Photograph by Kathleen Olson
The Rush Inn
Recreation, libation and alimentation in Surf City
By Craig Gawlick, Darya Gilani, Steve Hahn and Brian Kennedy
99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
110 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.459.9999
No, it's not just a clever name. 99 Bottles has over 100 beers, with 40 on tap and a wide selection of wines. It is also a full restaurant with everything from pizza to sandwiches. Every Wednesday is Quiz Night until 10pm, when all tap beers go to happy hour prices. Thursday features happy hour all day and karaoke every Monday.
The Asti Café
715 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.423.7337
It takes years to craft the proper aesthetic to earn the title of being a "dive." There has to be at least one pool table, TVs in almost every corner, a killer jukebox and the obligatory video lottery. The Asti maintains its awesome dive bar status by staying true to its essential diveyness no matter how many college students pack the place every weekend.
The Blue Lagoon
923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.423.7117
One of the few remaining bars in Santa Cruz to see rock bands live onstage, the Blue Lagoon is a great place to catch the best local and touring bands of every rock subgenre still willing to be paid in beer. Every Wednesday and Friday night features live music and $1 Pabst. Each night has different specials and themes including goth, hip-hop and the ever-so-popular '80s dance party every Thursday.
The Poet & Patriot Irish Pub
320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; 831.426.8620
After an entire day running between class and work, nothing sounds better than taking a load off with a few games of darts and a pitcher of Guinness, which can be requested room temperature or cold. The Poet also hosts a local dart league for those who actually know how to keep score.
200 Locust St., Santa Cruz; 831.425.1913
For an unapologetically ritzy atmosphere, traipse upstairs to Red, where you'll find the most obscure cocktails imaginable. Students might even find themselves fighting for a table with a professor and end up discussing the inevitabilities of late capitalism while building up a hefty bar tab.
1003 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; 831.426.2994
Virtually any evening will find this downstairs joint packed with grad students, each toting a cigarette in one hand and a whiskey sour in the other. With red-tinted mood lighting and a jukebox stuck in the rock & roll universe of the '70s and '80s, there is always a sense at the Red Room of being transported to a trendy San Francisco club.
Rosie McCann's Irish Pub
1220 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.426.9930
Possibly Santa Cruz's most popular place to dance, Rosie McCann's Irish Pub has live DJs every Thursday-Saturday nights, and there's often a line to get in that trails down Pacific Avenue. The bar has 15 beers on tap and an extensive drink menu. During the day it serves amazing burgers along with its beloved Irish nachos.
113 Knight St., Santa Cruz; 831.425.9673
Right behind the clock tower at the northern tip of downtown stands a dive bar that was rediscovered a few years back by scenesters looking for a bar where they could park their fixed-gears without having to worry about being ripped off while they enjoyed a couple beers. Today, the Rush Inn remains the hippest dive bar to end up at after a rockin' house show at a local co-op on a Saturday night. The smoke-filled bar has a large pool table in the middle and some of the friendliest bartenders around. It's one of the few dives where students and regulars can coexist, and it somehow makes perfect sense.
Bonny Doon Beach
Highway 1 at Bonny Doon Road
This small and secluded clothing-optional beach is off the radar for most Santa Cruz visitors. Located along the base of a cliff about 11 miles up Highway 1, it's well protected from gusts of wind, and for that reason it is perfect for a naked lunch (or just a regular lunch). The only downside is the slightly difficult walk down the cliff. But once there you can actually hear the waves crashing on the shore and the birds calling to each other.
Cowell Beach/Main Beach
Beach Street, Santa Cruz
Tourists and families tend to flock to this beach in summer, and for good reason. Restaurants line the nearby wharf, and the games and rides at the adjacent Boardwalk go nicely with an afternoon dip in the Bay. This is also prime territory for learning to surf.
Lighthouse Point/Its Beach
West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
Taking in some local history can smooth over that nagging gut feeling known popularly as homesickness. The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, perched on the cliff, tells all about how Hawaiians introduced the sport to Santa Cruz in the late 19th century, while just below at Steamer Lane actual surfers demonstrate how far the sport has come in haoles' hands. On the other side of the museum is dog-friendly Its Beach.
Natural Bridges State Beach
West Cliff Drive at Swift Street, Santa Cruz
Named after an arched rock formation jutting offshore, this beach features stunning views of the coastline and its animal inhabitants. An adjoining park offers visitors close-up looks at local plants and flowers, and from October to February thousands of Monarch butterflies roost in the eucalyptus trees of Monarch Grove.
