Travel Blog

Top Spots for Dining with Live Music

All photos by Molly Ressler unless otherwise noted Photo by Eric Ressler

Sometimes we need a gentle reminder to slow down and enjoy the moment. Even at dinner—a meal that should be savored and drawn out over a glass (or two) of local wine—we often forget to simply settle in and relax for a spell. While wine certainly helps, the soothing strum of an acoustic guitar or the irresistible groove of an upright bass gives you the perfect excuse to linger over that last bite and stay for dessert. You can find dining with live music here in any season, but in the summer months, bands pop up across the county both inside our favorite restaurants and on outdoor patios across the county.    

Photo by Eric Ressler

Abbott Square: Music at the Market

Abbott Square has become downtown’s central hub with multiple food and drink vendors, a large outdoor seating area, and free live music most Fridays and Saturdays when the weather’s nice. Young professionals, retired couples, and families flock to the square on weekend evenings for a casual, choose-your-own-adventure dining experience with options to please every palette. Kids can play on faux grass lounge areas while parents sip creative cocktails, artisanal beer or regional wine from the Front & Cooper bar. The bands are always changing, so keep an eye on the calendar for a genre that will get your toes tappin’. On Fridays before 8pm, take a break from the bustling market and check out the latest exhibit at the adjacent Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History.

Chaminade Resort & Spa: Tunes with Tacos

With sweeping views of the Monterey Bay and surrounding forest, Chaminade’s outdoor patio is hard to beat. From the end of March through August, enjoy live music and an all-you-can-eat taco buffet every Tuesday while watching the sunset from your peaceful perch in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Earn your meal with a hike on 3+ miles of trails surrounding the resort or, if you’re not a Chaminade guest, gain access to the tennis courts, pool, fitness center, and other resort amenities by treating yourself to their spa services. (We recommend a massage and facial before dinner with a post-meal soak in the jacuzzi before bed.)   

Nicholson Vineyards: Music and Wine in the Vines

Sit back with a glass of Pinot Noir beneath strings of fairy lights, with rows of grape vines at your back and an orchard of olive trees catching the last rays of summer sun. Every Friday evening from the end of June through August, enjoy live music in this magical setting at Nicholson Vineyards, a small-scale winery nestled between rolling hills of apple orchards in South County’s Corralitos. The family-owned winery’s farm to bottle approach results in well-balanced wines that represent the microclimate of their small corner of the Santa Cruz Mountains.    

Also, don’t miss Bargetto Winery’s Thursday Night Music in the Courtyard from mid-July through September. Sit on their creekside patio with a glass of wine and enjoy a rotating lineup of artists throughout the summer.    

Photo by Alexis Carr

Soif: Oysters & Jazz

A wine bar and restaurant serving approachable gourmet cuisine inspired by local ingredients, Soif attracts foodies and wine lovers to its cozy-chic downtown location. On a weekday when many restaurants shut their doors, Soif serves fresh oysters to live jazz every Monday, giving locals a welcome respite from the start of the work week. Pair your salty seafood with a crisp, buttery, or dry white wine from this region’s terroir or across the globe, or try a cocktail with the locally distilled, award-winning gin from Venus Spirits.    

Shadowbrook: Live from the Rock Room


Shadowbrook is known for its romantic dining rooms tucked throughout a sprawling log cabin built as a summer home in the 1920s. Above the white tablecloths is the less formal Rock Room, serving bar food beneath a glass ceiling looking up into the lush terraced gardens above. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, nosh on smoked salmon and deep-fried Castroville artichokes to familiar melodies played on acoustic guitar. Fridays, Joe Ferrara, a staple of the local music scene and owner of Atlantis Fantasy World downtown, serenades diners with old standards, 60’s classics, and popular folk tunes. With a repertoire of 500+ songs, don’t hesitate to call out a special request in between songs.