When it’s time to gather friends and family around a meal, few are going to argue with pizza. The reliable crowd-pleaser suits practically every occasion, from a quick, on-the-go bite to a sit-down feast with antipastas and vino. Thanks to the influence of early Italian immigrants and local farms teeming with fresh produce, Santa Cruz County is home to some exceptional pies. Whether you’re going gourmet or simply grab-and-go, here’s where to find the best pizza in town.
Enjoy your pizza with a song and a dance at this lively spot in downtown Santa Cruz. On Friday and Saturday nights, Kianti’s staff lay down the serving trays, and break out into a raucous, flash mob-style performance with music, dancing, and dazzling pizza spinning. The thrilling shows are just part of the fun at this family-friendly spot. Creative pizzas such as the K-House with pepperoni, zukes, jalapenos, toasted almonds, and feta are complemented with family style pastas and the restaurant’s popular spicy breadsticks! Find weekday happy hour specials at the full bar, and al fresco dining on the light-strung patio warmed by an outdoor fireplace.
Beach Street Pizza
After a day at the beach, head to Beach Street Pizza for a hot slice and cold beer. Set across the street from Main Beach’s sandy shores—and a stone’s throw from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk—the family-owned eatery serves up classic and specialty pizzas made with house-made dough in a fiery brick oven. Other crowd pleasers include two-fisted burgers and wings in a variety of glazes. There’s also a menu of tropical drinks, ten taps featuring local brews such as the popular Uncle Dave’s IPA, and food and drink discounts during a weekday happy hour from 4-7 p.m. Enjoy your spread in the airy, modern dining room with a bouncy soundtrack and multiple flatscreens showing the game, or on a shaded patio overlooking the bustling scene along palm tree-lined Beach Street.
Housed in a romantic 1920s building on a quiet side street in downtown Santa Cruz, this impossibly charming cafe has gained a loyal following with its farm-to-table dishes and intimate dining room that feels plucked from the French countryside. Owner Paul Cocking spent many years as part of the downtown farmers market, and today his restaurant sources nearly all of its produce from local, organic farmers. At lunch, get the special combo that pairs a fresh green salad, cup of soup, and small pizza such as a Margherita featuring Live Earth Farms tomatoes.
Situated in Santa Cruz’s Seabright neighborhood, this cozy eatery—the sister restaurant to downtown’s Soif—has become a locals’ fave with its utterly delicious rustic Italian fare. Alongside dishes such as paprika agnolotti with smoked eggplant, sungold emulsion, basil, and parmigiano, you’ll find a small lineup of gourmet pizzas. Before helming the kitchen at La Posta, chef Dante Cecchini was named a rising star by the San Francisco Chronicle, and worked at a number of trendy SF eateries including pizza hotspot, Fiorella. Here, he’s cranking out speciality combos such as prosciutto di parma with fontina, mission figs, sage, and walnuts. Don’t miss the killer deal each Tuesday which offers a glass of wine and your choice of pizza or pasta for $20.
Crow’s Nest Beach Market
How did the 50-year old Crow’s Nest recently improve upon itself? By opening an adjacent, waterfront cafe and gift shop with quick, delicious bites for throngs of beachgoers and sailing enthusiasts. The Market’s signature items are personal-size pizzas made in a wood-fire brick oven. Pies are made with organic dough and a variety of topping combinations such as a classic pepperoni or a Tuscan with prosciutto, caramelized onion, basil and truffled pecorino cheese. Walk your boxed pizza to nearby Harbor Beach, or enjoy on a sunny deck perched directly over the Santa Cruz Harbor.
With a charming Italian-fluent staff, Calabrian-born Jean Pierre Iuliano imports the traditional dishes and warm hospitality of his homeland to Santa Cruz at this hidden downtown gem. And, with a chef from Naples—the birthplace of pizza—you can expect some excellent pies. Using local organic produce, the kitchen fires up thin-crust pizzas such as the Capricciosa with artichoke hearts, black olives, and Italian ham, and the Ai Frutti di Mare with heaps of clams, mussels, and wild prawns. Don’t leave without a sip of the restaurant’s traditional digestif, a delicious homemade limoncello liquor.
And of course, no list would be complete without mentioning two Santa Cruz pizza pie staples – Pleasure Pizza and Pizza My Heart. Pleasure Pizza was established in 1975 just a few blocks from the beach and waves of, you guessed it, Pleasure Point. Pizza My Heart was opened in 1981 in its original location on Capitola Beach. With their pizza roots firmly set in the Santa Cruz sand, Pleasure Pizza and Pizza My Heart are forever favorites for many locals and visitors.