Ye Olde Watering Hole
2405 Mission St., Santa Cruz, CA
This dive bar has a grungy sense of class that makes it a gloriously homey place to get a drink. The pool table, TV sets, and genre-straddling jukebox are the stars here, and the cheap whiskey does improve the entertainment. Things have been known to get out of hand if someone, usually a student, makes a wrong move, but overall this place exhibits the comfort of a working man's living room.
1 Rancho del Mar, Aptos, CA
A tavern wholly devoted to the reveling arts, the Windjammer features a pool table, dart boards, live music on the weekends and TV for sports coverage during the week. Thoughtfully, the proprietors open up at 9am on Saturdays and Sundays to minister to the weekend wounded with Bloody Marys and burgers from the next-door café.
One Double Oh Seven
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.
4714 Soquel Dr., Soquel, CA
Back in the day, JJ's gave away matchbooks emblazoned with that great old saw: "You're only a stranger once." In fact, settling in for a couple of cocktails here generally means making some friends. Still a classic neighborhood sports bar, JJ's has caught on with the retro- hipsters, but they haven't ruined the place—it's a friendly bunch. Bonus: shuffleboard table.
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 and a laid-back atmosphere. 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 not just a European thing.
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.