some snacks and pastries are served.
Java Junction - Java Junction has three locations in Santa Cruz: one in the
Seabright neighborhood, one by the Crow’s Nest restaurant, and one on
River St. near the freeways on the edge of town. The Seabright location is
the most popular of the three and is next to the Seabright Brewery. Java Junction serves up fantastic small batch coffee that’s made daily, as well as a number of other drinks, smoothies, bagels, pastries, and sandwiches.
Peoples Coffee - Peoples Coffee is in Live Oak is a friendly neighborhood
cafe with coffee that everyone raves about. They don’t have an expansive
food menu, but they do carry snacks like bagels and pastries in addition to their tasty selections of coffee and tea. It’s not always an easy parking lot in which to find a spot since it shares the area with other businesses, but the coffee is well worth it. Their mochas and lattes are also delicious.
Coffeetopia - Coffeetopia has three locations in Santa Cruz County,
including one on the Westside of town, which is rare on this list (The Abbey being the other one on the Westside). All locations serve a variety of coffees, teas, espressos, lattes, mochas, as well as pastries, bagels, and
sandwiches. This is definitely one of the better places in town to go if you’re looking for iced coffee. Local artwork frequently adorns the walls of
Coffeetopia, adding to its distinct local charm.
Cafe Delmarette - Within just a short walk from Santa Cruz Coffee
Roasting, Cafe Delmarette is a quaint cafe next to the Del Mar movie
theater downtown. There is a small amount of seating, both inside and out, and it has a European feel to it—something that also shines through in their coffee and food selections. The coffee is great and it’s an easy place to pop into for a quick cup if you’re downtown or want to enjoy a morning breakfast on the patio.
The City of Santa Cruz recently struck a partnership with electric bike
maker, JUMP bikes, to provide affordable, electric-assist bike rentals
throughout the city. After a successful trial run in San Francisco, the Uber-
owned company brought the service to Santa Cruz, where it seems to be
quite popular already.
The bright red bikes have a built-in lock and a battery that lasts roughly 40 miles, as well as a basket, cup holder, and adjustable seats. No helmet is provided so you’ll need to bring your own if you plan to ride safely on one of the 250 bikes currently in operation at 27 stations around town. The cost is $1 for the first 15 minutes, and 7 cents for each additional minute.
Alternatively, you can buy a monthly pass for $30 that allows you up to one hour of riding time daily with standard rates applying thereafter.
One of the key benefits of the new program is that the bikes do not have to be returned to where they were initially picked up. You can rent a bike in Midtown and ride it to the Westside and drop it off at a station in that part of town. While they can be ridden outside of the city limits, there is a hefty fee that goes along with doing so. You can also put a bike on hold if you intend to use it later so that it’s reserved and cannot be rented by other users.
The JUMP bikes are not fully electric, but they do provide a substantial
boost in power, which can be helpful when riding up some of the steeper
hills in town. If you just want to get where you’re going more quickly, the
JUMP bikes can reach speeds of close to 20 miles per hour.
To rent a JUMP bike, you must be at least 18 years old and download the
app, which allows you to pay with your credit card. The bikes can be
returned to any bike share station and they can also be locked up in a
standard bike rack. The bikes do not have to be returned to a station, but
there is a $1 charge if they are not. Each bike is equipped with a GPS
tracker that maps your ride and the app notifies you of the nearest station
when you’re done using it.
Part of the appeal of the electric bikes is that they provide an alternative to not just driving, but taking your own bike and leaving it unattended. With bike theft being such a major problem in Santa Cruz, renting a bike is a pleasant alternative for many people.
The JUMP bikes present quite a challenge for would-be bike thieves.
There are no removable parts, they can’t be operated without paying, and
they have a self-contained locking mechanism. Another factor is that they
weigh close to 70 pounds so trying to move one of them while it’s not in
operation would be difficult.
While the bike share program is just getting started in Santa Cruz, the early feedback appears to be mostly positive. It’s hard to miss the bright red bikes on the road and they’re popping up more and more frequently. With summer not far off, there will no doubt be plenty of people eager to try out the new bikes. The program was successful enough in San Francisco that there’s already plans to expand from 250 bikes to 500; something that could potentially happen in Santa Cruz if there’s enough demand.
