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9 Reasons to Visit Santa Cruz's West Side

Set your sights west for indie shopping, urban wineries, and wood-fired eats in Santa Cruz.

Verve Coffee Roasters serves up single-origin coffee and cold-pressed juice in a bright, plant-filled space.

Courtesy Verve Coffee Roasters

Santa Cruz lures with its boardwalk and plentiful opportunities for sun and surf, but in-the-know visitors ditch the crowds and head for the city’s funkier west side. More grown-up but just as fun, the walkable western end—specifically Swift and Ingalls streets courtyards—offers a buzzing dining scene, a burgeoning distillery and winery movement, and a smattering of hip stores and coffee shops.

Where to Eat in West Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz stalwart Verve Coffee Roasters recently opened a bright and airy location, where you’ll find ethically sourced, largely single-origin beans and plenty of exposed wood and hanging planters. Straight coffee is celebrated here, but you can also score baked goods from Manresa Bread, an offshoot of the Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos.

Bantam’s consistently packed dining room speaks to the quality coming from the open kitchen, where you can watch chefs prep seasonal Mediterranean dishes and slide pizzas into the wood-fired oven. Started by Ben (a Chez Panisse alum) and Sarah Sims, the restaurant offers a small selection of first and second courses (such as, in the spring, farro topped with snap peas and ricotta), but the made-to-order pizza is the real star, with toppings that range from house-made sausage and Calabrian chiles to hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and creamy mozzarella.

Bottles from Venus Spirits in Santa Cruz, California, picture

Small-batch whiskey, agave, and gin from Venus Spirits.

Andrew Faulkner

Where to Taste and Drink

The west side is awash in microboutique wineries: Try MJA Vineyards (juicy reds with playful names), Odonata Wines (subtle Rhone-style varietals with an organic focus), and Equinox (sparkling wine done in the méthode champenoise). But for quality small-batch booze, swing by Venus Spirits for a tour and a tasting. Run by a former brewer, Venus specializes in gin, agave, whiskey, and an award-winning aquavit, a hard-to-find Scandinavian liquor.

Prepare for beer at West End Tap and Kitchen, where a 12-pour flight arrives in a pair of muffin tins. Seek out the patio on a warm weekend and wash down the brews with duck fat–infused popcorn, breaded calamari, and hearty cornmeal-dusted flatbreads topped with Serrano ham or confit chicken.

Beer flight at West End Tap and Kitchen in Santa Cruz, California, picture

Sample West End Tap and Kitchen's best with a 12-pour beer flight.

Kristen Haney

Where to Shop

The sporting set heads to Sawyer Land & Sea Supply for an upscale surf shop feel. In addition to surfing and camping supplies, Sawyer stocks supersoft tees plus books dedicated to deep topics such as tacos, and the staff is more than happy to give a few pointers on hitting the water.

Next door, Cameron Marks Boutique stocks trendy S’well water bottles, body products from indie purveyors, and hunks of Himalayan sea salt you can hand-shave over a meal. Its nearby women’s boutique specializes in high-quality basics, such as breezy dresses from Ulla Johnson and slim, dark-wash jeans from cult favorite Citizens of Humanity.