Highway 1 between mileposts 95 and 96
This long stretch of beach is perfect for romantic walks, sea life viewing and all types of beach sports. Located about 10 miles up Highway 1, it's accessible via a short hike across the railroad tracks and down a narrow trail. Once there, beach-goers are treated to stunning sandstone formations.
Seabright State Beach
East Cliff Drive at Seabright, Santa Cruz
The bonfire, a timeless tradition in beach towns, is banned at most Santa Cruz beaches, but Seabright, which runs from the San Lorenzo River to the harbor, allows the tradition to rage on in select stone-lined pits. State rangers heavily patrol the beach during peak hours, and no alcohol is allowed, but it's a fantastic beach for grilling up an early dinner and watching the sun set behind the licking flames of a bonfire.
931 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.460.1800
Technically a teahouse, this spot has everything you need to take a break from coffee but not go into caffeine withdrawal. Getting to know coffee's fair sister is made easier by the knowledgeable staff, so you can try out flavors like Elderflower Gold without having to worry you ordered some insanely strong strain of chai tea, because sometimes chai is just the thing to ruin your day. Come back at night for music.
Bad Ass Coffee
1207 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.460.1007
This Hawaii-based chain brings the famous coffee of Kona to Santa Cruz, creating a wild convergence of all things Pacific on, you guessed it, Pacific Avenue. Stop by to check out the crazy jungle motif, as well as the dependably strong, excellent coffee.
1101 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 831.426.1775
Ramshackle and cozy, Caffe Bene is situated on a corner close to the bustle of downtown, and what it lacks in size it makes up with inventory. The espresso beans are locally roasted and create delicious drinks, and the cafe has a fully stocked humidor.
418 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 831.426.1775
This big old Victorian house, converted into a funky and fashionable coffee joint, is home to many regulars. Plenty of study space is found throughout, with seating outside for those needing fresh air or a smoke. Coffee is served until midnight, and the live music keeps a varied, terminally hip crowd perpetually at the Perg.
1723 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 831.425.6583
Situated close to UCSC campus, this WiFi-ready Mission Street spot has become a word-of-mouth hit in the western Santa Cruz area. Offering an array of sandwiches, smoothies and bagels from the Bagelry, this intimate cafe is the perfect environment in which to study or talk with friends about the need to study.
519 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.423.5282 580A River St., Santa Cruz, 831.426.2128
Their Crème Brûlée Mochas are a divine gift from above, or from below, depending on whether you're dieting. This friendly and cozy coffeehouse not only specializes in local brews and local customers, it also has a wide selection of baked goods for those in need of sugar and sustenance.
1545 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.429.9804
The perfect place to watch Pink Umbrella Man make that slow, fateful turn back down Pacific Avenue. Situated at the north end of downtown, Lulu Carpenter's offers an enclosed courtyard and seating out front for people-watching or heated existential debates, plus plenty of room for studying.
Lulu's at the Octagon
118 Cooper St., Santa Cruz, 831.429.5858
A spring 2007 addition to the vast array of area coffeehouses, Lulu's at the Octagon is serious about its coffee. Brewing each cup individually after grinding the beans, baristas are well versed in their coffee, peddling a daily selection from various global locales. The free WiFi connection is heavily used by the clientele, as are the plentiful outlets for laptop plug-in.
Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company
1330 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.459.0100
Across the street from its corporate counterpart, Starbucks, SCCRC is just the place for a dependable cup of joe or a highly caffeinated cappuccino. Offering a wide array of sandwiches, pastries, pies and hot dishes, this establishment has a regular customer base of earthy locals and grad students sprawled out over the spacious layout.
1335 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.459.7681
Set back slightly from the bustle of Pacific Avenue in a little cottage, this franchise of the corporate beast doesn't look like every other Starbucks, but the frappuccinos are still cold and the easy listening CDs are there for sale, just as in every other Starbucks across the globe.
The Ugly Mug
4640 Soquel Dr., Soquel, 831.477.1341
A cluttered atmosphere and very friendly staff create a lively place to drink the organic brew and appreciate the local art exhibitions. Along with frequent live music and free WiFi, this spot prides itself on being an honest, local coffee joint with the singular aim of providing a place to chill out and get caffeinated, an agreeable little oxymoron.
Tampico Restaurant and Bar
822 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.458.2821 Appetizers daily until 1:30am; special late-night menu
Sliding into the biggest booth with hungry stomach and a thirst for cerveza, our group of eight promptly receives bowls of fresh chips and spicy salsa. Doris brings us pitchers of Dos Equis and a liter or two of strawberry margaritas. As usual we get the half order of nachos con todo (sin jalapeños), the tacos de pollo and carne asada. Every portion is plentiful and the prices reasonable. Whether you are rolling with a posse at midnight or just stopping by for a quick incognito lunch, Tampico will be there, ready and waiting.
