It is nearly impossible to pick 5 of the best breakfasts to be found in Santa Cruz, but you will not go wrong with these stellar starters!
Jack O’Neill Restaurant & Lounge
There are few better places to begin your day than the iconic beach locale where Jack O’Neill opened the world’s first surf shop, and the breakfast offerings at the Jack O’Neill restaurant, the beautifully renovated location in The Dream Inn will not disappoint.
Enjoy an unparalleled view of the Boardwalk and the coast’s longest wharf as you sip your morning coffee. Or watch the misty marine layer gently lift and the surfers line up below as you kickstart the day with a spicy Tito’s Bloody Mary.
Beginning at 7 am, the weekday breakfast and weekend brunch menus include such classics as omelettes, French toast and Huevos Rancheros. Two kinds of Eggs Benedicts are on offer—the creamy classic featuring a local smoked pork loin, and our new favorite with Dungeness crab. Gluten-free and veggie options are available, too.
It’s California coastal fare at its finest.
Jack O’Neill Restaurant and Lounge
175 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
They open for breakfast and brunch at 7am.
Walnut Avenue Cafe
Less than half a block from the busy shoppers on Pacific Avenue in Downtown Santa Cruz, The Walnut Avenue Cafe is the place to go when you want to connect with friends and enjoy a meal that’ll start the day off in the best possible way.
People-watching is definitely part of the attraction, but with plenty of counter seats and tables that spill out onto the street, the cafe is always hopping year round.
Sunset Magazine deemed it to be Santa Cruz’s best breakfast, and The Walnut Avenue Cafe is widely considered to be among the city’s best in a fast-growing cohort, and Brunch is their specialty.
Scrambles, omelettes and griddle fare compete for your attention with cafe favorites such as Eggs Benedicts, Florentines, Huevos Rancheros and Mexicanos. It’s impossible to decide—just go often and make sure you try them all.
From one of the widest selection of omelettes in the city to pancakes and waffles slathered in bananas and walnuts (almost expected, really), The Walnut Avenue Cafe is almost an institution. Far enough from the main drag to allow for pause, but close enough that the Santa Cruz energy will brighten your mood.
Kids will love the menu designed just for them, and dogs “with well-behaved owners” are welcome on the patio, with a menu of offerings all their own.
The Walnut Avenue Cafe
106 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
The cafe opens at 7am.
Whale City Bakery Bar & Grill
It doesn’t matter if you’re heading north or south on Highway 1, Whale City Bakery Bar and & Grill is far more than a road trip pit stop. Perched on the cliffs above Davenport Beach along one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world, it’s a destination in itself.
You can sit inside their charming cottage that transports you back in time, exposed rafters reminiscent of the agricultural history of the area, or outside, with an endless view over the Pacific and enjoy something simple—sweet or savory—from the bakery with a cup of steaming coffee from local Alta organic coffee. But lucky for us, the folks at Whale City take their breakfasts very seriously.
Served from 6:30 to noon, and with a great variety to choose from—including a short stack of simple, fluffy pancakes and Challah French toast with whipped cream and fresh berries—there is something for everyone.
In fact, it’s hard to decide. There’s homemade granola and a Power Breakfast of eggs and sautéed veggies for the fitness crowd, and the nine omelettes with lots of yummy extras and four different Eggs Benedicts are all served with crispy, melt-in-your-mouth home fries.
It’s a perfect spot to watch gray whale calves in the spring, and Humpbacks breeching through the fall season, but we guarantee you’ll be back for the food.
Whale City Bakery Bar & Grill
490 CA-1, Davenport, CA 95017
They open at 6:30 am
Zelda’s On The Beach
Appropriately named, Zelda’s on the Beach is, quite literally, on the beach.
For over 40 years people have been flocking to Zelda’s for a great morning meal, with its bright and breezy surf-shack vibe, and then simply moving over a few feet to enjoy a little sand between the toes. It’s the ultimate beach-vacation favorite
Weekend brunch runs through 2pm for late risers, and features spicy Scrambles—Bacon and Cheese, Spinach and Mushroom, Chorizo and Tomato, and Turkey and Avocado—and they offer 2 kinds of Eggs Bennies: classic and California.
Weekday breakfasts include burritos, pancakes and chilaquiles: three eggs any way you like, with black beans, cheeses, chips and salsa. Get there early if you want to sample their golden cinnamon-sprinkled French toast—they are known to sell out.
Pro Tip: Capitola Village is a crowd favorite destination. Parking in the village will be more available the earlier you arrive. Luckily Zelda’s coffee bar opens at 7am.
Zelda’s On The Beach
203 Esplanade, Capitola, CA 95010
Open at 6:30 am
Few places in Sant Cruz are as beloved by the locals as Zachary’s Restaurant. Opened in 1985, and with a sourdough starter reputed to date from the Gold Rush, Zachary’s is the definition of old school.
It’s a great first stop if you want to rub elbows with surfers, students, and families. Be sure to do some browsing and shopping on Pacific.
Besides the line, the great food, and the friendly atmosphere, Zachary’s is anchored in Santa Cruz history. Founders Jim and Cathy had just moved to their Pacific Avenue location when the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake struck and flattened most of the downtown—many of their neighbors that formed the core of the downtown are gone. But they still come in most every day, and their employees tend to stay for years. They will volunteer that they feel like family, and that’s exactly how you feel when you’re tucking into a great breakfast. It’s delicious, healthy food that makes you feel at home.
The breakfast menu is deceptively simple and sweet—everything is prepared individually to order. The brunch menu is where they pull out all the stops: it includes Mike’s Mess, a jam-packed scramble with a veggie variation, chili and eggs, artichoke frittata, corned beef hash and eggs, and a spicy Italian scramble. Kids have their own special menu, at very reasonable prices.
When in Santa Cruz, be sure to give Zachary’s a try. You never know who you’ll meet: a famous surfer or an astrophysicist.
819 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
They open at 7am.