Shopping Santa Cruz

Shopping in Santa Cruz is exactly what you might expect.
From hip boutique clothing stores to quirky thrift shops, the stores in Santa Cruz are full of character and charm. Pacific Avenue in Downtown Santa Cruz is the heart of the local shopping scene, but it isn't the only place to find those one of a kind stores worth making a trip from out of town to visit.
The Capitola Village is a favorite of tourists, partially for its beach and restaurants, but also for the shopping. The Swift Street Courtyard over on the Westside is a relatively new hot spot for shopping, dining and wine tasting. Pleasure Point is also full of one of a kind local stores ranging from surf shops to boutiques to second hand stores.

The Downtown Santa Cruz Guide to Shopping, Dining & Nightlife

Downtown Santa Cruz

Trying to list every single cool thing to do, place to visit, or sight to see in downtown Santa Cruz would be nearly impossible.
But that’s no reason not to try.

What follows is a list of the highlights, featuring some of the best events, restaurants, shops, and more. While this list is by no means exhaustive, these places and things are a great starting point for any trip downtown. From there, just let your feet be your guide, and discover your own downtown Santa Cruz favorites.


Sockshop Santa Cruz

Stripe/Stripe Men

Stripe and Stripe Men, both on Walnut Avenue with a falafel shop squeezed in between them, caters to both the young trend-setters and stylish professionals of Santa Cruz. Upscale brands, whimsical knick knacks, and artful displays make it a go-to on any day spent shopping downtown.

Moon Zoom

This vintage shop is filled to the brim with costume fodder and serious retro styles alike, and is the perfect place to find something unexpected yet fabulous.


A high-end consignment store, Crossroads is anything but the tacky bargain bin often evoked by the phrase “second-hand.”  The store’s buyers are super picky, making for a sparing yet tasteful collection of designer deals.

Bookshop Santa Cruz

Need a book?  Bookshop Santa Cruz probably has that book, especially if it’s by a local author, and they might even have it on sale.  This bookstore is truly an institution, and the helpful staff and wide selection will likely help keep it that way for a long time.


Logo’s is a great place to sell or buy books and records, and though their inventory isn’t as vast as Bookshop or Streetlight, a lot of rare finds appear on their shelves.

Streetlight Records

Streetlight’s stacks and stacks of vinyl is only rivaled by their rows and rows of CDs.  A must-visit for any music lover of nearly any genre.


Culinarily-inclined, beware: don’t visit Chefworks if you aren’t planning to go home with a purchase.  The store’s wide array of functional and artful kitchen supplies make it difficult not to buy something.

Palace Art and Office Supply

Palace is a solid store for award-winning painters and novice artists alike, and has anything you could need for kids’ craft projects and office supplies.

Pacific Trading Co.

This feminine boutique has clothes for the office or the weekend, and is frequented by women of all ages.

Sock Shop/Legs

The Sock Shop is serious about, well, socks.  Silly, plain, thick, thin, long, short, you name it — socks is their business, and they’re good at their business.  Its sister store, Legs, is the place to go for tights, stockings, leggings, and lingerie.

New Leaf Market

Organic, fresh, local — you can hear this mantra being hummed up and down Pacific Avenue, and New Leaf Market may be its place of origin.  This is supermarket takes it up a notch with plenty of healthy and alternative options.  There’s also a deli and hot food section open around the clock.


What’s better than the classic outing of dinner and a movie?  Downtown Santa Cruz has four movie theaters, two of which are locally owned and operated.  The Del Mar offers an authentic old-timey feel, while the Nickelodeon is an art house cinema.  Together, they get a variety of different movie options for people of all kinds to enjoy.

The Regal on Pacific Avenue features nine theaters, and can be counted on to have the latest box office blockbusters and crowd-pleasers.  The Riverfront Regal is a twin (meaning it has two theaters), and has a small, independent feel despite its chain status.


Betty's Burgers, Downtown Santa Cruz

Betty’s Eat Inn

Maybe you want a burger.  Maybe you want a steak dinner.  Or maybe you just want one of their wildly popular alcoholic milkshakes.  No matter what, you’re well off at Betty’s Eat Inn, which takes the classic, juicy, scrumptious burgers made popular by their other locations, and adds a full menu, including many sandwiches, salads, and yes, drinks.

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

This charming pub has the best beer selection in downtown Santa Cruz, and also boasts a family-friendly menu and atmosphere.  Great for grabbing a pint with a buddy, or dinner with your family.

Cafe Gratitude

Vegan, healthy, and it tastes good too.  That’s all you need to know about this restaurant, which has quickly become a Santa Cruz favorite.

El Palomar

This Mexican restaurant is actually three restaurants — a traditional restaurant, a cantina, and a taco bar.  Between the fresh seafood and the margaritas, you couldn’t go wrong with any of them.

Little Shanghai

A local favorite, Little Shanghai is a family-run and family-friendly Chinese restaurant that serves classic dishes, but also puts in an effort to make give its menu some variety.  Try the Kung Pao chicken or tofu.


This low-key, no-BS hamburger joint doesn’t give you fifty different options for your burger, but it doesn’t need to.  The juicy patty, tantalizing sauce, and crunchy, thick-cut pickles make for a crowd pleaser.  The friendly employees, who tend to remember names of frequent customers, make the place feel like home.

Pacific Thai

Get the green curry.  Or maybe the drunkard noodles.  Then again, the pad thai is really good too…

Pono Hawaiian Grille

Pono is one of the only places in Santa Cruz to find poke, a classic Hawaiian seafood dish, as well as many other Island favorites.  The atmosphere is nice but laid-back, the portions are generous, and the music is live and authentic.


