923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
Goth rock, hip hop, '80s music and an array of sounds from local bands draw a different crowd to the Blue's two-room-wide dance floor nearly every night. Of course the dirt-cheap drinks—$1 Pabst on Wednesdays and $1 well drinks on Tuesdays—will get just about anyone out to this (not really) gay bar. The atmosphere screams for patrons of all sexual inclinations to up and shake their moneymaker.
140 Encinal St., Santa Cruz, CA
With free bocce ball, cheap brews, live music nearly every night and some of the friendliest bartenders around, Bocci's Cellar has become a popular neighborhood hangout. There's also a full restaurant serving lunch and dinner. Dart tournaments and weekly karaoke also attract a diverse crowd who come regularly. Just get there early to claim a court.
8017 Soquel Dr., Aptos, CA
An authentic English pub with the beer list to prove it, Britannia Arms is a comfy, no-nonsense bar with friendly service, a laid-back atmosphere and live music many nights a week. Located in Aptos, the Brit is a popular hangout for football and soccer fans thanks to numerous televisions and a full menu for both lunch and dinner. Catch the game, have a pint, and relax—it's a not just a European thing.
11570 Highway 9, Brookdale, CA
A creek runs through the middle of the dining room. One of "America's Sexiest Bartenders" (according to Playboy magazine) works here. A ghost haunts the halls. And even without all that, this old hotel in the redwoods would still have character to spare. To top it off, the Lodge is a regular stop for touring tribute bands like Pink Freud and Riders on the Storm.Totally awesome.
1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
Most people know the Catalyst primarily as a music venue, but Santa Cruz bar-goers know it's much more than that. Upstairs there's actually a solid dive bar with six pool tables, a jukebox, and even a few arcade games. The smoke-filled lounge is not for the weak of lung, but the cheap Budweisers and multiple pool tables sure make it a good late-night option.
1100 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
A historically preserved bank building constructed in 1915, the Cayuga Vault's hardwood floors and high ceilings provide a distinct ambience for the diverse spectrum of musical acts that grace its stage. The non-alcoholic venue draws performers from across the world, so check the listings to find a unique musical experience the whole family would enjoy.
2218 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA
Perched at the mouth of the Santa Cruz Harbor, the Crow's Nest flaunts a view that dares to be outdone. Happy Hour at the Nest offers great deals on drinks and delicious appetizers. Live comedy on Sunday nights, Monday Night Football parties and live music Wednesday through Saturday nights.
6275 Highway 9., Felton, CA
Don Quixote's is a Mexican restaurant, a music venue, and a bar, so it's no wonder the place is a favorite hangout for Felton's over-21 crowd. Drawing musical acts from across the nation, as well as hosting the area's best local bands, DQ's offers great entertainment in an up-close-and-personal environment. Sound good? Now add chips and salsa.
Fog Bank Bar & Grille
211 Esplanade, Capitola, CA
The frequent live music brings in a mixed crowd, with younger people on the patio overlooking the beach smoking and drinking, while the decidedly older crowd inside boogies, either with someone or solo, channeling their past festival dance performances, all flailing arms and flowing skirts. A fun place to watch people and hear live tunes, with ample bar offerings.
9450 Hwy 9., Ben Lomond, CA
Though it's earned a reputation over the years for being a rough ‘n tumble biker bar, Henfling's Tavern is actually a pretty mellow place to grab a drink should you find yourself in Ben Lomond. The roadhouse vibe is complemented by a wraparound porch complete with heaters. Local rock bands roll into the bar a few times a week, so check the listings for upcoming gigs.
Ideal Bar and Grill
106 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA
Refreshing drinks and sunny afternoons on the large open-air deck overlooking the beach must be how this bar and grill got its name. The outdoor tiki bar offers karaoke on Saturday afternoons. After night falls, head inside to enjoy Monday Night Football parties, karaoke on Friday nights and live music on Saturday nights.
712 Ocean St, Santa Cruz, CA
The tiny central Santa Cruz bar earns its name from its close proximity to the Courthouse, but it's doubtful you'll see any lawmen there having drinks. Tailored to a younger crowd of boisterous partiers, the Jury Room is also home to the local punk rock scene. If you're into cheap beer and loud music, it's well worth a visit
Kuumbwa Jazz Center
320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, CA
The best little jazz club in Central California isn't really a place you'd go to eat, although the kitchen does serve up a nice bowl of chili before shows, and it isn't really a place you'd go to drink, although it does pour a number of excellent Central Coast wines and locally brewed beers. It is the place to hear jazz acts of unparalleled quality, from venerable masters like pianist Marian McPartland to funkified young turks like bassist Christian McBride. It's a gem, and it's ours.
1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz's hidden gem, Moe's Alley manages to pull in some top-notch music acts from every genre. Blues, jazz, reggae—you name it, they get it. With a fully stocked bar and a spacious outdoor patio, Moe's Alley is the perfect place to listen to some great live music while soaking the suds.
1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
Some of the best acts to hit town play the stage of the Rio, a gracious theater built in 1946 to house a new 3-D Cyclorama movie screen. Nothing more complicated is on tap than popcorn, snacks and a few soft drinks, but since being retooled into a live performance venue in the early Oughts, the Rio has become an important part of Santa Cruz nightlife.
1220 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
A more upscale establishment than most Irish pubs, this restaurant/bar has a tucked-away dance floor where revelers can shake out their worries without disturbing diners in the main room. A long list of mixed drinks, including the Naughty Olivia and always-pleasurable Irish Car Bomb, provides a wealth of choices for the thirsty.
The Rush Inn
113 Knight St., Santa Cruz, CA
This bar is a bit out of the way, tucked behind the clock tower off Pacific. Simply put, it is a gamer's delight, with pinball and video game machines lining the walls. Since it's off the beaten path, the drinks are not as overpriced as other bars downtown, and they even put on good punk shows occasionally.
203 Esplanade, Capitola, CA
The only beachfront deck in Capitola hosts live music outside in the summer that moves inside once the weather turns cold. Along with good food and a great breakfast, Zelda's has a dependable bar crowd and plenty of space, despite not having beer on draft. DJs are the norm for Friday nights. Saturdays are usually live bands.