Capitola Grill (formerly Lyons)
1900 41st Ave., Capitola, 831.462.1504 Open till midnight Sun-Thu, 24 hours Fri-Sat
OK, don't panic, you're hungry in Capitola, it's dark and all you can see is a plastic Starbucks and a Burger King. Make that quick left at Blockbuster and pull into Capitola Grill (formerly Lyons) for a three-course meal at a price as fair and modest as the décor. I like to tell the story of a time I went with my cousin, and we proceeded to enjoy complimentary bread and butter, an appetizer, a dinner salad and a pair of burgers for little more than $10 each.
The Crepe Place
1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.429.6994 Open till midnight Sun-Thu, till 1am Fri-Sat
The cozy atmosphere at the Crepe Place—coupled with its most excellent patio, a new outdoor stage, a full bar and food the way Santa Cruz hippies used to make it—means the Crepe Place is on everybody's short list for late-night noshing.
431 Front St., Santa Cruz, 831.426.8168
Grab a dish and break every kosher rule out there. Pork, chicken, beef, fish, roll it up, mix it with noodles and smother it in sweet 'n' sour sauce. Don't eat meat? The veggie rolls are filled with sweet potato and rice. There is also plenty of shrimp and raw fish for the pescatarians and a lavish dessert bar to top off the meal.
Pizza My Heart
1116B Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.426.2511 209 The Esplanade, Capitola, 831.457.5714 Open till midnight Sun-Thu, till 2am Fri-Sat
Dr. Nick Riviera once told Homer that his "window to weight gain" was the smear of grease that sopped through a piece of paper, making it transparent. This came to mind last night as I enjoyed a delicious, flexible, foldable, slice of pepperoni pizza at PMH. Ask for two paper plates if you are taking it home in the cab.
320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 831.429.8049
Because sometimes, you just really need a good bagel in your life. Since 1977, the Bagelry has been making bagels, and sandwiches out of bagels, off the beaten path in downtown Santa Cruz. Open early enough to get your fix before class or work, with a spacious location and a large menu of spreads (including vegan selections).
1410 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 831.429.1855
The bright colors of Café Brasil are a perfect match for the bold flavors at this Santa Cruz original. Spicing up traditional dishes with exotic Brazilian flair and serving up tantalizing originals such as the chicken-bread-cheese-egg concoction called Orfeu Negro, this establishment fits right in with the eclectic Santa Cruz vibe, which helps explains why it's a longtime local favorite.
2227 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 831.457.2760 1403 Ocean St., Santa Cruz, 831.423.9470
With both locations open 24 hours, Ferrell's handily meets the need for donuts and coffee at 3am. The fluorescent ambience and super-uncomfortable seating make this the right place to come to your senses and realize that the 12-page paper on Madame Bovary isn't going to write itself, but Ferrell's will provide the unstable but delicious fuel to carry you through.
504 Bay Ave., Capitola, 831.462.1200
Not technically a breakfast eatery, this bakery is well worth bugging someone for a ride to Capitola for a sampling of the maddeningly delicious croissants, Danish and cookies. Gayle's also has amazing coffee.
Santa Cruz Diner
909 Ocean St., Santa Cruz, 831.426.7151
When the Sunday morning hangover calls for a pile of hefty pancakes served with ice cream scoop-size mounds of whipped butter, this is your place. With plenty of crazy crap on the walls to distract you from the just-off-the-freeway clientele, this is the perfect meal to have right before an early afternoon nap.
145 Laurel St., Santa Cruz, 831.429.8505
For the vegetarian late riser, Sunday brunch is served until 4pm and offers plenty of time to sample the varied and interesting ways classic dishes can be made a little healthier. Vegan options are also plentiful, as are a friendly atmosphere and helpful wait staff.
Walnut Avenue Café
106 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.457.2307
The need for really good eggs arises more than occasionally, and Walnut Avenue Café whips up some pretty darn good eggs. Free coffee while you wait entices many a patron to pass the time, sometimes a sizeable length of it, until a table comes open.
819 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 831.427.0646
A breakfast institution in Santa Cruz for more than two decades, Zachary's demands that you try and get there before 8:30am on weekends, or you'll be waiting for quite some time. Delicious sourdough pancakes and eggs made exactly to order are just a two of the reasons the sidewalk outside of Zachary's looks like a block party every weekend morning.
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