Santa Cruz feels like a second home to me. Even though I’m a Bay Area native, my family has spent a lot of time in the area over the past few years and frequent trips to visit my boyfriend at UC Santa Cruz have helped me get a sense of the local food scene. 

Much like Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz has a relaxed vibe that translates into the food it has to offer. 

For Breakfast and Coffee: 

If you’re in the Capitola area, you must try handmade cannolis from the one and only S.C. Bread Boy. Easily recognizable by his signature white Vespa that he parks at various locations around Santa Cruz, Lance sells cannolis and focaccia nearly every weekend right next to the water. Follow his Instagram to see what flavors he is selling and where to find him! Be sure to get there early — he sells out quickly!

Stephanie Gerson / Daily Nexus

For coffee beverages, pastries and avocado toast, Cat and Cloud is also a great option. Also located in the Capitola area, this neighborhood coffee shop offers one of the best chai lattes I’ve had and delicious, freshly baked scones.

For Lunch: 

While the majority of these featured eateries are located in the heart of Santa Cruz, prepare to spend some time driving if you plan on visiting the Humble Sea Brewing Co. in Felton. Felton is a charming town located on State Route 9, just twenty minutes north of Santa Cruz. Humble Sea Brewing Co. is a new establishment in Santa Cruz County and offers brunch, lunch and dinner. While their Fried Chicken Sandwich is nothing spectacular, I recommend trying the Mushroom Melt which is served with a lovely dipping broth. I’m dairy-free, but this sandwich is totally worth taking a Lactaid pill. Humble Sea is known for their brewery, but they also have great mocktails. 

Stephanie Gerson / Daily Nexus

For a more casual option near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, visit The Picnic Basket for lunch. I’m a huge fan of their Beet Sandwich, which is a more mature take on a PB&J. In between the bread are thick slices of beets, spinach, coarse-ground almond butter and chickpeas. 

For Dinner: 

Süda is the perfect place for a date night. While the restaurant is along a busy road in Capitola, its outside courtyard is cozy and intimate. I recommend their Ahi Poke Bowl. Sure, ordering a poke bowl is boring, but I am not exaggerating when I say that this poke is worth the full $17. The ingredients are so fresh and the thin slices of daikon radish and spicy aioli truly elevate the bowl. I’m dying to try the Squid Ink Pasta during my next visit. 

Stephanie Gerson / Daily Nexus

For a more laid-back dinner downtown, go to Cafe Gratitude. Cafe Gratitude is an entirely vegan restaurant that uses seasonal and local ingredients. If you’re a fan of hearty grain bowls and a veggie-lover, you’ll love Cafe Gratitude. I really enjoy their Pan Seared Polenta. 

For Dessert: 

This list would not be complete without a dessert recommendation! If you didn’t stock up on cannolis from the S.C. Bread Boy that morning, don’t fret! The Penny Ice Creamery is open until 11 p.m. to satisfy all your ice cream cravings. For my lactose-intolerant folks, I love their chocolate sorbet with toasted marshmallow topping. The marshmallow topping is an optional add-on, but in my book, it’s totally necessary.

Stephanie Gerson / Daily Nexus

Santa Cruz might look like any other beach town, but its eateries are unique and place an emphasis on local ingredients and distinctive flavors. Now that you’re equipped with my master list of Santa Cruz food recommendations, it’s time for a road trip up the California coast!

A version of this article appeared on page 12 of the March 31, 2022 edition of the Daily Nexus. 

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Stephanie Gerson
Stephanie Gerson is a second-year student studying Art History at UCSB. She is from Palo Alto, California and she is passionate about sustainability, fashion, photography and vegan cooking.