They say the way to a loved one’s heart is through their stomach, and after visiting a few restaurants on this list, you’re sure to see why! From dramatic coastal views to lush hidden havens, we’ve got you covered for wining and dining at some of the most romantic eateries in Santa Cruz County.
1750 Wharf Road, Capitola
Since 1947, Shadowbrook Restaurant has been revered for its romance in dining. A night out here always feels special, as you’re whisked away to a luscious paradise via red cable car, which descends a hillside garden of ferns and waterfalls before delivering you to the restaurant’s creekside location. It can be just as pleasing to stroll along the meandering garden path, with a stream that flows into a pond within the restaurant. Inside, you’ll discover unique features such as themed dining areas, aquariums, a massive stone hearth, and towering trees growing up through the ceiling. Pour over the menu as you relish in the whimsical ambiance: the traditional seafood and steakhouse staples are sure to delight, whatever you’re craving! An icon in the community, Shadowbrook is the perfect spot to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and special occasions. Conclude the festivities by hailing a complimentary ride back home with one of Shadowbrook’s vintage taxicabs!
3101 N Main Street, Soquel
Since its opening in 2016, HOME has captured the heart of the community, and for good reason: there is an ever-changing array of delectable dishes coming out of Chef Brad Briske’s kitchen that are sure to leave your mouth watering. While the menu evolves daily based on what is in-season locally, a recurring favorite that is sure to impress is the HOME-made squid ink spaghetti. Whether you’re dining in their wine cellar or under the twinkle lights of their patio, HOME creates a date night atmosphere that feels upscale without all the fuss. It’s this inviting ambience paired with their succulent, dynamic fare that will bring you back to HOME for many date nights to come!
538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz
La Posta has been bringing the soul of Italian cuisine into the Seabright neighborhood since 2006. Farm-fresh and locally sourced ingredients are the foundation of their housemade pasta, pizza and Italian and Mediterranean-influenced dishes. Their rave-worthy menu and extensive wine selection are sure to make any night feel like a special occasion. Order a few items and share with your partner – we highly recommend making one of those sharable items their oven baked pizze! For first timers, you are sure to feel like you’ve stumbled upon a local treasure!
7945 Soquel Drive, Aptos
Nestled above Aptos Creek, Persephone’s twinkling lights and cozy space create an atmosphere that is simultaneously energizing and intimate. Snuggle up to your date as you peruse their extensive wine list or ask for a pairing to go with your meal. Persephone’s inventive fine dining menu is stuffed with dishes that seamlessly blend Italian flavors with fresh, high-quality local ingredients. Persephone is the ideal place to linger over a few good glasses of wine as you dazzle your date with a romantic evening out!
VIM DINING + DESSERTS
2238 Mission Street, Santa Cruz
A hidden gem on the Westside, Vim Dining & Desserts welcomes you with bright, art-deco-inspired interiors and soft jazz tones that transcend time, while the menu’s ever-changing array of California cuisine keeps things fresh. Share an intimate drink at Vim’s luxurious bar before taking a seat: we recommend the patio, where twinkling lights, luscious greenery, and plenty of heat lamps provide a charming setting to cozy up with your date. The all-organic fare is meticulously curated by Chef Jesikah Stolaroff, and changes seasonally, so there’s always a new temptation to enthrall your taste buds. Trust us and get the dessert: you’ll fall head-over-heels for the Vim Chocolate Cake, which makes for a rich finale. Their sustainable, seasonal ingredients means each trip to Vim will be a new experience, and after trying it, you’ll want to come back for more!
VINOCRUZ WINEBAR + KITCHEN
4901 Soquel Drive, Soquel
Located in Soquel Village, Vinocruz Winebar + Kitchen focuses on the best of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Enjoy over 50 local wines by the glass, craft beer on tap, and yummy cider! Their award-winning cuisine is all made fresh in-house with an emphasis on quality. Savory burgers, cheese & charcuterie plates, bright salads and more are sure to please! Order a few of their fantastic menu items and pair it with your favorite wine for a romantic afternoon or evening.
LILLIAN’S ITALIAN KITCHEN
1148 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz
Pasta is a universal love language, and one that Lillian’s Italian Kitchen takes to heart: the family-owned restaurant dishes up traditional Sicilian recipes that have been passed down through generations. Located in the Seabright neighborhood, Lillian’s lively atmosphere feels welcoming and charming, and Lillian’s true love of Italian cuisine shines through in each bite. Take a peek at their impeccable wine list, where local vintners are featured alongside their Italian peers, and grab an appetizer rarely seen outside of Italy: arancini, deep-fried risotto balls, filled with cheese and served with a side of marinara. Delicious! Peruse the menu of crowd-pleasers, and you’ll quickly understand why this romantic spot keeps people coming back for more!
