10 Best Lunch Spots in Santa Cruz

Let’s be honest: finding somewhere to eat when the hanger has already set in is hopeless. But we’re here to help. When you’re tired from a full morning of exploring, it’s time to consult our lunch list.

The ten best places to score a delicious lunch are within an easy walk of our cozy Santa Cruz vacation rentals. Food in Santa Cruz doesn’t mess around, and you don’t want to waste one of your vacation meals on a poorly crafted sandwich.

So, let’s explore Santa Cruz and discover the best lunch and brunch spots—spots you’ll never find in guidebooks—that are perfect for every occasion, taste, and preference!

1. Laili Restaurant

Photo Credit: Neil Karunatilaka
  • 101 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, CA
  • lailirestaurant.com
  • $$
  • Unique Afghan-influenced cuisine
  • Favorite menu item: Apricot Chicken Flatbread

Transport yourself along the ancient Silk Road as you take in the atmosphere, the aromas, the perfection. Laili elevates Mediterranean cuisine by incorporating an Afghan twist, resulting in dishes you simply can’t get anywhere else.

With a massive marble open kitchen and a romantic ambiance, this place isn’t just for that special date night—although it’s great for that, too. Lunch here is spectacular, with options from salads to kebabs to wraps and flavors that will have you wanting to try the whole menu.

There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options and a heated outdoor patio, so it’s no wonder Laili ranks among the best restaurants in Santa Cruz.

We think the best lunch item is the apricot chicken flatbread with Medjool dates, mint, and pomegranate. It’s the perfect sweet and savory medley. If you’re feeling extra hungry, the Koubideh Beef Kebab with jalapeno-walnut-apricot-yogurt chutney and a side of their steamy saffron rice.

2. West End Tap and Kitchen

Photo Credit: nito
  • 334 Ingalls St d, Santa Cruz, CA
  • westendtap.com
  • $$
  • Gastropub with exceptional cuisine
  • Favorite menu item: Calamari, Duck Fat Popcorn

Few things pair better than craft beer and a perfectly cooked flatbread. The gastropub you’ve always been searching for, West End Tap and Kitchen, has over 18 tap selections, local wines, and weekly specials like Wing Mondays and Neighborhood Nights.

West End Tap is not your average pub food. Every dish is made in a California-fresh way and elevated to the next level. It’s a place where you’ll feel a part of the local neighborhood and a great place to grab a bite and a beer on their patio on one of those beaming California days.

3. Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe

Photo Credit: roman tohtohunov
  • 542 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
  • $
  • seabreezecafe.com
  • Local cash-only favorite for casual dining
  • Favorite menu item: Cinnamon Roll & Daily Specials
  • No reservations

Do yourself a favor and start your day off right at Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe in Seabright. Relaxed, fast, and satisfying. This is where you come for that diner-style, no-frills, homemade meals that we all crave.

If one word described Linda’s, it would be special. Linda loves a special. With menu specials like Orange Poppy Seed pancakes, omelets, fresh grilled fish, and eggs, it’s hard to pick a favorite dish. One that will always have you coming back for more is their cinnamon roll—that is if you still have room!

4. Walnut Avenue Cafe

Photo Credit: JeniFoto
  • Address: 106 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
  • walnutavenuecafe.com
  • $$
  • Brunch-style “lunch”
  • Favorite menu item: French Toast with bananas and walnuts

Nestle into a scrumptious brunch or lunch in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz at this tucked-away local secret, the Walnut Avenue Cafe. With a cozy and warm atmosphere, outdoor seating, a full espresso bar, and an extensive brunch menu, it has something for everyone in your group. It is unpretentious, with no gimmicks, just really well-made American fare for a reasonable price.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with their French Toast with bananas and walnuts. If a savory breakfast is more of your thing, the eggs benedict are tried and true.

Voted ‘Best Breakfast’ in the Santa Cruz area by Sunset Magazine, this is the place to stop for scrambles, sandwiches, vegetarian options, and all you need to get your day going.

If brunch-style lunch stops are your thing, consider heading to Cafe Brasil on Mission Street or Harbor Cafe on 7th Avenue for more delicious options.

5. Pizza My Heart

Photo Credit: Shy DaMan
  • 1116 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA (multiple locations)
  • pizzamyheart.com
  • $
  • Family-run Pizzeria
  • Favorite menu item: By the Slice

As the saying goes, there’s only one way to my heart, and that’s pizza. Drop into the Bay Area (not San Francisco) family-run joint, Pizza My Heart, for a slice (or whole pie) of heaven made in that traditional New York style you just can’t get on the west side of the country.

