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Best Restaurants Santa Cruz

Best Restaurants Santa Cruz by Urban BackpackerBEST EATS SANTA CRUZ

I am so lucky to live in this town! I relish all the hippie-dippie love, and the soft comfy tie dye shirts from Cali Kind, that I wear once a week. The mountains and the beaches are fabulous. The people here are kind and happy, in this sunshiny town. Volleyball rocks. The sunshine is amazing and fabulous, and we are definitely in the midst of a huge drought, so please watch your water use. The boardwalk is fun, and even the big kids love it. Picnics and a long walk on West Cliff Drive, will surely make you breathe a bit easier.

If you aren’t up for packing your own picnic food, and need some great ideas without reading a plethora of websites…..I am serving you up our “FAVORITES List” for BEST RESTAURANTS SANTA CRUZ! Whatever you are in the mood for is here! These restaurants may not end up being your favorites, yet they are OUR tried and true favorites, for one reason, or another. Whether it’s a mainstream day, or an off day, you will love these places! Laugh a lot, EAT WELL, and be well!

FYI….If the restaurant is not in Santa Cruz proper, the town name is in parenthesis.

 

Best Breakfast

Aldos – Breakfast or brunch on the harbor. Used to be a bait and tackle shop. Owners are Italian fisherman family folks. Wink at Crows Nest Restaurant across the harbor, and paddle over there for lunch!

Samba Rock Acai Cafe – Best acai bowls and smoothies. Long wait time, and long lines, but great place for a healthy infusion of fruits and veggies. Totally laid back atmosphere. Not a breakfast place per se, but great place to run in and grab a smoothie!

Cafe Brasil – Best juice bar, breakfast, and lunch served as well. Darling spot for a morning meetup.

Linda’s Sea Breeze Cafe – Hands down one of my favorite breakfast haunts. BUDGET GEM.

The Farm Bakery Cafe and Gifts (Aptos) – Love this place. BEST BEST gift store, while I wait for my order. The pastry is not my favorite, but my granddaughter loves the rice crispy treats and the muffins. The breakfast burrito’s are amazing, as long as you request double meat, and not so many potatoes. Outdoor seating. Great prices.

Harbor Cafe – Best breakfast and lunch for over 50 years! Dog friendly. Wifi. Outdoor seating. Great Vibe. Bar.

The Walnut Avenue Cafe – Double best breakfast, long lines, long wait. Hot spot. Go early. Outdoor patio. And yes, they DO have a dog menu.

Point Market and Cafe – Love the breakfast here! Love the people! Love the groceries.

Bittersweet Cafe(Aptos) – The Au Gratin scrambles, the HAWG is for the lifer Atkins folks, and the create your own omelette’s are a must do. Outside seating. Breakfast and lunch. Great kiddie menu, and crayons for the tiny people.

Paula’s – DOUBLE BUDGET GEM. Eat in a camper van, get your dictionary word of the day, and relish this fabulous old school local surfer joint. No cell phones. No dogs. Clear your own plate in the bucket please. Cash only. ATM onsite. BASIC MEANS BASIC. Add on food will cost you extra.

 

Best Coffee

Verve Coffee Roasters – My daughter’s favorite coffee spot **********hands down. Two important words that I must impart – Manresa BREAD. Tea if you must. Rustic hip cool. Three locations in SC, and one in LA.

Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co. – “Quality Coffee for quality life.” Fair trade. They have been busy roasting since 1978! They even have coffee classes! Click here for the class schedule.

Firefly Coffee House – Quite cozy local spot. Great pastry, great chai. Heard it’s a budget gem, but not sure. Great bagels. Good sandwiches. Outdoor seating. Cash only.

The Abbey Coffee Art and Music Lounge – Music, Coffee, Art, Wifi, amazing people. What more could a person ask for? Comfy couches, great place to study, and it’s connected to a church! Holy chai tea, and good coffee for thee.

Cafe Pergolesi – The Perg is the oldest coffee hot spot in Santa Cruz! Love this place with the outdoor seating, and free WIFI. Kick back, relax, and sip on some good java. Love the local art, and the “Victorian-Old-World-Vibe.”

Cafe Delmarette – C is for CHARMING, and good, not excellent, not great – coffee. Sandwiches are a definite thumbs up. Flowers on the table a delight. Chairs are wooden, so you won’t want to stay that long. Closed Tuesday. Doesn’t open till 9am, and I cannot possibly wait for coffee that long.

Cafe Iveta – Looks like a business park cafe from the outside – but just a great spot! Upscale, outdoor seating, and great Lavazza coffee. Frequent buyer program. Gluten free options. The comfort food is amazing. Oprah loves the scones! And buy the gifts……enough said.

