Travel Blog

First Look: Jack O’Neill Restaurant & Lounge

Set steps from the rippling surf of Cowell Beach, the new Jack O’Neill Restaurant & Lounge serves up big waterfront views, fresh coastal cuisine, and heaps of local surf culture. Taking its name and inspiration from the late Jack O’Neill, the wetsuit pioneer and founder of Santa Cruz’s first surf shop, the signature restaurant inside the retro-chic Dream Inn received a stylish reboot that’s transformed it into an Insta-worthy destination along the shorefront. With a mix of modern style and respect for the past, the newly debuted eatery captures the essence of contemporary Santa Cruz, mixed with California’s iconic sport.

Surfside Setting

Bounded by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking bustling Cowell Beach, the Santa Cruz Wharf, and Monterey Bay, the restaurant immerses guests in Santa Cruz’s seaside splendor. Diners can watch beachgoers frolicking on the sand, surfers riding waves into shore, and the Boardwalk’s frenetic rides spin and twirl. Big, comfy banquettes lend room to spread out, and a private dining room offers an inspiring meeting spot for groups. Interiors sport glam-beach cottage vibes complemented with vintage photos of Jack O’Neill including an oversized print above the bar depicting the surf maverick cruising in his convertible Jaguar. Don’t miss Jack O’Neill Way, a short walkway just outside the entrance, and enlivened by a mural of vintage surf photos, and an historic landmark plaque noting the locale of O’Neill’s first surf shop.

California Coastal Fare

It’s not just the decor that takes its cues from the surrounding, sea-kissed landscape. The all-day restaurant showcase the region’s farms and producers with its contemporary take on California classics. In addition to faves such as Monterey Bay calamari, local seafood is also featured in current dishes such as the O’Neill Poke Bowl with fresh salmon and ahi marinated in an addictive orange-sesame-tamari glaze. With a nod to the famed vampire flick filmed steps away, The Lost Boys Bouillabaisse brims with crab claws, jumbo shrimp, mussels, and daily fresh fish. Plus, the kitchen adheres to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program which ensures menu options support healthy oceans. On the turf side, you’ll find dishes such as a sausage sampler with links from local gem Corralitos Market, and a decadent burger featuring Painted Hill Farms beef served alongside Gilroy garlic fries.

Cocktail Hour

Set under under a ceiling of sleek surfboards, an adjacent lounge provides a more relaxed setting with the same expansive views. A bar bites menu offers après-surf nibbles such as crispy, tangy wings and chicken flatbread studded with local artichokes, while the welcoming bar pours local brews, Santa Cruz Mountain wines, and vibrant cocktails such as the Sea Odyssey made with a local agave spirit from Venus Spirits. You can also toast Jack with his favorite drink, a namesake martini garnished with plump, blue cheese-stuffed olives. Swing by during a daily happy hour from 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., and enjoy 25% off all appetizers, well drinks, wines by the glass, and draft beers. Check the restaurant’s site for additional daily specials including Locals Tuesday, No Corkage Thursday, and O’Neill Sea Odyssey Wednesday when a portion of dinner proceeds is donated to O’Neill’s successful ocean education program for youth.

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