7 Top-Rated Restaurants on the Wharf in Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz Wharf draws local residents and tourists alike with its diverse wildlife, spectacular views and family-friendly recreation – but it also has some of the area’s most celebrated restaurants. From local institutions like the Stagnaro Brothers, an 85-year-old Santa Cruz tradition, to newcomers like Hawaiian-influenced Makai Kitchen, you’ll find plentiful options, many of them family-friendly. Here are the pier’s top-rated restaurants, according to Yelp – and some local favorites a short walk away.

Interested in making beachside dining a lifestyle? Skip to the end to read about the best areas to buy a home near The Santa Cruz Wharf.

Jack O’Neil Restaurant & Lounge (4.4 stars) 

Although technically not directly on the Pier, this ode to Santa Cruz surf culture might as well be. Close enough for a post-dinner stroll, the restaurant sits just on Cowell Beach for ocean views and a festive ambience, including live music. Sustainably minded patrons will like that it meets the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch standards and sources seasonal produce from local farmers. With grilled lamb chop, Ribeye steak, and farm-raised chicken also on the menu, carnivores will have plenty of options, too.

Where to Find it: 175 W Cliff Drive Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Call (831) 740-8137 | Make Reservations

Stagnaro Brothers (4.3 stars)

A local institution, Stagnaro Brothers has been a part of the Santa Cruz pier since 1937. Serving more than 20 types of fresh seafood, the family-owned establishment also has a number of house specialties, inspired by founder Matteo Stagnaro’s Italian roots. In addition to the lively restaurant, which has a nautical atmosphere with an “Upper Deck Lounge,” locals can also pick up fresh daily seafood at the Stagnaro Bros. Outdoor Fish Market. 
Where to Find it: 59 Municipal Wharf Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Call (831) 423-2180 | Walk-in Only

Makai Island Kitchen & Groggery (4.3 stars)

A Hawaiian influenced restaurant that means “to the sea,” Makai is an upscale tiki bar with a Pan-Asian menu that includes everything from BBQ pork slides to spam musubi. A menu of 18 beachy cocktails with names like Mermaid’s Kiss and Rip Curl appeal to young patrons who will also like the casual bar and deck seating, complete with a cozy fire pit. You can also order takeout to enjoy a taste of Makai from home.

Where to Find It: 49A Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, California, 95060
Call (831) 466-9766 | Walk-in Only

Dolphin (4.2 stars)

A classic diner at the end of the Santa Cruz Wharf, Dolphin is a locals’ favorite for seafood-inspired comfort food and BBQ in a casual, family-friendly atmosphere. In addition to diner staples like French toast and several varieties of eggs benedict, you’ll also find house-smoked specialties like pulled pork and brisket sandwiches. Eat inside, or order from the to-go window for a picnic on the pier – where you might just spot a sea lion.

Where to Find It: 71 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Call (831) 426-5830 | Walk-in Only

Riva Fish House (4.2 stars)

Serving heartier fare than some of its neighbors on the Santa Cruz Wharf, Riva Fish House caters to beach-tired families looking to refuel in a casual atmosphere with reasonably priced entrees, ranging from fried seafood classics like fish’n’chips and calamari, to pub-style burgers and sandwiches. Most of the menu is kid-friendly, but parents of picky eaters will appreciate options like chicken fingers and plain pasta. Popular among locals and tourists alike, note that Riva Fish House does not take reservations and can have a long wait. To avoid the crowds avoid peak times, or order online.

Where to Find It: 31 Municipal Wharf Santa Cruz, California, 95060
Call (831) 429-1223 | Walk-in Only

Gilda’s (4.2 stars)

Owned by the Original Stagnaro Brothers (not to be confused with its neighbor of the same name), Gilda’s is the kind of traditional diner that serves cream of wheat cereal and buttermilk as a beverage. Its simplicity is part of what drives its high ratings – patrons come here when they want a no-frills grilled cheese, a root beer float, and a smile. Many of the restaurant’s 1,000+ reviews refer to its friendly service.

Where to Find It: 37 Municipal Wharf Santa Cruz, California, 95060
Call (831) 423-2010 | Walk-in Only

Bonus: Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen (4.7 stars)

This cozy little kitchen isn’t exactly on the pier (in fact, it’s about a mile and a half away), but it does sit squarely in the heart of some of the best homes near The Santa Cruz Wharf. Although primarily a cocktail bar, Venus also serves a complete menu of shared plates and entrees, including a revolving selection of specials from land and sea. Local favorites include the kauai prawns and mole baby back ribs, both found on the shared menu. Cocktail enthusiasts can also buy Venus whiskeys, vodkas, and rums in-person or online.

Where to Find It: 200 High Road Santa Cruz, California 95060
Call (831) 600- 7376 | Make Reservations

Live Near the Santa Cruz Wharf

If these restaurants have inspired you to consider life near The Santa Cruz Wharf, you’re in luck. The pier lies within walking distance of some of the area’s best inventory. Recently sold homes in the area range from 116 Gharkey Street, an ultra-modern 5-bedroom property recently constructed by Clarum Homes, to 119 Laguna Street, a charming 3-bedroom bungalow just off Lighthouse Field State Beach. Both lie within a 10-minute walk of the pier.

Slightly further out are homes by Sargent Derby Park and Natural Bridges State Beach, which lie within two miles of the pier – a leisurely stroll or easy cruiser bike ride. Recently sold homes include 139 Stockton Avenue and 402 Oxford Way.

For a beach town atmosphere with access to more of Santa Cruz’s best restaurants and recreation, we also recommend browsing in Seabright and Aptos.

Not sure which neighborhood is right for you? Get in touch with Sam Bird-Robinson, a top-rated Santa Cruz real estate agent with more than a decade of experience in the area. Sam has the relationships and connections to help you find your dream home in a low-inventory market. Reach out to start the conversation.

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