 

Best Tea House

Hidden Peak Teahouse – Hands DOWN my favorite Tea House in Santa Cruz. LOVE LOVE LOVE the vibe here. Peaceful place. Dim sum and raw food inspired goodies. Tea pot, or gung fu service. I had absolutely no idea, that tea, has a vintage year.

The Quail and Thistle Tea Room (Capitola) – A California Country Tea with a lovely menu, served in English bone china from round the globe. We will be signing up for the Mad Hatter Tea Party Extravaganza in December for sure! Only restaurant I have ever known to accept BITCOIN. Times are a changing!

The White Raven Coffee and Tea House (Felton) – I adore Larry’s Famous Chai Tea! This is a coffee house, AND a tea house. I needed another entry on the TEA category so The White Raven is under TEA. Art on the walls, cards for sale, gifts, journals, a computer to use….love this place. So mountain rustic.

 

Best Restaurants Santa Cruz by Urban BackpackerBest Bakery

Gayles Bakery and Rosticceria – Love this bakery! Best pick up food for picnic, or breakfast, or dinner on the go-I-don’t-wanna-cook-night. Expensive everything, yet oh my gosh….just look at the pastry, you will drool like a fool after taking your number in the cashier line. I would like one MORE of THAT please! Catering, deli, and breads that will toast you to your happy place.

The Buttery – Janet serves us 28 years of delightful goodness. The best fresh pastries, cakes, and breads! Breakfast and lunch at the bakery’s deli – is just perfect. We buy (almost) all of our party cakes here, when we are not headed North, to buy the “Best Banana Cake in the World,” at (Icing on the Cake) in Los Gatos!

Companion Bakeshop – A love story. We love your BREAD. We love your BAKESHOP. Jeremy and Erin fell in love over bread and avocado’s at the farmers market, and the rest is history! These guys sell big heart and soul to Santa Cruz.

Pacific Cookie Company – Can you say Peanut Butter? Lemon Drop? Mint Condition? BEST COOKIES EVER! Chewy on the inside – just how you like em. We send these “cookies by the dozen” as gifts! Gluten free options, and yes, they have also set up shop in Berkeley! Rachel Ray’s snack of the day!

Bagelry – Hankering for some bagels, lox, cream cheese? These folks have been boiling these bagels since 1977! Have a BAGELRY DAY! Definitely, one of the best restaurants Santa Cruz!

 

Best Restaurants Santa Cruz by Urban BackpackerBest Lunch

Cafe Cruz – In the top five! My favorite lunch, happy hour, and dinner restaurant. Calamari a definite go, and dip away in that magic tartar sauce if you aren’t on a diet. You will moan. This restaurant ALWAYS GREAT. Outdoor garden patio seating with heaters. Open, festive and casual.

Cafe Sparrow (Aptos) – Country French cooking in Aptos. Best place to take your Grandmother, or your daughter. Darling. Great food. Good wine list. Wait staff a ten! Shop after lunch in The Warmth Company, or the cool candle place around the corner.

The Picnic Basket – Good food made with LOVE. Great picnic food to order out! Outdoor seating. Love the sandwiches. Hit and miss for consistency.

Pono Hawaiian Grill – Local boy from Maui is the chef and owner. Best poke bar in Santa Cruz! Pupu’s, plate lunches, mac salad, spam and eggs, kalua pork sliders, teri chicken, and favorite “Island Kine,” delights. The Hawaiian music is fabulous.

Assembly – This is a good, not excellent, brunch or lunch place. We have been back four times. Rustic hip and cool. Get the burger, and definitely specify how you like it. Order the french fries – no brainer. This place has fabulous atmosphere, yet the food is definitely inconsistent. It’s on my (best restaurants Santa Cruz list), because we DO enjoy a glass of wine, eat, and watch the downtown people. Pricey for the quality. Go with someone you love, and the slow food experience will not matter.

Betty Burgers – Budget GEM. Juicy patties and hot buns! Best Burgers. Hot dogs. Good all around family food. Kids Menu. Gluten free, and bun free options. Beer and wine. ADULT shakes. Get the LOVE SHACK.

Pixie Deli (Aptos) – Good, not excellent beach food spot. Convenient as all get out – it’s the reason it’s on the “Best Restaurants Santa Cruz” list. DO the breakfast burrito or sandwiches for sure. We go here on beach days.  I just had to copy what (VickyL) wrote from YELP…….picture perfect Pixie Deli Love. “How to have the most picture-perfect day: 1) Go to the Seacliff State Beach in Aptos. 2) Pick up a chicken burrito and sit outside on their front patio. Dogs are welcome! 3) Eat THE BEST burrito. Ever. Because you will probably never, ever have anything as good as freshly cooked rotisserie chicken and hot-off-the-grill peppers and onions, all wrapped into one big soft tortilla. 4) Bask in the sun. 5) Go home and take a nap.”

