529 Seabright Lounge
529 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
This former dive has been transformed from a raucous scrapper's delight to a uniquely romantic and fun place to lounge. They boast live DJs playing four or five nights a week with a variety of music styles. Busy nights bouncers keep out the riffraff and make sure things stay mellow inside. Pool table, flat-screens, and I-net jukebox keep things moving when there's no DJ. The decor adds a splash of class to the mood but never too stuffy—flip-flops welcome. Happy Hour specials 4-7; open Tuesday-Saturday 4pm-2am and Sunday 4pm-11pm.
3623 Portola Dr., Santa Cruz, CA
Pleasure Point is the neighborhood that sets the tone for this neighborhood bar. That explains the wall-mounted surfboards, and should serve as a warning that the good-looking crowd is here to par-tay. A makeover a few years back replaced the ratty carpets with hardwood floors and added a couple of pool tables; thankfully, the famous fish tanks are still here.
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.
1 Chaminade Ln, Santa Cruz, CA
Complimentary valet parking is just one perk this mini-resort has to offer. Tucked in the eucalyptus groves of the Soquel hills, Chaminade affords views of west- and east-side Santa Cruz all at once. With live dinner music and a bar that has a well most dives would kill for, this place guarantees you a classy time.
The Crepe Place
1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
What's better than this great little neighborhood bar and landing spot after a Rio Theatre show? Its newly expanded bar, of course. And if it's Thursday, or a busy night, or a band is playing on the patio, the outside garden bar opens as well. Check the board for the clever and creative nightly drink specials. Happy hour is from 5-7pm, Monday through Friday.
2218 East 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.
Johnny's Harborside Café
493 Lake Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
Located at the upper harbor, Johnny's Harborside Café offers the freshest seafood and an extensive drink menu, including a selection of specialty vodkas. It's a great place to end up after a day of whale watching or kayaking around the bay and share some stories of the deep while chowing down on some freshly caught fish. Weekday happy hours from 3-6pm include $3 selected drinks and various food specials.
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.
One Double Oh Seven Club and Smoking Parlor
1007 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
The sign says “Smokers Lounge”—welcome words to a particular slice of the population. And as it happens, that demographic includes a lot of fun people. Outside the Plexiglass wall that defines the smokers' section (and includes the bar itself), health-conscious drinkers can choose among several pool tables, as well as foosball and even pinball (!). The idea seems to be: Life may be short, so enjoy it.
Over the Hill Gang Saloon
3530 Portola Dr., Santa Cruz, CA
If the wooden saloon doors don't tip you off to the Wild West theme, then perhaps the innumerable items of kitsch will—including cowboy and Indian mannequins, a bison head and stuffed rattlesnakes. The darts and video poker should keep the game-player amused, while the jukebox keeps the patrons two-steppin'. Just don't try to pay with plastic, it ain't that kind of place.
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.
519 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, CA
There's so much to love about the Seabright Brewery, starting with the garlic fries—crisp, tossed with cheddar and mozzarella and loaded up with fresh garlic. The biggest decision is which clean, cold house-brewed beer to order with it? The locally famous Pelican Pale? The Castle Rock E.S.B.? Or the high-octane (9.4 percent alcohol) barleywine? At this local institution, it's a good set of problems to have.