Nestled around Santa Cruz County are a variety of seaside towns to visit: filled with delicious eateries, handcrafted drinks, and spectacular scenery, each of these places embodies the unique flare of the community that calls that neighborhood home. Winding down the curvy road into the heart of Rio del Mar, the rolling hills give way to sweeping beachside views. Walking along the esplanade, options range from grab-and-go fare for picnicking at the beach to sun-soaked patio dining and elevated coastal gastronomic experiences. Just minutes from Aptos, head to Rio del Mar to explore culinary delights while soaking in the beachside bliss!
Venus Pie Trap
113 Esplanade, Aptos
This quirky pie shop just steps from the shore serves up pies of all kinds! Based on the idea brought forth by owner Sean Venus that pie should be enjoyed all day long, you can snag a sweet slice to eat as you sip your morning cuppa. 11th Hour Coffee pours the brews at Venus Pie Trap, which has proudly partnered with them and several other local favorites to serve up tasty treats like bagels from Laundromat and buttery pastries from Companion. Don’t let all the delectable options deter you from the afternoon creations served here, though, because the pizza pies are a must-try! Dishing up New-Haven-style pizza, Venus Pie Trap brings a taste of New England to the California Coast. This thin-crust descendent of a Neopolitan pizza highlights the unique flavors of its tangy tomato sauce and inventive toppings, such as clam & garlic and sausage & leek. On weekends, you can indulge in your pie of choice, along with handcrafted cocktails and more at Pie Trap on the Patio. Try a little of everything for the full flavor profile of all that’s on offer at Venus Pie Trap!
Pixie Deli & Good Eats
111 Venetian Road, Aptos
A true laid-back beach classic is Pixie Deli & Good Eats, which has been an establishment just off Rio del Mar’s Esplanade since the mid-1960s. Whether you’re in the mood to grab some grub to-go and walk it down to the shoreline, or to slow down and relax on their spacious outdoor patio, Pixie Deli is where you’ll find the good eats. Search the market for local goods, like Marianne’s Ice Cream, Verve Coffee Roasters, and Discretion Brewing before grabbing a meal. The deli has plenty of options to choose from, including all-day breakfast, hearty sandwiches stuffed with meats smoked on their on-site rotisserie, and beers on tap. Pixie Deli’s casual feel and delicious foods make this an easy choice for a relaxed beach day bite!
131 Esplanade, Aptos
Stepping onto the sunny, palm-lined patio at Venus Spirits Cocktails + Kitchen: Beachside feels like walking straight into a tropical vacation! Whether you relax on the string-lit terrace or head into the sumptuous, cerulean-toned dining room with a wall of windows overlooking the shore, the atmosphere is sure to please. The first order of business is trying one of VSCK’s delicious cocktails, all handcrafted using their own spirits from the only distillery in Santa Cruz County. A must-have is the Frozen Paloma Libre, which blends the tartness of grapefruit with the saccharine taste of agave to create a true taste escape! If gin is more to your taste, order the Beach Don’t Kill My Vibe, which is a delectable mingling of Venus Gin no. 1, strawberry, lemon, and basil. Pour over the menu, which jazzes up their seafood with a southern twist that is sure to please any palate! Have a coastal classic like beer-battered fish & chips, or try something more inventive, like the Thai chili calamari. Be sure to try the lobster roll – it’s a must! Reservations are recommended for this beachfront destination. With its laid-back atmosphere, creative cocktails, and inventive coastal fare, VSCK Beachside will have you coming back for more!
Rio del Mar & Seacliff State Beaches
201 State Park Drive, Aptos
After your culinary adventure, you can take a stroll along the esplanade with expansive views of Monterey Bay! In this part of the county, each beach blends with the next, seemingly one long stretch of shoreline reaching from Capitola all the way to Rio del Mar. The Esplanade marks the spot where the sister beaches of Rio del Mar and Seacliff meet. From this point, head onto the sand south of the Esplanade to lounge in the sun at Rio del Mar Beach, catch a wave, or enjoy a beach bonfire in one of the State-Parks-provided fire pits. Alternatively, meander along the mile-long promenade to Seacliff Beach, where you can catch sight of the historic Cement Ship. Take the stairs at Seacliff Beach to explore the sister village to Rio del Mar, Seacliff Village, before dipping your toes in the sand once more on your way back to the seaside views of Rio del Mar’s Esplanade.
Extend your Rio Del Mar experience and stay just 100 steps from the beach at Rio Sands Hotel. Enjoy the comfortable accommodations, year-round heated pool, continental breakfast, and more at this hidden gem in the heart of Rio Del Mar.
With its crave-worthy culinary options, sun-soaked patios, and crafty cocktails, the charming coastal village of Rio del Mar is not to be missed!
Header image by Ben Ingram; all other images by Caryn Hewlett