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A week of vacation with the family in Santa Cruz - three squares a day and Chow-worthy?

We're coming up from LA and will be based around the 26th Avenue Beach area for a week. We are open to just about anything (really) as long as it's Chow-worthy - ethnic, local, seafood, high-end, low-end, mid-range, etc. Two adults, two open-minded Chow-pups (eight- and ten-years old), and our family dog.

- We will consider any eateries within about an hour of where we are staying. Staying in the Santa Cruz area would be great, but is there anything in the outlying areas we should consider?

- Our kids will eat most things, but kid-friendly is fine as well. We've spent a couple of summer vacations up in Marin, Sonoma and Napa, enjoying the offerings up there, and they were fine with almost everything. They of course love their burgers and fries, but will also eat raw oysters on the half-shell and most cheeses as well, and just about anything in between.

- Does Santa Cruz have any eateries where we can bring our dog? In LA, many cafes have outdoor eating areas where dogs are "allowed" on the outer perimeter. Anything similar in Santa Cruz?

- We'd like to take in a couple of eateries that have reference to local wines. We've heard about Bonny Doon's Cellar Door Cafe. Any word on this place? Any others we should consider?

- Speaking of wines, we'd also like to purchase some local wines. Bonny Doon seems to be the 800-pound gorilla in these parts (and we do like their wines), but should we consider any other cellars? We don't have to actually visit the wineries - getting them from local shops is fine with us. But of course, if there are tastings, we're there! We also enjoy good beers on tap. Breadth isn't important - a good selection of well-chosen beers is what we'd appreciate.

- The kids will want to spend at least a day or two at The Boardwalk. We hope there might be some decent food choices within walking distance. If not, we can always grab breakfast or lunch elsewhere.

- Is there anything around the 26th Avenue Beach area that we should consider? We have no idea what's around there. Walking somewhere to eat would be wonderful, but we have access to bikes, and of course our car.

- We do like to cook as well. Which stores/purveyors should we consider for our grocery needs?

Thank you very much

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  1. Here is my short list for you to try:

    Carpos- Soquel on Bay Ave. Great family burger/fish/salad bar joint. Outside patio, but I'm not sure if you can bring your dog.

    Gayles- Capitola/Bay: The best bakery/rotisseria-
    breads/sandwiches/blue plate specials, pastries, wonderful coffee/tea drinks. They have a new covered patio and they allow "well behaved" dogs now. Crowded but very fun.

    Kellys Bakery- on the west side near the Bonny Doon Cellar Door Cafe. A very delightful patio- yes on dogs. Great breads, pastries, sandwiches, breakfasts, and now they sell the most amazing homeade ice cream from a special door- with about 8 different flavors a day.

    Seabright Brewery - on Seabright. Passable burgers, fries, fun beers. OK for the the dog on the patio. Good beach vibe- close to 26th Ave.

    For your night at the Boardwalk (Mon & Tues after 5 all rides are $1, including hot dogs, candy apples & cokes.) Riva's is on the wharf and has the best seafood in a casual atmosphere.

    Best Mexican- Palomar Taco Bar on Pacific Ave. Hand-made tortillas, very fresh ingredients. Make sure to go to Taco Bar and not the restaurant.

    These are my favorites (except for the Seabright Brewery which I included because of the patio). Of course there are a lot more, but IMO these would definitely be the most fun especially with kids. Enjoy yourself!

    -----
    Seabright Brewery
    519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

    Carpos Restaurant
    2400 Porter St, Soquel, CA 95073

    3 Replies
    1. re: caldance

      Day Six: Because I tend to show little restraint when faced with choices, I've been "overstocking" at Kelly's on our last visit (Saturday morning). We enjoyed the consequences of my bad habit in the form of a croissant, blueberry danish, raspberry-coconut scone and some cookies. Even being a day older didn't pull Kelly's goods down very far. I actually warmed up everything in the Weber and they were almost like new. I really like this place.

      We headed out to lunch at "burger." before visiting the Seymour Marine Science Center at the north end of SC. Order at the counter, get handed a sign with the photo of some celebrity to put on your table, and the food comes to you. Beers and wines are ordered at the separate bar.

      None of us ordered traditional burgers - we all ordered sliders - Lamb, Kobe and lobster roll. Each is served on a bed of either fries, sweet potato fries or tater-tots in a pound cake pan. The serving size of potatoes is generous, and the sliders were average in size. I was pretty impressed with my lamb sliders - moist, flavorful and just enough game on the tastebuds. The Kobe sliders were quite spectacular as well. Very rich, beefy and juicy as well. While the lobster roll was good, East Coast transplants shouldn't expect what they'd get back home - more like lobster salad in a trio of connected slider buns.

      What really blew me away was the beer. burger. carries a decent selection of bottles, but the numerous beer taps is what it's all about. I'm guessing between two to three dozen really nice beers on tap, including a great rich deep and earthy Russian Imperial stout. The pours are pint-sized and average about $5/per. Based on only one visit, I'd have to say this place has a great formula.

