It may be the end of September and officially Fall, but this is when the Bay Area gets its last wind of summer! It’s also the perfect time to spend the day at Santa Cruz, now that the main tourist season is over. I don’t make it out as often as I want to Santa Cruz, but when I do – it’s just amazing. It really feels like you took a trip out of town, but it still has that eclectic Bay Area vibe about it. Here’s some of my favorite spots in town and be sure to check out the vlog below for peeks inside some of these places!
This is primarily a food blog after all! I feel like since I first started to go to Santa Cruz back in college, there have been a bunch of more food options popping up. Back then, we would grab burritos before going down Highway 17 and then post up at the beach with a picnic. Now, there’s a bunch of options in Downtown Santa Cruz and right near the beaches!
I’ve wanted to go to Cat and Cloud Coffee ever since I got into coffee (so probably about 4 years ago). I’ve seen various shops in the Bay and Fresno use it, so I know they had good quality beans. Though this isn’t their original location (it’s in a different neighborhood that’s super close to the beach and such an adorable shop!), it’s just as cute and located in Abbott Square Market in Downtown Santa Cruz. This is in collaboration with Companion Bakery, so you could grab an iced latte (like I did) and quick bites before heading to the beach! I’m making it a point to go to the neighborhood their shop is in next time because I want the full experience – especially now that I know that the coffee is so smooth and perked me up before a day of relaxing haha.
Though I had coffee to fuel up on, I wanted to make sure I had a proper meal. There are several other vendors in the Square that are also great lunch options, but I was really feeling pizza. It seems like the quintessential beach town option – grab a slice and then head over to the ocean! We kept it simple and ordered the La Bufala: tomato sauce, Bufala mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, and basil. The dough was rolled so nice and thin, I couldn’t believe it. I did have to fold it over to make sure it didn’t fall apart, but it was so good. My sister and I inhaled this whole pie so quick!
I will admit – I haven’t been to Milk and Wood in Santa Cruz – but I’ve been to the original location in the SoFA market in downtown San Jose. Milk and Wood came to the Bay before Popbar decided to make its way up here – and I would much rather support a local business! All of the gelato is hand crafted daily, with different flavors in rotation. There’s a big glass case displaying all of the gelato bars – with flavors like Thai Tea and Taro – so you can decide which one to get while waiting in line! Once you select your flavor, then they’ll add different sauces and toppings like nuts. I got the Mint Oreo flavor, drizzled with dark chocolate, caramel, chocolate chips, and nuts. The gelato tastes like a nice combination of mint and cookies and cream, with Oreo pieces dispersed in.
The Picnic Basket is the perfect place to stop because it’s literally across the street from the Boardwalk (if you decide to go there, that is). There a bunch of small bites, salads, and sandwiches to dig into while still looking out onto the beach and ocean. The ingredients are locally sourced and occasionally made from scratch, like the House Fruit Soda, made with seasonal homemade fruit syrups from local farms. I ordered the Chicken Salad, which is made from locally raised chicken, avocado, greens, and pickled onions. It was a great sandwich that had the right amount of crunch and acidity. I also had the Little Green Salad, which has salad greens with Picnic vinaigrette and toasted seeds. Their menu seems to have expanded much more since I’ve been there, which means they’re always switching it up!
If you’re active on Instagram, then you’ve seen The Penny Ice Creamery with its famous marshmallow fluff ice cream cone. That is what enticed me to come stop by, though I still haven’t had that one! Both times I’ve come, I just want to have something cold, and torched marshmallows sounds like the opposite of that haha. Though the line may be out the door, it moves pretty fast and there are a few spots to sit inside. Each day has a different set of flavors and they seem to change some of them up seasonally along with their staples. They not only source and feature local ingredients, but it’s the only ice cream shop in Santa Cruz that makes everything completely in house from scratch! I sampled one of their current flavors – the Rose Petal Pistachio – which tasted a lot like Pakistani Kulfi. In the end, I got Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt, which sounds like it would be really rich and heavy, but it was balanced perfectly. This better be on your list when you come down to Santa Cruz!
Honestly, I likely wouldn’t have chosen this place if I hadn’t been in town with friends. My friend pulled up right to the wharf to take some photos and since we were hungry, we decided to walk around and find a spot. Dolphin Restaurant serves your usual seafood menu like chowders, garlic fries, oysters, and more. If you’re gonna get clam chowder then you gotta get it in a sourdough bowl! A great, classic meal that you can enjoy while looking at the beautiful ocean views.
SHOPPING AND MORE
I generally go to Santa Cruz for the beach, so shopping isn’t too high on my list. Downtown Santa Cruz is generally where it’s at with a variety of shopping options with the more commercial/mainstream options like Urban Outfitters to local mom and pop shops. With the creation of Abbott Square Market, there’s now a Museum of Art and History to explore! I didn’t end up going inside since the plan was to spend the day at the beach, but it looks like an interesting spot to check out. I did check out a few shops (see below), but one that I didn’t end up walking into (though it was around the corner) was Botanic and Luxe – a really hipster plant and gift shop! I’m a sucker for those.
Inevitably, I will always end up in a bookstore during any trip – probably because my city’s Borders and Barnes & Noble have both closed down! It’s always fun to go into independent bookshops just to see what types of books they have to offer and the general friendly vibe of it all. I always feel comfortable and at home in a bookstore. Bookshop Santa Cruz has been open for over 50 years and they also have book events like signings!
Walking into this candy shop, I had no idea it has multiple locations nationwide! It does look a little bit like a random touristy store, but they have a lot of fun novelty treats like gigantic boxes of Sour Patch Kids and other speciality candies. There are also fun collectibles like Pusheen toys! I really liked the whimsy of this store.
SANTA CRUZ BEACH BOARDWALK
Personally, I don’t really like going to the Boardwalk. It’s hard to find parking relatively close and then the actual beach is super crowded. It’s pretty much a tourist spot so I would rather avoid. I did go here two years ago with my co-workers That being said, the views from here are stunning and the boardwalk does have fun rides.
Literally a mile or two away is Seabright Beach – which is just as stunning but much more chill. I considered not posting about it because I want to keep it a secret, but I feel like I should spread the wealth, you know? It’s a little easier to find parking and the beach is more calm and clean. It was so nice just laying out in the sun, listening to music, and relaxing.
Be sure to check out my vlog about Santa Cruz to see the awesome day I had!