By Garrick Ramirez
Like the Westside and Pleasure Point, Midtown is one of Santa Cruz’s many distinct, charming neighborhoods. Follow Soquel Avenue across the San Lorenzo River from Downtown and discover a bustling, walkable corridor of boutiques, eateries and some of the city’s most beloved mainstays.
Wikipedia will tell you that Midtown spans a large swath of town between the San Lorenzo River and Pleasure Point, but the heart of Midtown lies on a five block stretch of Soquel Avenue between Branciforte and Seabright Avenues. It’s here that you’ll find a cluster of intriguing storefronts to stroll. Holding down the west end of the strip is The Buttery, a cozy cafe and bakery whose hearty, homemade breakfasts and display case brimming with fresh pastries has drawn a line since 1984. Its big sunny, garden patio is just one of many to enjoy in Midtown.
Other great spots to grab coffee and a bite include Midtown Cafe, a handsome newcomer with a hidden patio and arguably the best kale salad in town, as well as Lulu’s Midtown, a popular java hub that’s a regular at local farmer's markets.
Come lunch, check out Charlie Hong Kong, a beloved lunch and dinner spot that welcomes all with organic Asian-inspired noodle and rice dishes. Vegan? Check. Gluten-free? Check. Pet and kid-friendly? Yep, bring the whole family. Order at the counter and enjoy your Spicy Dan’s Peanut Delight and Ginger Lemonade in a sheltered courtyard.
To fully revel in the outdoors, head to Solaire Restaurant + Bar at one of Santa Cruz’s premier design destinations, The Hotel Paradox. An expansive pool deck sports cabanas and tables to enjoy sunny dishes like a chicken katsu sandwich and exceptional ahi poke. Inside, a stylish dining room brings the outdoors in with a ceiling photo-mural of a tree-lined sky and squirrel figurines “scampering” along the walls. Craving something more traditional? Nearby Hindquarter Bar & Grille does what they’ve been doing best for some 40 years: killer steaks, prime rib and burgers.
When it’s time to walk off your meal with some window shopping, check out local company Synergy’s outlet filled with smart casual wear made from organic cotton. Arteak displays beautiful South East Asia furnishings and home decor made from reclaimed teak and other tropical hardwoods. A few doors down, you’ll delight in Childish, a modern toy shop where locals head before baby showers and birthday parties. And don’t miss Shopper’s Corner whose massive selection of local wines is an oenophile’s dream!
At night, crowds gather at Lillian’s Italian Kitchen, a popular neighborhood spot for big bowls of pasta like Braised Short Rib Ragu and their famous “Sunday Gravy” bolognese. A block away, festive diners clink glasses of sake at Akira, a fun boisterous spot for creative sushi rolls and Japanese small plates.
You might also be able to catch some live music while you’re in the neighborhood. The Crepe Place is a venerable Midtown institution with a small front room stage, lively bar with a notable selection of spirits, and a lush, eclectic garden strung with lights. Across the way, you can’t miss the bright neon signage of the Rio Theatre. Opened in 1949 as a local cinema house, the ocean liner inspired venue now hosts live performances from big time artists such as Yo La Tengo and Patti Smith.