Family Dining on a Budget

family dining on a budget

Are you one of the many folks in the Santa Cruz area who is raising one or more kids?  If you’re anything like me, you probably accumulated a lot of debt with holiday shopping and travel! I thought it would be a great time to do some research and share a few tips on where to dine out for less money.

Please, please, please – if you know of any that aren’t on this list, share them in the “comments” section at the end of this article.

Dinner Specials at Local Restaurants

El Toro Bravo

Free dinner item Tues nights: for every adult menu item purchased, receive one item free from the kids’ menu.

123 Monterey Ave., Capitola Village – 480-7544


Free dinner item Mon-Thurs nights: Through March 2, 2015, for every adult menu item purchased, receive one item free from the kids’ menu. This is not valid during holidays.

21 Seascape Village, Aptos – 662-9000


Kids eat free Tuesday and Saturday nights from 4-10 p.m. Get one kids’ entrée with each purchase of an adult entrée.

1515 Ocean St., Santa Cruz – 426-4628

Additional Deals

The next two aren’t typical meals — one is even ice cream — but they are deals nevertheless

Canton Restaurant

From 3-6 p.m. daily and ALL DAY on Wednesdays, there is a “food happy hour” (and yes, there is also a typical “drinks happy hour” at the same time). Several special $3 items include chicken salad, pot stickers, egg rolls, cream cheese won tons, and edamame. $4 items include grilled beef satay. While it’s not a traditional dinner, you can put a few dishes together for an alternative, fun meal for kids and/or adults.

900 41st Ave., Capitola– 475-8751

The Penny Ice Creamery

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. is “Penny hour” (ice cream happy hour) at all Penny locations: get a double scoop for the price of a single ($3.75). One of my friends gets four doubles to go, with lids, and saves in her freezer and divvies it up among her family for the next few days using small portions. She has more willpower than me!

913 Cedar St., Santa Cruz
1520 Pacific St. K2 (kiosk), Santa Cruz
820 41st Ave., Capitola
204-2523 (one phone number for all locations)

The last one isn’t a traditional kids’ special, but it’s worth mentioning.


While there is no specific evening when kids eat free, a representative of Chili’s in Capitola urges families to sign up for their email club. This way, they will receive discounts & specials via email with promotions such as a free kids’ meal, a free appetizer, or a free dessert. You can sign up online or at the restaurant itself, while dining. If you sign up while dining, you use a “Ziosk” (table video pad).

Immediately after joining the club, you will receive an email redeemable – on your next visit – for free chips with choice of queso, salsa, or guacamole (with purchase of adult entrée).

1855 41st Ave. Suite E1 (Capitola Mall), Capitola – 462-1813

About Tara Fatemi Walker

Tara Fatemi Walker first fell in love with Santa Cruz as a UCSC student long ago. She returned in 2004 and is grateful to live in such a wonderful community. She loves to write about food, restaurants, and culinary events; see more of her writing at