These views weren’t made for just walking: Where to get breakfast, lunch and dinner along West Cliff Drive
Iconic West Cliff Drive is a Santa Cruz favorite for locals and tourists alike, and whether you need breakfast and a caffeine pick-me-up, a snack or lunch on the go or a sit-down dinner with killer views, the food and drink options aren’t bad, either. Laura Sutherland gives us the tour, with stops at Shrine Coffee, Steamer Lane Supply and Jack O’Neill Restaurant & Lounge.
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West Cliff Drive has long been our local treasure, a beloved oceanfront promenade for walking, jogging, biking or driving along (despite the small detour now required just for cars). It officially starts at the Santa Cruz Wharf and ends at Natural Bridges State Beach — nearly 3 scenic miles of seal lions sunning on rocks, seaweed-strewn beaches, surfers streaking down waves, seabirds winging overhead and dogs romping in the surf.
It’s the place where we take out-of-town guests to soak up a sense of place or where we head to alone when we need to clear our heads and fill our lungs with fresh salt air. But what about filling our stomachs when we’re ambling along and start to feel peckish?
Lucky for us there are three perfect West Cliff Drive nosh stops where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner — or all three in one day. They are completely different and are well worth exploring.
Breakfast: Shrine Coffee
Tucked back a bit off of the West Cliff Drive bustle, Shrine Coffee’s mature trees, flower-filled gardens and tiled fountain lend an air of old-world beauty to the coffeehouse and grounds. Operated by the Oblates of St Joseph’s Shrine Ministry, it opened in 2020 to give the community the chance to gather and enjoy the reflective gardens and peaceful patios.
When we were there, a group of preschoolers trailed their hands through the fountain’s pool while parents sipped coffee drinks and chatted at a big table nearby. Groups of old guys held court, friends of different ages traded stories, and individuals worked on laptops both on the patio and inside the coffeehouse. A dog came in with its people — a mom and two girls — and stared intently at the pastry case while they ordered – latte for the mom and hot chocolates for the girls.
Breakfast options are simple: Emily’s Bakery muffins and vegetable quiche and other pastries like morning buns and bear claws from Aldo’s Bakery in Soquel. Coffee drinks use the Westside’s Cat and Cloud Coffee, and there are all the classic espresso drinks, teas, matcha, chai and original options like the Summer Fog, an ice tea drink with vanilla syrup and an Earl Gray cold foam.
When you’re inside ordering, be sure to notice the table tops, shelves, ceiling beams and wooden doors. They were milled from two 100-year-old cedar trees that fell on the property that the diocese saved, and they are an impressive example of woodworking and reuse at its most artistic and expressive.
The gardens also have meditation pathways that meander under trees and through the lawn and gardens, with an occasional bench for those who want to sit down and reflect, or rest their legs while they take a couple more sips of their cappuccino. The garden setting makes this place special, and no matter where you sit, when you stand up, you can see the ocean across the street.
544 West Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz | Daily 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. | 831-226-1910 | Website
Lunch: Steamer Lane Supply
I challenge anyone to find a place that is this funky-cool and unusual. Besides great food (I’ll get to that in a minute), all the seating is outdoors at Lighthouse Field State Beach at simple picnic tables tucked around cedar trees and fallen logs. Famished surfers who have exhausted themselves at legendary Steamer Lane across the street can stash their boards in convenient surfboard racks by the front door while they eat.
We usually go at lunchtime in the hopes that the fog has lifted and we’ll get blue skies and sunshine, but it’s popular for breakfast, too. There are always children climbing on the logs or building something with giant wooden blocks, teenagers gossiping, parents with strollers, grandparents with grandchildren — it’s a demographic smorgasbord.
Its origin story tells of vision, doggedness and follow-through. After working in restaurants and agriculture, founder Fran Grayson got her first food truck and contacted California State Parks to see if she might park it at Lighthouse Field.
“When I met the State Parks people to look around, I saw this building that had bathrooms and a huge unused section,” she says. “They told me that Santa Cruz city had once managed the park for the state and built the building, but now the state park only needed the restrooms.” An idea was born, and three years of red tape and much blood, sweat and tears later, Grayson opened Steamer Lane Supply in 2016.
With rainy season just about over (right?) and longer days, what better time to get familiar with — or revisit — the...
The most popular dishes are the ‘dillas (as in quesadillas), which were inspired by wanting to have something people could eat while they walked. The ‘dillas come in a variety of options, like the pulled pork dilla, kimchi-dilla, tuna-melt-a-dilla and my husband’s favorite — the breakfast break-a-dilla with bacon and eggs. For those who have never had one, picture a really large tortilla filled with the main ingredient and other items like cheese, brown rice, cabbage, sesame ginger mayo, salsa fresca, etc., folded into a neat rectangle and pressed on a panini press with a little butter until the cheese has melted and it’s golden brown and perfectly crisped. It’s then wrapped in foil — so you can walk and eat if you want, but you really should sit down and enjoy it in the park. They’re juicy and completely delicious and you’ll need a napkin or two.
There are many other items on the menu, like burgers, salmon poke bowls, rock cod sandwiches, fish tacos and slaw dogs. If you want to caffeinate or are thirsty, Steamer Lane Supply serves local Alta coffee and a rotating selection of seasonal aguas frescas.
698 West Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz | Daily 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. | 831-621-7361 | Website
Dinner: Jack O’Neill Restaurant & Lounge
Floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides showcase Cowell Beach, the wharf, the Boardwalk and Monterey Bay from every seat in this restaurant — in summer, it’s always a showstopper no matter how late your reservation. But it’s the food that keeps locals coming back now, thanks to chef Gus Trejo, who has been at the helm since 2019.
It doesn’t hurt that Trejo has a special relationship with Griffin Guess, a fisherman in a boat called Gracie who has a series of secret fishing spots just off the coast. Every night the dinner menu offers Gracie’s Catch — whatever Guess has line-caught that week … maybe snapper, maybe halibut, maybe rockfish. The night I was there it was halibut in a savory fennel and turmeric stew with gigante beans, rainbow chard and garlic chimichurri. I appreciated the way the menu was structured — with vegetarian options like pasta with harvest vegetables or braised chickpeas, rice and vegetables to which you can add the catch of the day, prawns or chicken if you wish, and there are classic beef dishes, too, like ribeye steak and short ribs.
Trejo is passionate about knowing every detail about the ingredients he uses. “I probably talk to six to 16 farmers every day and we work our menu around that,” he says. One local farm grows Kennebunk potatoes exclusively for the restaurant to use in french fries and homemade potato chips. Another local ranch supplies the “game of the day,” and depending on time of year, it might be quail, rabbit or guinea hen. Fisherman Guess also forages for the mushrooms the chefs create menus around in winter — his foraging locations are another top secret.
This is definitely the fine-dining establishment to keep in mind for special occasions and when you want an excellent meal, but a quick note: If you want a more casual experience, the Jack O’Neill Lounge with its bar menu is an easy place to pop in for a cocktail (love the salt and pepper martini), glass of local wine or craft beer, or a meal that includes elevated bar food like bison chili and cheddar, crispy chicken sliders, Jack’s lounge burger with grilled onions or a baby lettuce salad with the catch of the day.
175 West Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz (park in the Dream Inn lot directly across from the hotel, and get your parking ticket validated in the restaurant) | Breakfast 7-11 a.m., brunch/lunch 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., dinner 5-9 p.m., lounge 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; 11:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday | 831-740-8138 | Website