 

Best Dinner

Au Midi (Aptos) – Best French inspired food in the Santa Cruz area. This would be a lovely date night place as well. Petite panache! Chef Muriel and partner Michel are an amazing team! The flavors and presentation are simply ambrosial, and fit for the gods. Do yourselves a favor and please try the Duck Magret, and French Apple Pie. On the pricier side…yet – WORTH EVERY BITE.

La Gioconda (Soquel) – Another lovely date night restaurant! Chef Luca makes MAGNIFICO Northern Italian food, at this newbie local hot spot! Used to be the home of the Old Main Street Garden and Cafe. Romantic, intimate, and cozy ambience. The garden patio is delightful. Excellent service. 100% Organic, and most of the food comes from the restaurant garden.

Cafe Cruz (Soquel) – By far one of the Best Restaurants Santa Cruz. It is consistently prepared, something for everyone, outside patios, and a fabulous easy going atmosphere. Date night spot. Wait staff is always ten stars warm and friendly. Excellent lunch spot as well. Start with the calamari, and ask for extra dipping sauce.

Jia Tella’s (Scott’s Valley) – BEST BEST Cambodian food around! It’s a drive, but worth it. If you are venturing from the peninsula over 17 towards Santa Cruz, you must stop for lunch, or dinner. Sweet, sour, salty, or bitter. This restaurant serves up organic gluten free, and tasty healthy good food options. The fried fish is my favorite, (a little sour kick), the barbecue boneless ribs a fabulous appetizer, the fresh spring rolls a go go go, and the shrimp or chicken bento boxes with brown rice make my heart so happy. Outdoor seating, totally laid back, and easy going GREAT food stop.

Hula’s Island Grill – Good Hawaiian Food. Good fun cocktails! Happy Beachy Tiki vibe. My kids love this place. Tuesday’s always offers Happy Hour all night, and they have a fabulous gluten free menu!

Oswald – Voted Best Restaurant Santa Cruz 2015. One of my “Besties.” Great date night restaurant. My food is always rocking good, yet have heard the consistency for my foodie friends – is not always on point.

 

Best Romance/Date Night

Au Midi (Aptos) – Best French inspired food in the Santa Cruz area. This would be a lovely date night place as well. Petite panache! Chef Muriel and partner Michel are an amazing team! The flavors and presentation are simply ambrosial, and fit for the gods. Do yourselves a favor and please try the Duck Magret, and French Apple Pie. On the pricier side…yet – WORTH EVERY BITE.

La Gioconda (Soquel) – Another lovely date night restaurant! Chef Luca makes MAGNIFICO Northern Italian food, at this newbie local hot spot! Used to be the home of the Old Main Street Garden and Cafe. Romantic ambience. The garden patio is delightful. Excellent service. 100% Organic, and most of the food comes from the restaurant garden.

Gabriella’s – Romance/Ambience a 10, wait staff a 10, food a 4.0 and inconsistent at our table for four. Appetizers a 10. Loved the beet salad with that pesto honey goodness in the center. Excellent wine list. Drink, gaze into your lover’s eyes, and you will not be upset by the food for one iota. Most romantic, and candles lit up at dinner, yet they serve lunch and brunch as well.

Chocolate – Great Chicken Mole and chocolate pots. Had dessert after dinner at Gabriella’s a block away. Outside on the patio is perfect! The ladyfingers are dry, stale, and not so good, but the chocolate is just creamy candy good. Kids love this place. Hot Chocolate out on the patio is a delight.

Shadowbrook (Capitola) – Since 1947, situated on Soquel Creek, boasts food with an “Old-World Charm and Grace.” American cuisine, live music, children’s menu, nothing UNREAL about the food, but LOVE LOVE LOVE the setting. Arrive by cable car, or meander through the garden.

Oswald – Voted Best Restaurant Santa Cruz 2015. One of my “Besties.” Perfect date night restaurant. My food is always rocking good, yet have heard the consistency for my foodie friends – is not always on point.

Laili Restaurant – The history is an epic romance of star crossed lovers, a blending of fine organic products, with traditional Afghan recipes, and artfully serving up food with a “Romantic Mediterranean Elegance.” Outdoor patio a must. Tiny place, and loud on the acoustics. Definite date place fabulous. Vegan and vegetarian options. Make a reservation.

Paradise Beach Grill (Capitola) – If you can get on the outside balcony with your date – it’s a win win. The 18th in the world for most romantic restaurant! Chicken, steak, pasta, fish. Live music on the weekends, and acoustic guitar on Tuesday evenings.

 

 

 

 

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Definition of Urban Backpacker:

1. Of, relating to, or located in a city.

2. Backpacker redefined: Artful reviews that lead you from hidden budget gems to five-star destinations helping you find palate pleasing adventure, enjoyment, and story collection.

3. Pack bag. Travel there. See city. Eat food. Respect culture. Take picture. Share story. Be thankful. Repeat.

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