Man with roses
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Food & Drink

Valentine’s Day: The extravagant, the low-key, and the socially distant

Not sure what to do for the day of lovers? Lookout’s Max Chun takes a look at various options available for a fun day or evening around Santa Cruz.

Chances are you find Valentine’s Day either wonderful or insufferable. While it can be a great time for a romantic day with your partner, there might be some pressure for grand gestures and fancy meals. Surely that can be fun, but one does not have to empty one’s wallet to enjoy a fun day and evening.

Whether you want a good meal, nice drinks, or just a day outdoors, Santa Cruz can offer you all of the above and cover just about everyone’s Feb. 14 desires.

Breakfast & brunch

Walnut Avenue Cafe

If you have lived in Santa Cruz for any length of time, chances are you have either been to Walnut Avenue Cafe or passed by it frequently. The cozy spot downtown has sweet and savory breakfast items served all day along with a lunch menu at reasonable prices. Start off your day with a relaxing, homestyle meal.

Point Market

There’s one by West Cliff and one by East Cliff, both with great breakfast burritos. While you can go all-out and get the “large,” the small one is $3 cheaper and still quite filling. After you’ve gotten your food, head over to the beach or a bench for a tasty outdoor breakfast.

The parklet outside Walnut Avenue Cafe.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Seabreeze Cafe

Perhaps a bit pricier than the previous two entries, but still far from unreasonable, the place many still call Linda’s has grown in popularity over the past few years. On weekends, locals and visitors alike flock to the little diner in the Seabright neighborhood for an indoor or outdoor breakfast accompanied by the coastal breeze.

Dinner


Shogun

Located on Pacific Avenue across the street from Pizza My Heart, Shogun has a ton of different sushi and appetizer options. It’s not shy with the portions, either, which makes up for what might appear to be some more expensive items. Still, the interior and atmosphere provide an effortlessly mellow and cool setting to enjoy some fresh sushi. This is a great particularly idea for a double date given the amount of food you’ll receive.

El Palomar

If you’re looking to be a little bit more extravagant, then El Palomar might just be the place. The Mexican restaurant has been a popular dinner destination for Santa Cruzans over the years, with options ranging from tacos to sopes to soups and an extensive drink menu to boot. If you don’t feel like spending the extra cash on the full-course meal, then head next door and choose from taco bar menu.

West End and East End

West End Tap on the Westside of Santa Cruz and its companion gastropub off of 41st Avenue in Capitola have a variety of food and drink options, all of which are quite good. While some of the prices range toward the higher end, the portions are huge. You’ll certainly be getting your money’s worth and will probably have leftovers, too.

People eating in Abbott Square
(Via Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)

Guang Zho

It might not be the most romantic restaurant around, but what it does have is amazing food for a great price. Guang Zho on Portola Drive has some of the best authentic Chinese food in town and you’ll get plenty of it with your order. No matter what your favorite might be, Guang Zho will have it and will do it well.

Abbott Square Market

The jack-of-all-trades date spot, Abbott Square and the Octagon have just about everything you would want. Pizza, burgers, chicken and West African vegan cuisine are all available and delicious. The market’s two bars have quite the selection as well, bound to satiate anyone’s craving for beer, wine, or the cocktail of your choice. The large outdoor patio has plenty of heat lamps keeping you comfortable no matter the weather.

Santa Cruz Wharf
Whether you’re interested in the food on the wharf or not, it’s still a good destination for a stroll and good views. If you’re going for dinner, there are a number of restaurants to choose from with more than just seafood. And Marini’s is never a bad choice for candy, coffee or ice cream you can enjoy as you take in the Boardwalk lights and the bark of the sea lions.

Activities


Mini Golf at Neptune’s Kingdom

Who doesn’t like mini golf? The 18-hole course at Neptune’s Kingdom is a childhood staple for those who grew up in or around Santa Cruz, and it still holds up into adulthood. The nautical-themed interior with its pirate ship cannons and artificial palm trees has a certain beach town charm that the Boardwalk is known for. Loser buys drinks!

Boardwalk Bowl/Coasters Karaoke Bar

Similarly, the bowling alley right across the street from Neptune’s Kingdom has been a popular activity for locals and tourists for years. In addition, there is a karaoke bar connected to the bowling alley called Coasters, in the event bowling isn’t the move for you. Whether you choose to lace up the bowling shoes or belt out “Toxic” by Britney Spears, nothing says “I love you” like embarrassing yourselves together.

Roller Palladium

Speaking of embarrassing yourself, falling off your roller skates is a great way to do just that. Luckily, you can bring a date to do it with you! After you’ve eaten your Valentine’s Day dinner, get up and moving with some skating in Midtown. Complete with music and club-style lighting, it’s hard not to have fun skating the night away.

$7 Movies at the Del Mar Theater

Every Monday and Tuesday, the Del Mar Theater sells discounted tickets. Luckily for all you lovebirds, Valentine’s Day falls on Monday this year. Take a look at the showtimes to see if any of the movies strike your interest. With a massive screen and a beautiful vintage interior, just about any film will be enjoyable.

Dauterive puts on one of her hot pink skates on April 2, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Walks/trails/outdoor destinations


One of the most cost-effective dates is also socially distant! Depending on where you live and how far you want to go, Santa Cruz has various nature preserves and trails for you to explore and stake out a spot for a picnic.

Arana Gulch

Nestled between Midtown and the Eastside, Arana Gulch is a pocket of native plants and wildlife. Trails run in, out, and around the area, some of which lead out to the Santa Cruz Harbor and can be followed all the way to Twin Lakes beach. Even if you stay within the borders of the preserve, you can stroll, bike and lay out in the grass with some of your own food and drinks to have a scenic picnic.

Natural Bridges

One of the most iconic landmarks in town is also home to tons of monarch butterflies, though we’re reaching the tail end of their migration period. Even so, the beach and park around it has plenty of spots to camp out at and enjoy a day outdoors with your date. Just make sure to bundle up, the sea breeze can get chilly in the evenings!

Wilder Ranch
Coastal Wilder Ranch.
(Handout)

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Large and beautiful in equal measures, Henry Cowell has days’ worth of land to explore. However, one afternoon there is enough for a great day outdoors. There are designated camping and recreation areas perfect for bringing your own food, games or other outdoor-friendly activities. Not to mention all the potential photo opportunities.

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Wilder Ranch and 4 Mile Beach

Wilder Ranch has everything from trails to farm animals to beach access. Hang out at the picnic area and walk around the historic ranch grounds or take one of the several trails around the area to get different vantage points of the ranch and beyond. Nearby is 4 Mile Beach, and while it’s a bit of a walk to get there, it’s well worth it. Somewhat more secluded than the beaches in town, 4 Mile Beach (along with 3 Mile and Strawberry beaches) feature that quintessential Pacific Coast feel.