CAFE BITTERSWEET BISTRO
787 Rio Del Mar Boulevard, Suite C, Aptos
Recognized by locals as one of the top restaurants in Aptos and Santa Cruz County for 25 years, Bittersweet Bistro offers an American Bistro Cuisine style dinner menu with Mediterranean influences. Enjoy dinner inside or cozy up on their heated patio. Their award-winning dessert menu features items to share like the Chocolate Trio and Dessert Fantasy, plus favorites including Lemon Napoleon, Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse, Classic Crème Brûlée, cheesecakes, bread puddings, ice creams, and sorbets. Their creative cocktail menu features classics, plus some unique, and even romantic-themed, drinks like First Glance – a perfect cocktail made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Aperol, agave syrup, grapefruit & lemon juice topped off with sparkling wine – or Tropical Heat – made with jalapeno infused milagro silver tequila, fresh pineapple, jalapeño, lemon juice & simple syrup. Other flirty cocktail favorites include Your Hibs Do Lie, You’re Berry Naughty, and Pear Pleasure.
THE CROW’S NEST
2218 E Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
Situated at the entrance to the Santa Cruz Harbor, The Crow’s Nest is a beloved local institution – and for good reason! With sweeping views of the Bay, delicious drinks being served up from the bar, and a menu to drool over, The Crow’s Nest is sure to please. Watch the sailboats drift past as you indulge in a delectable meal with your special someone. Come around sunset to truly feel the romantic ambiance that the Crow’s Nest has to offer, then head upstairs to hear live music and dance the night away!
740 Front Street, #100, Santa Cruz
Owner Jean Pierre Luliano, from Calabria, has provided an authentic Italian dining experience in the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz since 2002. Using only the finest fresh, local, and organic ingredients, it is his passion to share the simple goodness that is Italian cooking with recipes straight from his homeland. The Café Mare staff is knowledgeable and happy to provide recommendations from their menu and from their extensive collection of fine Italian and California wines. Dine al fresco or opt for a cozy corner in their large dine-in space.
JACK O’NEILL RESTAURANT & LOUNGE
175 W Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
Overlooking the Santa Cruz Wharf and one of the most iconic surfing beaches on the California coast, the Jack O’Neill Restaurant & Lounge adds an air of flirty fun to romantic eateries. The retro-chic dining rooms, named for Santa Cruz wetsuit pioneer Jack O’Neill, offer visitors world-class views of the Monterey Bay underneath stunning light fixtures and a relaxed atmosphere. The menu features delicious California classics with produce sourced in-county. Their fresh caught seafood meets the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch sustainability standards. Grab a drink at the bar and enjoy intimate seating while the surfers catch the waves out the window.
8050 Soquel Drive, suite B, Aptos
Looking for a romantic spot to enjoy fine wine, craft beer, and tapas? Cantine Winepub offers an extensive selection of wine and beer sourced from right around the corner, throughout the west, and across the pond. They make wine approachable and fun – not pretentious or complicated. The same goes for their craft beer. Honest food prepared simply and with respect to the ingredients; wine that is nuanced and balanced; beer crafted using hand selected ingredients, specifically picked for distinct flavor characteristics in mind and brewed to be flavorful, quality beer. Cantine is a great spot for a relaxed date night or ramp it up for a fun evening out with friends!
1 Seascape Resort Drive, Aptos
Stunning views of Monterey Bay, the sound of rolling waves, and miles of sandy stretch are the framework for romance at Seascape Beach Resort in Aptos. Their on-site eatery features California coastal cuisines; delightful happy hours inspired by colorful cocktails and live music on the weekends. Sanderlings Restaurant is open daily from 6am to 10pm, so whether you’re just starting a romantic day or coupling up for diner, a spectacular view awaits!
910 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz
Housed in a romantic 1920s building on a quiet side street in downtown Santa Cruz, this impossibly charming café has grown a devoted following with its farm-to-table dishes and intimate dining room that feels plucked from the French countryside. Owner Paul Cocking spent many years as part of the downtown farmers market, and today his restaurant sources nearly all of its produce from local, organic farmers.
2621 41st Avenue, Soquel
This hidden gem is an oasis of great food and ambiance off bustling 41st Avenue in Soquel. Hidden behind towering green shrubbery, a quiet garden courtyard is set with tables warmed by an outdoor hearth. Inside, the intimate, low-ceiling dining room with open kitchen is a local favorite for date nights and special occasions. Since opening in 1995, the family-owned restaurant has become known for its warm, rustic fare including a signature garlic herb rotisserie chicken, grilled steak salad, seafood specials, and delicious wines and cocktails by the fire.
101 B Cooper Street, Santa Cruz
For centuries, the Silk Road has acted as a conduit of innovations, cultures, and exotic foods throughout all of its varying regions. Laili Restaurant offers a fine dining experience in the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz, providing the rich flavors of the Mediterranean, infused with a unique Afghan twist. The string lit, lush garden patio creates a romantic ambience that is sure to become a date night favorite!
Take the romance from the redwoods to sea with a picnic on the beach, overlooking West Cliff Drive or in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Check out where to find the best takeout in Santa Cruz County on our Tasty Takeout blog!