Whether you just want to take the kids out somewhere you’ll receive understanding smiles for their goofy behavior or you’re hungry after some vacation fun, Santa Cruz is a great place for family dining. With reasonable and friendly options ranging from Italian to seafood, burgers and even Hawaiian, don’t ever worry about glares from snooty waiters again. Plus, these spots offer dishes that adults will enjoy as well. Gone are the days of sacrificing your taste-buds to satisfy the picky palate of the little one. Just because your three-year old will only eat grilled cheese doesn’t mean you have to! By all means, order it if that’s what you want to eat – but you do have options here. All of these spots have a fun atmosphere and plenty of tasty treats for the whole family. So take a break after visiting the Boardwalk or refuel after hiking in the redwoods at one of our favorite family-friendly restaurants.
Riva Fish House
Santa Cruz Wharf
A favorite among locals since 1981, this unassuming spot on the wharf is refreshingly authentic. Arrive early (never a problem with kids in tow) to get a window spot and enjoy panoramic ocean views as the sun goes down. Their classic menu features a long list of seafood standbys as well as other options that the little ones will enjoy. Mom and dad can relax after a long day as well, with local wines and more than eight beers on tap at the full bar. Image via Facebook/RivaFishHouse.
The Picnic Basket
This breakfast/lunch spot across from the wharf is a project of The Glass Jar, along with Assembly and Penny Ice Creamery. The food is simple and delicious, made with locally grown and foraged fresh ingredients. You have the option to dine inside, outside or order to go for a picnic to take along on your hike or other adventure of the day. Their famous Penny ice cream is served here as well, making it a kid’s favorite one-stop-shop. Image via Facebook/thepicnicbasketsc.
Hula’s Island Grill
Downtown Santa Cruz
This California-cool spot is a throwback to the tiki bars and restaurants of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Nobody is speaking in hushed tones around here; the atmosphere is vibrant and casual. Surf videos play in the bar area and the back room has plenty of large tables to choose from. The food is quite tasty, from island-inspired treats to standard American fare for those less adventurous gastronomes among us. Watch out for the scorpion bowl! Image via Facebook/Hulas-Island-Grill-Santa-Cruz-108865795736.
Downtown Santa Cruz
This casual joint serves up a variety of burgers, from The Hook, topped with gorgonzola and caramelized onions, to the Hell Burger – a ½ pound natural Angus patty rubbed with cayenne and topped with sautéed jalapeños and avocado fries. Those fries are tasty on their own too, by the way. Be sure to choose the house-made sourdough bun. They serve up specials as well, made with seasonal and local ingredients and the kids will love the Marianne’s milkshakes. Image via Facebook/surfridercafe.
Engfer Pizza Works
If the family is in the mood for pizza and games, Engfer’s has you covered. They offer authentic wood-fired pizzas with fresh, handmade dough and dozens of topping to choose from. Vegan pies are also an option. A wide variety of beer, wine and other beverages are available, as well and ice cream and desserts. The kids among us can entertain ourselves with ping-pong, chess, checkers and backgammon while drooling in anticipation of our pizza. Image via Facebook/Engfer-Pizza-Works-111704796994.
Santa Cruz Diner
This East meets West diner serves the standard diner fare as well as a wide variety of Vietnamese dishes, including pho. Their breakfast menu features an extensive list of classic brunch dishes, while their lunch menu boasts practically every kind of sandwich imaginable. For dinner, choose from steak, seafood, pasta and more. There’s something for everyone here, so if you’re looking for the classic Santa Cruz experience, check it out! Image via Facebook/SantaCruzDiner.