      As we enjoyed our meal, we peeked across the street and noticed, "Donnelly Chocolates." We dropped by and were immediately greeted by the owner, who offered up samples based on our preference for dark or milk chocolate. Really. Good. Stuff. We picked up half a dozen bars and then our kids noticed the gelato in the adjacent case. Their gelato is well-crafted as well. The owner is eager to offer samples here as well, and of course we ended up getting scoops of milky bliss for our kids. We will definitely be back to burger. and Donnelly Chocolates on our next visit up here - great one-two punch at the intersection.

      We finally made it out the Bonny Doon's Cellar Door Cafe for dinner. A very casual but slightly whimsically-designed wine-tasting counter and dining area greets guests here, and the service in both is extremely good. The choice for meals here is either prix fixe three-course, or individual items from their small plates menu. The prix fixe is brought to the table family-style, which can be a mixed blessing. It can get a little sloppy and kind of takes away from the otherwise wonderful plating, but at least the food can be divvied up according to each eater's appetite. The three courses consisted of:

      - Watermelon soup
      - Lemon/basil chicken w/ panzanella (think giant croutons, corn, squash in a creamy sauce), heirloom tomatoes, romesco sauce and smoked chevre
      - Rosemary panna cotta with roasted strawberries and oats

      We chose to pair this with a wine flight of the three suggested pairing from the menu: 2008 Ca' del Solo Muscat, 2001 Le Cigare Volante (Chateaunuef du pape-style), and 2007 Le Vol des Anges (late-harvest/botrytis).

      Our kids being kids ordered the pizza, but we also got them a really nice squid and grilled melon app as well as the hanger steak. We all shared everything, and I must say - everything was really good. This was a real stand-out food experience for us. The prix fixe is a pretty good deal at $35/per. The food is excellent, the execution was perfect, the plating had just enough whimsy without looking like a major architectual project, the portions are good to generous and the service was exceptional without being overbearing. I tend to be very casual in my dress and attitude toward life but enjoy good food - any good food - just the same. This place scores high in my book because I can dress casual but enjoy a very nice dining experience with some really good wines that have been expertly paired with the various courses. This is a great place to take a first date, a special occasion, or just a nice experience hosted by true professionals. Santa Cruz is great!

      1. re: bulavinaka

        gee, your reports are making me want to spend my summer vacation in Santa Cruz too! Glad you liked Burger, and hmm...my sister neglected to mention that beer selection. I love really good beer and burger places and put it on the list for my next visit.

        1. re: susancinsf

          The beer selection here is very very good. There's no shortage of ambitious brewers in this region of California, and I'm glad to see this place showcase many of them through the taps that they've installed. The one drawback to their tap system is that because they are all bunched up in one small portion of a wall adjacent to the bar, all of the spigots are too close together to showcase the individual beers' handles - some can be very creative and eye-catching. Whatever the case, they beers are listed on their menu. Oh yes, their website needs serious updating as well. It still indicates that they hope to have their draft system up by summer - well, it's almost the end of summer! C'mon, burger. - update your website! :)

    2. 26th ave is a mostly a residential area, not much commercial. Both the Capitola and Seabright Aptos beach areas just south of 26th ave are nice kid-friendly beaches with places right at the beach to eat. You'll probably want to pack picnics, though. Even though the eateries are snad-firendly, who wants to leave the beach once there? Be sure to take leashes and mutt mits for Rover, they are required everywhere! Lots of dogs everywhere.

      Just to the south of 26th Ave area is the 41st Ave commerical corridor which runs between the freeway (Hiway 1) and the ocean, mostly neighborhood commercial, with about anything you'd need foodwise. A treat for the kids might be to get a slice at Pleasure Pizza and watch the surfers at Pleasure Point, although it has been very foggy and cold; bring the windbreakers.

      Since you are so close, you might want to wander up the coast a bit to Swanton Berry Farms to see if they are still offering strawberries; some of the best ever. Nice and more isolated beaches up there, too.

      For groceries, Shopper's Corner market and Staff of Life Natural Foods are SC institutions; there are also New Leaf Natural Groceries, one downtown on Pacific and one out north on Mission St. in the West Cliff area. Also the wonderful Saturday Morning Farmer's Market (I'd rec going even if you don't need groceries) at Cabrillo College on Soquel Ave in Aptos. There is a FM in the Live Oak district too. Maybe local hounds can fill you in on that. Pick up a copy of Good Times, the weekly newpaper for a comprehensive guide to all things happening in SC area.

      If you are in the downtown area doing some boutique-hopping on Pacific Street, there is a great little kiosk on the sidewalk serving wraps, salads, rice bowls that are "healthy" and delicious, and cheap. And Quick! 'Chocolate', next to Bookshop Santa Cruz, serves on the sidewalk, though not sure if dogs are allowed.

      Corralitos is a small valley just south of Aptos and to the east of Hiway 1. Largely rural, it is home to the wonderful Corralitos Market & Sausage Company and their delicious smoked meats. Don't miss these; it's a pleasant rural drive along Freedom Blvd from Highway 1; turn onto left from Freedom onto Varni then left again onto Corralitos. Drive to the market. Take a cooler and ice with you!

