10 Best Italian Restaurants in Santa Cruz

With Napa only a stone’s throw from Santa Cruz, it’s no surprise that the beachside city boasts an array of celebrated restaurants. Specifically, Italian. Nothing pairs better than pasta and wine, after all. Expect seafood-heavy Italian favorites, fresh churned ice cream or gelato, thin-crust pizza, and all the other delicious food you associate with classic Italian cuisine. To be perfectly honest, there may be too many options in downtown Santa Cruz. Lucky for you, this list will help guide your appetite to the perfect ristorante.

So if the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, and the mood strikes you for a romantic date night or out with friends, be sure to check out these Italian seaside favorites while staying in one of our conveniently located beachfront cottages.

1. Lillian’s Italian Kitchen

Photo Credit: Stephen Chen
  • Address: 1148 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: ‘Sunday Gravy’ Spaghetti 
  • Price Point: $$

Let’s start with the popular favorite. Ask any Santa Cruz local where to go for Italian, and Lillian’s in midtown is where they will send you. This is Italian comfort food at its finest. It’s how a Sicilian grandma would cook for her family – big portions, freshly made pasta, and a diverse wine list to pair. 

You’ll dine in an unpretentious room surrounded by black-and-white photos of Italian families. The local favorite here is the ‘Sunday Gravy’, essentially a side of meat sauce to go with your…well, meat sauce. If you saved any room for dessert, no Italian dinner is complete without a slice of house-made Tiramisu. They offer gluten-free options, takeout, and delivery. 

2. Kiantis Pizza & Pasta

  • Address: 1100 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: Spicy Pasta
  • Price Point: $$

Who says that Italian food has to be for date nights or big family gatherings? This is one of the best pizzas in town, and it comes with a show. Friday and Saturday nights, they host “performances.” imagine choreographed dances and dueling pizza dough tossing; it can be quite a circus and an especially fun place for families (or are a kid at heart). 

They offer outdoor seating on their patio with heaters as well as brunch with mimosas and a breakfast pizza that everyone raves about. The portions are bi, and the atmosphere is electric, so bring an appetite and an open mind! 

3. Cafe Mare

Photo Credit: Rômulo Santos
  • Address: 740 Front St STE 100, Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: Spaghetti Mistomare
  • Price Point: $$

White tablecloths, candlelight, carpaccio, calamari, and cannolis. Celebrate or indulge in a date night where Italian cuisine meets the sea. Cafe Mare is an authentic Italian dining experience. There are no pizza dough dances here; you’ll find the atmosphere intimate yet relaxed. If singing and pizza tossing aren’t the vibe you’re looking for, then put on your nice shirt and make a reservation here instead. 

With a variety of wines as well as daily fish specials, Spaghetti Mistomare with mussels, shrimp, and squid, Cafe Mare celebrates its proximity to the ocean with its seafood options. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and order the gnocchi, a test of any Italian place worth its salt. While items tend to run a little on the pricier side, it’s well deserving of a visit on your next night out.

4. Woodstock’s Pizza

  • Address: 710 Front St, Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: Kickin Carnitas Pizza
  • Price Point: $

If it’s the classic Italian pizza you crave, with its golden, thick crust, overflowing toppings, and piles of sauce and cheese, Woodstock’s Pizza is a fun, relaxed environment for the whole family. With pinball games, artwork, and a dog-friendly patio, Woodstock’s is far from boring. 

Craft beers on tap, late-night happy hours, and trivia nights draw in the crowds here while the pizza keeps them coming back for more. This place is great for families, for lunch, for happy hour, or to watch a game. Give this classic pizzeria a visit when you need a refuel on your next beach day.

5. Lago di Como

Photo Credit: Sam Lundy
  • Address: 21490 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: Seafood Stew, Ravioli of the Day
  • Price Point: $$$

Here’s the ‘splurge’ meal. The one you remember years later when you think back to your time in Santa Cruz. That meal will be at Lago di Como. Consider it the opposite of an Olive Garden. Rather than simple Italian comfort food, Lago di Como boasts an extensive wine list, a wood-fired oven, and mouth-watering pasta dishes like ravioli and trance-inducing tiramisu cake for dessert. 

Lago di Como is one of the finest ‘localist’ eateries in Santa Cruz. They use seasonal, freshly grown ingredients, and you can taste the difference. The proof is in the squid ink. Great for group dining, date nights, celebrations, and promotions.

6. Zoccoli’s Delicatessen

  • Address: 1534 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: Muffuletta Sandwich  
  • Price Point: $

Often overshadowed by the red-checkered tablecloths and endless garlic bread served at a classic Italian joint, we often forget to think of the original Italian icon. The delicatessen. Zoccoli’s is the best around. If you’re looking for the thinnest slices of cold cut with freshly baked bread and the velvety scent of olive oil in the air.

This is the quintessential old-school Italian deli. Try the Italian immigrant-invented Muffalota or a pesto-smothered sandwich instead.

7. Gabriella’s Cafe

Photo Credit: Brent Hofacker
  • Address: 910 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: Butternut Squash Ravioli
  • Price Point: $$

A small, intimate ristorante Italiano that shouldn’t be overlooked. Gabriella’s is a versatile spot. You can frequent it for a romantic date night or a sunny daytime breakfast on the dog-friendly patio. Owner Paul Cocking sources only the freshest local ingredients for each dish, making healthy, quality, clean meals with plenty of vegetarian options. 

While it not be the most traditional Italian food, the quality of flavors and the home-like atmosphere make up for it. Think of it as an Italian-American fusion rather than traditional favorites like lasagna.

8. La Posta

  • Address: 538 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
  • Favorite Menu Item: Seasonally rotating pasta dish
  • Price Point: $$

A one-stop shop for dinner and a show. Founded by Patrice Boyle and chef Chris Avila, this dining experience has been serving fresh pasta inside this 115-year-old post office for more than 15 years now. Find yourself a table for live music, and you’ll see it’s difficult to choose just one favorite from the extensive menu of appetizers and entrees. No trip to Santa Cruz is complete without a night out at La Posta.

9. Sugo Italian Pasta Bar

Photo Credit: Hanyun Xu
  • Address: 1116 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: Meatballs
  • Price Point: $$

Healthy, organic, traditional. These words are what come to mind when you ask around about Sugo Italian Pasta Bar. It’s a community-based restaurant serving delicious, hearty pasta and delicate salads. 

The small kitchen and limited seating indoors and out make this spot seem cozy and inviting, perfect for small groups or a romantic evening. The food is authentic and reasonably priced so do yourself a favor and give Sugo a try.

10. Tramonti

  • Address: 528 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 
  • Favorite Menu Item: Gnocci, Shortrib Ravioli
  • Price Point: $$

With cozy bar seats, a long communal table, and a covered outdoor patio, it’s no surprise that it’s become a local favorite. Short rib ravioli, Trofie Al Pesto, and gnocchi are classics done to perfection with fresh organic ingredients at Tramonti.

Enjoy California’s Best Italian Food in Santa Cruz!

It’s the little Italy of coastal California! With these restaurant recommendations, you’ll feel like it is at least. Sleep in style at one of our beachfront homes or cottages within walking distance of these restaurants. You’ll find something to satisfy even the pickiest diner, from filet mignon to fettuccine.

Book your Beachnest stay today