Santa Cruz Biking Resources
Local Bike Resources - The website for the Santa Cruz County Regional
Transportation Commission has a wealth of information about local bike
services and resources for riders, including maps of bike lockers and other bike oriented programs in the city.
Bike Santa Cruz County - A local bicycle advocacy group, Bike Santa Cruz
County works to make the community more bike friendly and support
initiatives that make the roads safer for bicyclists.
Whether you’re looking for a school that offers a quality public education, a top notch private school, or a faith based educational option, Santa Cruz has plenty to choose from. Many of the schools in the area perform well in statewide rankings and Pacific Collegiate School, a local charter high school, consistently ranks among the top high schools in California.
In the directory below you’ll find a comprehensive listing of schools in the Santa Cruz area, from elementary schools to colleges. The areas covered in the directory extend beyond just the city of Santa Cruz and include Live Oak, Capitola, Soquel, Aptos, Scotts Valley, Felton, and the San Lorenzo Valley.
Each listing is categorized by location, has a link to the official school website, and includes information about the grades served. If a school is private, religiously affiliated, or a charter school, it is noted in parentheses.
Directory of Santa Cruz Area Schools
Westlake Elementary School - K-5th grade
Bay View Elementary - K-5th grade
Gault Elementary - K-5th grade
DeLaveaga Elementary - K-5th grade
Live Oak Elementary - K-5th grade
Del Mar Elementary - K-5th grade
Green Acres Elementary - K-5th grade
Santa Cruz Gardens Elementary - K-5th grade
Happy Valley Elementary - K-6th grade
Bonny Doon Elementary - K-6th grade
Spring Hill School - Preschool-6th grade (private)
Santa Cruz Children’s School - K-6th grade, (private)
Holy Cross School - Preschool-8th grade (private Catholic school)
Virgil Hauselt Memorial Christian School - K-8th grade (private Christian school)
Gateway School - K-8th grade (private)
Tierra Pacifica Charter School - K-8th grade (charter school)
Santa Cruz Waldorf School - Preschool-8th grade (private)
Main St. Elementary - K-5th grade
Soquel Elementary - K-5th grade
Mountain Elementary School District - K-6th grade
Vine Hill Elementary - K-5th grade
Brook Knoll Elementary - K-5th grade
Baymonte Christian School - Preschool-8th grade (private Christian school)
Rio Del Mar Elementary - K-6th grade
Valencia Elementary School - K-6th grade
Mar Vista Elementary - K-6th grade
Santa Cruz Montessori - Preschool-8th grade (private)
St. Lawrence Academy - K-8th grade (private Christian school)
Boulder Creek Elementary - K-5th grade
New Brighton Middle School - 6th-8th grade
Shoreline Middle School - 6th-8th grade
Branciforte Middle School - 6th-8th grade
Mission Hill Middle School - 6th-8th grade
Aptos Junior High School - 7th-8th grade
Scotts Valley Middle School - 6th-8th grade
San Lorenzo Valley Middle School - 6th-8th grade
Santa Cruz High School - 9th-12th grade
Harbor High School - 9th-12th grade
Natural Bridges High School/Career Training Center - 10th-12th grade
Kirby School - 6th-12th grade, (private)
Pacific Collegiate School - 7th-12th grade (charter school)
Cypress Charter High School - 9th-12th grade (charter school)
Soquel High School - 9th-12th grade
San Lorenzo Valley High School - 9th-12th grade
Coast Redwood High School - 9th-12th grade (charter school)
SLVUSD Charter School - K-12th grade (charter school)
Ocean Grove Charter School - K-12th grade (charter school)
Cabrillo College (community college)
Resources For Santa Cruz Schools
California School Ratings - A website that provides school rankings for California. You can search by city, name, region, or county and each school receives a numbered grade based on how it performs against others that are similar.
California School Search - A resource from the California Department of Education that lets you search for schools by name or city to find helpful information such as demographic reports and data about academic performance.