Food & Drink

Craft beer on every corner: A guide to Santa Cruz County’s world-class scene

inside The Slough Brewing Collective
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County is small, but our craft beer punches way above its weight class. Laura Sutherland had the tough assignment of scoping out breweries and brewpubs (often with trusted pooch Waffles) from Scotts Valley to Soquel, Westside to Watsonville for this Lookout guide.


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Places like San Diego, Asheville, North Carolina, and the two Portlands get a lot of buzz when it comes to the best brew towns in the U.S. — or the world, for that matter. But Santa Cruz County belongs at the top of that top tier. Breweries keep popping up, and now nearly every neighborhood has a place to hang out with a pint. They’re kid-friendly, dog-friendly and people-friendly — easy places to rendezvous with your friends and neighbors or meet travelers passing through. Some have astonishingly sophisticated food, while others have simple pub fare like pretzels with beer cheese and Salchichero corn dogs or rotating fleets of top-quality food trucks and pop-ups.

This article describes the outfits that brew their own beer in Santa Cruz County and serve it in their own tasting rooms. There are plenty of noteworthy tap houses that offer dozens of delectable beers or brewpubs that feature great beer made in other cities, but that’s another story.

Here are the breweries from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Westside of Santa Cruz to Watsonville that make us some of the luckiest craft beer drinkers in the nation.

Waffles the basset hound at Humble Sea Brewing Co.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)



Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley

Steel Bonnet Brewing Company

inside Steel Bonnet Brewing Company's Scotts Valley taproom
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Three large redwood trees shade one of the wraparound beer garden patios at this comfortable brewpub, situated in a shopping center off of Highway 17 at the northern edge of Scotts Valley. Steel Bonnet is known for IPAs — Hop the Heck is its flagship beer with classic chinook and cascade hops — but its English-style beers are popular and often sell out very quickly.

You can count on fish and chips Friday night, music on weekends, and trivia every other Thursday hosted by the Santa Cruz Public Library. The place is super kid-friendly and is so welcoming to dogs that it has a large bin with dog biscuits by the front door.

20 Victor Square, Scotts Valley | Monday-Thursday 3-9 p.m., Friday 2-9 p.m., Saturday-Sunday noon-9 p.m. | 831-454-8429 | Website

Humble Sea Tavern

The same stellar Humble Sea beer you’ll find at the Westside brewery is available at this Felton location, in the former Cremer House Restaurant on Highway 9, but this place has a restaurant kitchen and a full liquor bar. It doesn’t feel as much like a brewpub as a restaurant with really great beer, although plenty of customers show up for a pint or two after work. The menu has classic and elevated pub fare with plenty of choices, plus brunch is served on weekends and there’s an expansive kid’s menu.

6256 Highway 9, Felton | Monday-Tuesday 4-9 p.m., Wednesday-Friday noon-9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. | 831-704-2150 | Website


Santa Cruz Westside/downtown

Humble Sea Brewing Co.

Outside Humble Sea Brewing's Westside headquarters
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Just off Highway 1 on Swift Street, locals and out-of-towners flock in droves to this bustling brewpub with its constantly changing lineup of award-winning beers. It’s been expanding over the past few years, and now has tasting rooms in Pacifica, Felton (see above) and a pop-up open on weekends for now at the Santa Cruz Wharf. The cheerful indoor space is small, but plenty of outdoor patios — in front, in an attractively converted and shaded side parking lot, and in a secret garden open during the summer months — offer plenty of places to sit back and sip.

Even though Humble Sea specializes in hazy IPAs (flagship beer Socks and Sandals is almost always on tap), its other beers are true award-winners: Humble Sea Helles, a Munich-style helles lager, won silver at the World Beer Cup and gold at the Brewers Cup of California, where its Kookumber Gose took another first.

820 Swift St., Santa Cruz | Open daily 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. | 831-621-2890 | Website

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing

outside Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Right around the corner from Humble Sea, this woman-owned brewpub helped launch the craft beer craze in Santa Cruz when it opened in 2011. I love its patio with built-in tables and benches, a wooden roof for shade and heaters for foggy evenings — we pounce on the corner table whenever we can get it because it’s the near-perfect place to meet up with friends. SCMB has made its excellent flagship Pacific IPA ever since it opened, and it’s as popular today as it was 18 years ago. Every week on “Thank You Thursday,” the pub donates a dollar of every pint sold to a local nonprofit — just one of the many ways it’s involved in the community.

If you’re hungry, one of Santa Cruz’s best taco trucks — Tacos El Chuy — is outside the brewery Tuesday through Sunday. And this is the brewpub where you can order a gourmet corn dog, made by its charcuterie neighbor, El Salchichero — it always pairs perfectly with beer.