      Remember to layer clothing as nothing is as miserable as eating outdoors when you're cold. Watch for slow and go on the freeway at commute hours and on weekends--everyone's got their minds on chow!

      -----
      Chocolate
      1522 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

      Swanton Berry Farm
      25 Swanton Rd, Davenport, CA 95017

      Corralitos Market & Sausage Co
      569 Corralitos Rd, Watsonville, CA

      Pleasure Pizza
      4000 Portola Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

      1. Hard to find better ethnic than in LA, but you can try Tacos Vallarta (one on 41st Ave, another on Soquel next to Shopper's Corner Mkt.). I eat there 3 or 4 times a week when I'm in town. Excellent carnitas tacos. You won't be disappointed.

        Try Zameen's on Soquel east of Cabrillo College-- decent middle eastern food.

        next to Zameen's is Heather's Patisserie...Good morning stop.....very good baked goods...

        Panda in the Rio Del Mar shopping center for Chinese.

        Linda's on Seabright near Seabright Brewery for breakfast, but go early, or go midweek.

        A good traditional breakfast; eggs, bacon, crispy, real, hashbrowns, is at Jefferies (Soquel and Capitola Road). --

        Enjoy.

        -----
        Vallarta Restaurant
        563 W Ventura St, Fillmore, CA 93015

        Seabright Brewery
        519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

        1. Good suggestions by earlier posters.

          To answer you query about local wines, the Swift Street Courtyard (where Bonny Doon Cellars and Kelly's Bakery are located) has several tasting rooms for local wineries and a local brewery (see link below) and the New Leaf store mentioned earlier at the other end of this block carries a number of local wines--many at below list prices.

          http://www.winecountrygetaways.com/sw...

          Also, Vinocruz in downtown Santa Cruz specializes in local wines and has a small tasting bar and a very friendly and knowledgeable onsite owner.

          As for dog-friendly dining, there are a fair number of places with outdoor eating areas that welcome dogs, but dogs are not allowed on Pacific Avenue, so Chocolate is out. However, a block away on Cedar St., Cafe Limelight (pannini sandwiches, salads, etc.) has a dog-friendly patio, and Aldo's at the Harbor is another popular spot for dining with your dog.

          The Live Oak Farmer's Market is on Sunday's from 9-1 on the corner of East Cliff and 15th St. A nice option if you don't make it to one of the Saturday Farmer's Markets (there is also a Saturday market on the Westside, not far from the Swift St. Courtyard that runs from 9-1). I'd highly recommend getting to at least one farmer's market while you're in town, they are all really great and offer a wonderful array of local produce and prepared foods. (The downtown market is on Wednesdays from 2:30-6:30.

          )

          Hope you enjoy your visit.

          -----
          Cafe Limelight
          1016 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA

          1. Santa Cruz-area Hounds, thank you for your generous posts, and sorry to be so long in responding - work has been consuming my time and energy for the past few weeks. We look forward to our trip and enjoying as many of these places as we can.

            I did a preliminary search for dog-friendly eateries and DogFriendly.com came up with this list of Santa Cruz-area eateries with outdoor eating areas, which (I guess) implies we can consider taking our dog with us for some eats. I don't know if this list is current, and I'm glad to see a couple of familiar places mentioned in your posts (Kelly's, Gayle's). Should I consider any others on this list?

            Outdoor Restaurants

            Britannia Arms Restaurant -8017 Soquel Drive Aptos
            Cole's Bar-B-Q -8059 Aptos Street Aptos
            Ma Maison Restaurant -9051 Soquel Drive Aptos
            Spanky's -9520 H 9 Ben Lomond
            Cafe Misk at Capitola Village -201 Monterey Capitola
            Gayle's Bakery and Rosticceria -504 Bay Avenue Capitola
            Whale City Bakery -490 Hwy 1 Davenport
            Rocky's Cafe -6560 H 9 Felton
            The Trout Farm -7701 E Zayante Road Felton
            Aldo's Harbor Restaurant -616 Atlantic Avenue Santa Cruz
            Black China Cafe and Bakery -1121 Soquel Avenue Santa Cruz
            Cafe Limelight -1016 Cedar Street Santa Cruz
            Cole's Bar-B-Q -2590 Portola Drive Santa Cruz
            Engfer Pizza Works -537 Seabright Ave Santa Cruz
            Firefly Coffee House -131 A Front Street Santa Cruz
            Harbor Bay -535 7th Avenue Santa Cruz
            Kelly's French Bakery, -402 Ingalls Street, Santa Cruz, Ca 95060: Santa Cruz
            Las Palmas Taco Bar -55 Front Street Santa Cruz
            Pleasure Pizza -4000 Portola Drive Santa Cruz
            Michael's on Main -2591 Main Street Soquel

            -----
            Cafe Limelight
            1016 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA

            Kelly's French Bakery
            402 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz, CA