Travel Blog

Dine Al Fresco: Top 20 Patios in Santa Cruz County

With 300 days of sunshine, it’s no wonder outdoor patios abound in the Santa Cruz area – and at a time like this, outdoor dining is key! From beachfront decks to secret garden patios, the following open-air spots allow you to soak up plenty of scenery and summer sun.

BEACHFRONT BLISS

Ideal Bar & Grill
Ideally located with views of the beach and Municipal Wharf, Ideal Bar & Grill offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Opt for the patio and have a front row seat to the Monterey Bay as you enjoy their generously portioned California cuisine, delicious seafood, specialty cocktails, and more.

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. And big bonus on space, with the changes that 2020 has brought, The Crow’s Nest has expanded their outdoor options even further – ON THE SAND! That’s right, enjoy the same great tastes of The Crow’s Nest menu with your toes in the sand and with eye level views of the boats passing through the harbor.

Cafe Rio
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.

Santa Cruz Wharf Restaurants
Sitting over the Monterey Bay with the ocean breeze and views all around, the Santa Cruz Wharf restaurants have expanded their outdoor patio dining to safely serve their patrons. Classics like Stagnaro Bros., Firefish Grill, Rivas, Woodies on the Wharf, and Dolphin Restaurant are all offering ocean view patio dining, plus newcomer, Makai.

The Sand Bar & Grill
Located in the Capitola Village, The Sand Bar & Grill is a classic locale for great food, delicious cocktails (don’t miss their world famous Bloody Mary), and unforgettable village views.

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.”

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 Main Beach and the Santa Cruz Wharf.

Las Palmas Taco Bar
Just a short walk to all the action of the Santa Cruz Wharf, Beach Boardwalk, and gorgeous Monterey Bay, Las Palmas has been serving Santa Cruz since 1975. Authentic Mexican food in the heart of all the Santa Cruz beach attractions.

DOWNTOWN BUZZ

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.”

Abbott Square
This artsy marketplace and plaza is transforming a quiet corner of downtown into a hip community hub. Several restaurants, two bars, and a 10,000 square foot plaza set with dining tables give this space variety of options in a family-friendly atmosphere.

Snap Taco
Snap Taco, a “new school taco joint,” brings flavors from around the globe to Downtown Santa Cruz. You can’t miss the bright design and patio right on Pacific Avenue, and when the time is right again, the fun continues as you head in with more pops of color and unexpected features like an indoor cabana and a VW Bug – yes, in the building.

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.

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.

SECRET GARDENS

ShadowbrookCurrently closed, but hopefully to open soon!
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.

Laili
Secluded from the bustle of downtown, 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
This local fave serves rustic Cal-Italian dishes in a striking courtyard set with comfy dining tables, beautiful planters, and a large stone fireplace.

The Buttery
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.

Photo by @katrina__marie_

Ristorante Casa Nostra
It doesn’t get any dreamier than enjoying some fine Italian food and wine under the redwoods and twinkle lights at Casa Nostra in Ben Lomond.

Empire Grille
Located in the heart of Felton, Empire Grille has a great outdoor space for al fresco dining. And being just a half a mile from Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, it’s the perfect choice for some pre or post-hike fuel.

BEER GARDENS

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
This organic brewery offers delicious bites with their cold brews on the cheerful, sunny Westside of Santa Cruz. Their patio is dog-friendly and you’ll enjoy the great service and tasty bites and brews, just as much as you will love the superb puppy watching.

Lupulo Craft Beer House
Located in Downtown Santa Cruz, Lupulo has a constantly rotating selection of 16 small-production beers on tap and over 100 bottles priced to go or to enjoy with something from their seasonal menu on their outdoor patio.

Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen
Although not a beer garden, Venus Spirits deserves a place on our list! Recently opened on the Westside, enjoy creative craft cocktails alongside fresh, locally sourced and seasonal eats.

Seabright Social
The big, sunny patio at Seabright Social (formally 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.

PANORAMIC VIEWS

The View at 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. Enjoy The View in every sense of the phrase – the excellent food and service, the fire-pit equipped outdoor tables, and of course, the hilltop Monterey Bay vistas.

The Hollins House
Situated over the Pasatiempo Golf Course, The Hollins House features beautiful, sweeping views of the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz. Enjoy their California inspired cuisine that is meticulously prepared and created with ingredients grown in their nearby garden and with fresh goods from the abundant local farmers markets.

Sanderlings at Seascape Beach Resort
Want our advice for this all-day restaurant with a bluff top patio overlooking the majestic Monterey Bay? Come for brunch, and stay for the sunset!

For even more safe outdoor dining options in Santa Cruz County – and wine tasting too – be sure to check our website!

Please note, that not all patio photos included above are representative of current social distancing precautions. Santa Cruz County restaurants are following safety protocol with social distancing, table spacing, masks, and more. Take the Safety Pledge with local businesses to protect others and yourself: wear a mask and social distance.

Last Updated August 2020

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