All Photos by Garrick Ramirez
With 300 days of sunshine, it’s no wonder outdoor patios abound in the Santa Cruz area. From beachfront decks to secret garden patios, the following open-air spots allow you and your four-legged dining companions to soak up plenty of scenery and summer sun.
The Crow’s Nest
As if the enviable setting on Harbor Beach wasn’t enough, The Crow’s Nest sports three outdoor patios with stirring views of sailboats gliding in and out of the harbor. Choose from two patios within the main restaurant, or enjoy a quick pizza or sandwich on the adjacent Beach Market deck perched directly over the water.
Paradise Beach Grille
The tropical vibes at this Capitola eatery extend onto a sunny patio overlooking Soquel Creek and Capitola Beach. Order the Lava Flow Prawns and a Mai Tai, and even locals will feel like they’re on vacation.
Relaxed vibes, killer sand dabs, and a terrific happy hour make Cafe Rio’s secluded patio across from Rio del Mar State Beach a sought-after spot on sunny afternoons.
Zelda’s on the Beach
With a sprawling patio plunked directly on the sands of Capitola Beach, Zelda’s isn’t fooling when they say “on the beach.” Show up Thursday evenings after 4:30pm and score a whole Maine lobster for $15.95.
The Picnic Basket
This cozy lunch and breakfast spot dishes up wholesome eats and seasonal scoops from The Penny Ice Creamery just steps from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. A sidewalk patio on palm tree-lined Beach Street offers front-row views of bustling Main Beach and the Santa Cruz Wharf.
This new marketplace and plaza is transforming a quiet corner of downtown into a teeming community hub. Six restaurants, two bars, and a 10,000 square foot plaza set with dining tables gathers a lively crowd for food, drink, and programming from the adjacent Museum of Art & History which helped spur the project.
This stylish eatery features an airy dining room that opens up onto a see-and-be-seen patio in the heart of downtown. A new cocktail menu means you can linger over the contemporary American menu a little longer.
99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
Don’t let the name fool you: 99 Bottles has even more choices than its sing-songy name suggests. Nab a seat on the sidewalk patio and sample a pint alongside pub faves like burgers with oh-so-good waffle fries.
Kianti’s Pizza & Pasta Bar
Customize your pizza or pasta dish from a huge assortment of fresh ingredients, and enjoy it on a large patio with great downtown people-watching. Just be sure to duck inside the dining room Friday and Saturday evenings when staff perform a dance number that would make the waiters from “The Polar Express” jealous.
Walnut Avenue Cafe
Arrive early for big plates of creative brunch items—Blackened Ahi Benedict for you, Hickory Smoked Bacon for your pup—and a coveted spot on the cheery front patio.
Hula’s Island Grill
This atmospheric spot offers a taste of the tropics in Downtown Santa Cruz with tiki drinks and pupus best enjoyed on a sleek outdoor “parklet.”
ON THE RIVER
This wondrous Capitola restaurant is cherished for its many dining rooms with features such as a massive stone hearth and indoor trees. Yet don’t overlook the second story patio nestled amidst the redwoods and overlooking peaceful Soquel Creek.
Pono Hawaiian Grill
Throw a shaka to owner Bruddah Timmy and soak up the aloha with BBQ “plate lunches” and fresh poke bowls in a backyard garden that feels plucked from the islands.
Secluded from busy downtown streets, Laili’s lush garden patio of fig trees and ivy-covered walls is a romantic setting for richly flavorful Mediterranean dishes such as an apricot chicken flatbread and braised lamb shank served with kabuli rice.
Cafe Cruz Rotisserie + Bar
This local fave serves rustic Cal-Italian dishes in a striking courtyard set with comfy dining tables, beautiful planters, and a large stone fireplace.
Okay, it’s not exactly a secret, but a large outdoor space dotted with trees and bistro tables is the perfect spot to linger over coffee and a pastry from this beloved confectioner.
The big, sunny patio at Seabright Brewery seamlessly transitions beach goers from nearby Seabright State Beach to frosty, post-beach brews such as a Pelican Pale or Blur IPA. Pair them with brewpub standards including hot wings and fish and chips.
The clouds parted and the sun shone down when Carpo’s opened a satellite food stand in Beer Thirty’s sunny beer garden to bestow grateful beer lovers with baskets of spot-on comfort foods.
Chaminade Resort & Spa
We’re still not sure how such dramatic, hilltop vistas are possible just 10 minutes from the beach, but we’re not complaining. Choose between the casual menu and fire-pit equipped outdoor tables at Linwood’s Bar & Grill or the Vegas-worthy buffet served each Sunday on the terrace at Sunset Restaurant.
Sanderlings at Seascape Beach Resort
Want our advice for this all-day restaurant with a blufftop patio overlooking the majestic Monterey Bay? Come for brunch, and stay for the sunset!