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.