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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.