402 Ingalls St., Unit 27, Santa Cruz | Open daily noon - 10 p.m. | 831-425-4900 | Website

Woodhouse Blending and Brewing

inside Woodhouse Blending and Brewing
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A group of guys from Kansas City ended up in Santa Cruz and started a brewery on a small street across from the River Street shopping center that holds World Market and Ross. The vibe is young, arty and cool, and the beer is varied and well crafted. It’s an easy place to spend an afternoon, since it has plenty of seating indoors and outdoors; when we were there most recently a large welcome party for a wedding was seamlessly taking place.

“We have a decent number of foggy IPAs, like our popular Egyptian Cotton,” says cofounder William Moxham, “but our brewer likes to mix it up and we’re noticing that people are requesting sours and West Coast-style IPAs, so we’re making them more.” Live music is a regular feature on weekends, and if you’re hungry, you’ll find on-site Brazilian specialities by Sampa.

119 Madrone St., Santa Cruz | Tuesday-Thursday 1-9 p.m., Friday 1-9:30 p.m, Saturday noon-9:30 p.m., Sunday noon-7 p.m. | 831-313-9461 | Website

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Shanty Shack Brewing

inside Shanty Shack Brewing
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

This relaxed and unpretentious brewpub started by Nathan Van Zandt and Brandon Padilla is situated right in the heart of Harvey West area. “We’re one of the smallest breweries in the county, with a three-barrel system, but we do a really widespread and creative assortment of beers,” points out Van Zandt, “like pilsners, sours, stouts and different IPAs.”

Weekend mountain bikers arrive in droves to quench their thirst after they’ve hit the trails that start not far from the brewery; they inevitably order the Emma McCrary Blond Ale, named after one of the most popular bike trails nearby. If you can’t find easy parking, pick up a parking pass at the bar.

138 Fern St., Santa Cruz | Monday-Thursday noon-8 p.m., Friday noon-9 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. | 831-316-0800 | Website


Santa Cruz Midtown/Eastside/Live Oak

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales — Santa Cruz Portal

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales' Santa Cruz Portal is also home to Bookie's Pizza
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Ever since this place was twice named by RateBeer as one of the top 10 breweries in the world, it’s been getting plenty of buzz. Its official brewery and tasting room are in Capitola (see below), but this Eastside operation, called the Santa Cruz Portal, pours an even larger lineup of beer and has the impressive Bookie’s Pizza. I don’t know which gets more raves now — the quality of the beer or Bookie’s mind-blowing pizza; people are converted the first time they taste it, and now the place is almost always mobbed, but worth a wait. Chef Todd Parker’s other dishes, like the mushroom “wings” and salads, are creative and unusual.

While the outdoor space is tiny, the indoor space is huge and convivial. Sante made its name on its sours, but every beer it makes is consistently top rate.

1315 Water St., Santa Cruz | Sunday-Thursday noon-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday noon-10 p.m. | Website

Greater Purpose Brewing Company

a painting of redwoods on the wall inside Greater Purpose Brewing
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

At the back of the nondescript East Cliff Village shopping-center parking lot, this pub has loads of community-minded and extracurricular activities going on for beer lovers — games like pingpong (two tables), darts and foosball; twice-weekly comedy nights; weekly drag bingo; dog adoptions every Sunday in partnership with the county animal shelter; and plenty of elbow room both indoors and outdoors. I like to drink my beer next to the giant painting of redwood trees — it makes me feel like I’m drinking a fresh pint in the deep woods.

21517 E Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz | Tuesday and Thursday 4-10 p.m., Wednesday 4-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon-10 p.m., Sunday noon-9 p.m. | 831-713-5540 | Facebook


Pleasure Point, Capitola and Soquel

New Bohemia Brewing Co (NuBo)

Paige Harlamoff pouring at New Bohemia Brewing in Pleasure Point
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

After owner and brewmaster Dan Satterthwaite studied beermaking in Munich and interned in the Black Forest, he brought his expertise to Pleasure Point, where he now pays tribute to traditional European beers. He focuses on craft lagers, like his Pilsner Soquel (the most requested beer) and Velvet, a copper lager brewed in the Viennese style, but he also makes other styles, including a popular West Coast IPA called The Hook, in honor of the beloved nearby surf spot.

Fondly referred to as NuBo, this place has two floors of hangout spots with taps on both. The second floor has several small balconies that hold just one small group, and a new pool table along one side of the room. Downstairs is a big tasting room, several small patios and a big beer garden in the back. Sausage sandwiches (think Polish, Cajun and cheesy Bavarian) and giant pretzels with handmade beer cheese are always available.