With locations from Capitola to Seacliff, Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, and Aptos, Pizza My Heart is the answer to your pizza needs, no matter where you are in the area. The quirky surf decor and memorabilia, including old surfboards and a giant shark hanging from the ceiling, are right on brand down here. Great for families and groups, everyone speaks the universal language of good pizza for a cheap price.

6. The Hideout

Photo Credit: Elena Veselova
  • 9051 Soquel Dr, Aptos, CA
  • thehideoutaptos.com
  • $$
  • Californian cuisine in a cozy cottage setting
  • Favorite menu item: Roasted brussel sprouts

Very few lunch spots will make you feel like you’re sharing a meal in a friend’s backyard. The Hideout on Soquel Drive in Aptos is a trendy, tucked-away, and cozy restaurant serving California cuisine and cocktails.

Since the rebuild after a fire eight years ago, the Hideout is back and better than ever. Hosting a full bar with TVs, a full outdoor patio, and a dining room. You’ll feel right at home here with perfectly delicious meals and superb service. The Hideout may be the best-kept secret in Santa Cruz. Try their crispy and savory Roasted brussel sprouts or their Ahi Poke with a side of truffle fries for an unforgettable lunch.

7. The Picnic Basket

Photo Credit: Elena Veselova
  • 125 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA
  • thepicnicbasketsc.com
  • $$
  • Counter service casual
  • Favorite menu item: Breakfast Burrito

If you find yourself on the boardwalk in downtown Santa Cruz and that mid-afternoon hunger creeps in, The Picnic Basket has got all your quick lunch needs, including gluten-free and vegetarian options. Light food that won’t leave you sluggish for the rest of the day. The Picnic Basket has everything from breakfast burritos and Reubens to market fresh salads, all with a seaside Palm-lined view to pair.

Open at 7am, seven days a week, it’s the perfect place to grab and go when you don’t want to fuss with reservations, menus, or servers.

8. San Marcos Charquito Tacos y Tortas

Photo Credit: Lauren Leigh

It would be a disservice not to mention a single Mexican place for lunch in a region so renowned for its cuisine. It’s hard to go wrong at San Marcos Charquito Tacos & Tortas. Fresh-made tortillas, affordable tacos, nachos, and Tortas.

Al Pastor is the crowd favorite here at this fun and vibrant cantina-style taco joint. Be sure to enjoy your Al pastor tacos on the colorful patio, and consider indulging in a Modelo with lime while you’re at it.

9. Zoccoli’s Delicatessen

Photo Credit: hlphoto
  • 1534 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
  • zoccolis.com
  • $
  • Local favorite, casual Italian deli
  • Favorite menu item: Muffaletta

Ask any local on the street for a good deli, and they will invariably send you here: Zoccoli’s. Family-owned, it has been serving deli-cut meats and sandwiches to the people of Santa Cruz since 1948.

Like any good delicatessen, the options are numerous. Row upon row of deli meats, olive varieties, wines, oils, and bread. As much a small market as it is a lunch spot, the best place to enjoy that classic Muffuleta is out front on the patio, and for a moment, you’ll be seemingly transported to a small Italian village.

10. The Crow’s Nest

Photo Credit: JJava Designs

The crow’s nest is for those looking to have a dining experience rather than a quick bite. But don’t worry they don’t go full fine dining on you. Here, you can enjoy casual American fare in the main restaurant or upstairs in the Breakwater Bar and Grill for appetizers and cocktails.

This place has been a community staple for more than 50 years, and its menu offerings are all delicious. You can’t go wrong with the ahi sandwich.

Stay With Us (and Stay Weird) in Santa Cruz!

While this list was a quick round-up of our absolute favorite lunch spots only, there are plenty of other restaurants in town to choose from. Whether you’re a fan of Thai, Japanese, ice cream parlors, al-fresco dining, noodle houses, scrumptious soups, or trays of takeout – Santa Cruz is brimming with options sure to satisfy your cravings.

The north end of Monterey Bay is known for its foodie-friendly scene and as the perfect vacation option for those looking to stay outside of San Jose.

Our stunning vacation rentals offer the most luxurious and conveniently located getaway in the city. You’ll be on cloud nine as you walk downtown straight from your room, or choose a property a little further afield but with panoramic ocean views.