If your family is craving Italian food, come to Kianti’s for dinner and a show.  Diners can customize their orders of pizza and pasta, there’s a lovely outdoor dining area on Pacific, and twice a night every weekend, the servers do a choreographed dance.  It’s a fun experience for people of all ages.

Cafe Campesinos

If you want really, really good Mexican food in downtown Santa Cruz, you have to sit outside.  Cafe Campesino’s is not a restaurant so much as it is a kiosk on Pacific Ave, but don’t pre-judge based on that, because this place is as far from the greasy street food stereotype as possible.  “Campesino” means “farmer” in Spanish, and using fresh, organic ingredients, the cafe’s three employees create dishes worthy of the title.  Be sure to try the Frida Kahlo tortilla soup, or the chipotle-loaded Tinga Plate.


If your kids are picky eaters, don’t tell them Saturn is a vegetarian diner.  Just take them, and if the spaceship decor and customized tables don’t win them over, the tasty burgers, fries, and shakes will.  Chances are they won’t notice the difference — and you probably won’t either.


There are a lot of sushi restaurants to choose from in downtown Santa Cruz, but Shogun remains many people’s first choice.  From the miso soup to the deep-fried green tea ice cream, and all the fresh seafood in between, Shogun produces a wonderful meal every time.

Walnut Avenue Cafe

Located just past the gorgeous Victorians on Walnut Ave, this eponymous cafe is only open for breakfast and lunch — and that holy union of the two, brunch.  The boysenberry pancakes are simply scrumptious, as are the huevos rancheros.  Be warned, this place can become a zoo on weekends, but manage to score an outdoor table on a nice day, and you’ve got it made.

Woodstock’s Pizza

Another great family spot, Woodtstock’s has combinations you couldn’t get anywhere else, like the Surf City, with pesto, shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and feta cheese. It also has salad, sandwiches, wings, and heavenly dessert pizzas. Good for delivery or dine-in.

Zoccoli’s Delicatessen

Owned and run by the same family since 1948, Zoccoli’s Deli serves as both a charming Italian market and the provider of the best sandwiches in the county.  With plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, there’s something for everyone.  If you can’t find a sandwich you like at Zoccoli’s, you probably don’t like sandwiches.


Another popular brunch spot, Zachary’s is known for Mike’s Mess, which is basically a combination of everything but the kitchen sink, breakfast food-wise.  Other high notes include the corned beef hash and the oatmeal molasses bread they bake themselves.  They also have solid burgers and veggie burgers.

Gabriella Cafe

A romantic little hole in the wall, Cafe Gabriella offers an intimate atmosphere and top-notch gourmet food, like the homemade pasta or the seared local halibut.

You Scream, We Scream

Penny Ice Creamery

Downtown Santa Cruz features so many excellent ice cream options that a separate section seemed necessary.

The Penny Ice Creamery makes all their ice cream with local and unusual flavors, like mascarpone kumquat and fresh fennel, but it also has good old-fashioned chocolate, and Vice President Joe Biden even gave them a shout-out one time.

Mission Hill, located on Pacific, also has plenty of fresh options, and the affogato (espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream) cannot be missed.

Finally, Marianne’s on Ocean Street offers more flavors than the other two combined, and has been a Santa Cruz institution for years. Take a number when you get there, and prepare to wait a while to order — but it’s worth it.

The Caffeine Fix

 The Verve, Downtown Santa Cruz

Downtown Santa Cruz also has an abundance of cafes.

Try Verve for a hip atmosphere and coffee that has won national awards; Cafe Delmarette for mind-blowing sausage and cheese scones; Caffe Pergolesi’s for gorgeous outdoor seating; and Santa Cruz Coffee Roasters for cold, caffeinated treats.


Hulas Santa Cruz

515 Kitchen and Cocktails

The 515 is the hottest place in Santa Cruz for cocktails.  Come here for both innovative infusions and forgotten cocktails from eras past.  The cucumber mojitos is a favorite, but if you’re an old school drink enthusiast, try the Jack Rose.  515 tens to get crowded and noisy on the weekend, but come during the week for a more relaxed vibe.

Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room

Come here for Island classics like the Blue Hawaiian, or creative cocktails like a blood orange martini.  Or go all-out and order one of their finger bowl drinks to share, like the Volcano Bowl, which features too many ingredients to list here.

The Poet and the Patriot

This quintessential Irish Pub only serves beer, making it the ideal relaxed hangout for locals.  Order a frothy Guinness or a local selection from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, play some darts, listen to a live band perform, or attend weekly Sunday Trivia Night, the best trivia in town.


The restaurant and bar inside the recently-opened Hotel Paradox on Ocean Street is a little out of the way from most downtown nightlife, but it’s worth the journey across the bridge to enjoy some cocktails pool-side.  Happy hour features five-dollar snacks, beer, and wine.


This quiet little wine bar is a great place to pick up a bottle for a dinner party, or to taste wine alongside its small plates menu.  The staff is knowledgeable and helpful, and the selection is wide enough to please most oenophiles.

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When Hippies Make Ice Cream: The Tasty Tale of the Penny Ice Creamery

Penny Ice Creamery SignDelicious. Quirky. Wholesome. And oh so organic.

That is what you get when you combine the earthy wisdom of Santa Cruz culture with a best loved dessert favorite at The Penny Ice Creamery.

And did I mention that the owners Kendra Baker and Zachary Davis were invited to represent their business at the White House? But first, let me discuss the important stuff:

The amazing ice cream.

The Penny Ice Creamery, a local business in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, serves up homemade specialty ice cream daily. Come sample flavors from the exotic balsamic fig or cayenne dried apricot to the more classic Chocolate Raspberry or Tahitian Vanilla Bean. Their daily menu features a variety of flavors for both the adventurous and modest palette.

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