1030 41st Ave., Santa Cruz | Tuesday-Thursday 4-9 p.m., Friday-Sunday noon-9 p.m. | 831-350-0253 | Website

Discretion Brewing

A flight of beers at Discretion Brewing
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Opening its doors in 2013 in an industrial building behind Cafe Cruz, Discretion is another brewery that helped kick off the craft beer scene in Santa Cruz thanks to owners Rob and Kathleen Genco’s love of quality suds. We can’t get enough of Uncle Dave’s, a rye IPA that is decidedly hop-forward and slightly spicy with a dry finish. But the most recent time we visited, we had a tasting flight of six other IPAs — all of them different, delicious and worth exploring further in a large glass.

The number of awards garnered by this brewery are pushing 60, from competitions like the World Beer Cup, U.S. Open Beer Championship and Best of Craft Beer Awards — with Uncle Dave’s and Shimmer Pils at the top of that list. Discretion has a full kitchen with an Italian-influenced menu that is open throughout the day and evening.

2703 41st Ave., Suite A, Soquel | Open daily noon-9 p.m. | 831-316-0662 | Website

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales — brewery and tasting room

Inside Sante Adairius Rustic Ales' Capitola headquarters
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The brewing magic happens here at this world-class operation (remember — it’s been named one of the top 10 breweries in the world for two years in a row by RateBeer), but you can hang out and taste in two connecting tasting rooms and a huge patio with picnic tables and umbrellas. It’s never quite as crowded as the location on Water Street — so easier to get a table and more low-key. Tucked on a freeway frontage road, the first time you wind your way around to the taproom, you think you’ve made a mistake … but never give up.

Of course, SARA is best known for its tart saisons, but every beer it makes is brilliant. Food trucks and pop-ups are on site most days. Sante Adairius also has a location in Oakland.

103 Kennedy Dr., Capitola | Tuesday-Thursday 2-8 p.m., Friday-Saturday noon-8 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m. | Website


South County

Corralitos Brewing Co.

Inside Corralitos Brewing Co.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Situated off of Freedom Boulevard and surrounded by berry fields and apple orchards, this rustic, beautiful tasting room and patio with its pretty wood-topped barrel tables is a pastoral gem. One of CBC’s beers uses the McGrath hop — an heirloom hop that was prolific in Watsonville in the late 1800s but faded away in the 1950s. The brewery’s Luke Taylor revived the hops and now uses them in its beers — look on the sign/board to see which beer contains it.

Hop Kiss is its excellent flagship IPA, and there are often food trucks parked out front, but to be honest, we often get a hot cheesy Bavarian sausage sandwich at nearby Corralitos Market and Sausage Company to eat with our beer.

2536 Freedom Blvd., Watsonville | Thursday-Friday 5-8 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 2-8 p.m. | 831-728-2311 | Website

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Fruition Brewing

Inside Fruition Brewing
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Oysters and beer might just be a perfect pairing, and on Wednesday nights fresh and succulent oysters are flown in from all over the country and are available at Fruition until they sell out. If you happen to show up late Sunday, you can still get a grilled cheese with jalapeño jam, garlic aioli, cheddar and jack on garlic rosemary sourdough or clam chowder with fresh manila clams. But let’s not forget the beer … there’s a surprisingly large number of beers that are worthy of spending the afternoon with, like Fruition’s Watsonville Wildflower honey blonde made with local honey from Lazy G Bees and its session sours, like Raspberry Snack, conditioned on local Gizdich Ranch berries.

Fruition is next to Staff of Life Market in the East Lake Village Shopping Center, so you can finish your grocery shopping when you’ve finished your beer.

918 E. Lake Ave., Watsonville | Wednesday-Thursday 3-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday noon-10 p.m., Sunday noon-8 p.m. | Website

The Slough Brewing Collective

outside The Slough Brewing Collective
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Formerly Elkhorn Slough Brewing Company, this place opened just for takeout during the pandemic and in full in 2022 — and that year it was named by craft beer magazine Hop Culture as one of 2022’s 14 best new breweries in the country.

The Slough focuses on sessionable beers — those with an alcohol content under about 5% — which means you can sample more of its brews when you visit. Lagers are a specialty, but it also makes all sorts of other styles, like hazy IPAs, wild sours and a gose called Con Sal that changes flavors with the season. Just around the corner from the Watsonville airport in a large, high-ceilinged warehouse, you can lounge inside the colorful digs or outside at its collection of picnic tables and umbrellas.

95 Hangar Way, Watsonville | Wednesday-Thursday 2-9 p.m., Friday 2-10 p.m., Saturday noon-10 p.m., Sunday noon-9 p.m. | Website