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You can sip the best coffee in Santa Cruz on a second story balcony with a view of the ocean, a swanky cafe clad in reclaimed wood or anything in between. As California’s prime location for outdoor activities, like skateboarding and surfing, this coastal city has an enormous demand for early morning caffeine. In response to that demand, coffee shops have sprung up along the San Lorenzo River and out in Westside.
If you step outside for a stroll by the river, you’ll stumble across Downtown Santa Cruz’s bursting coffee scene complete with overgrown houseplants and European sidewalk cafe aesthetic. Drive out to Westside, and you might spy an industrial space with minimalist art or a ritzy coffee stand.
Home to UC Santa Cruz and the banana slug, Santa Cruz will draw you in with its creative and offbeat feel. Skip the crowds and tourism of San Francisco for a taste of a local’s California. Come for the coffee and the outdoor recreation, but stay for the view and the vibes. Check out our list of the best coffee in Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting
The titular Santa Cruz has housed this coffee roaster since 1978, predating the specialty coffee craze. Every cup of coffee brewed here boasts a Fair Trade certification, so you know they ethically source their beans. Located beside the San Lorenzo River in Downtown, Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting welcomes customers with a chic black-and-white awning and ensnares them with their patented BrewBar™ hand-poured coffees.
Their small-batch roasting process ensures quality products for customers. Specialty coffee aficionados won’t be able to stay away for long. In the words of Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting, “At the risk of sounding obsessively fanatical, we believe that every time a quality cup of coffee is brewed, served, and enjoyed, the world is a slightly better place.”
Verve Coffee Roasters
Choose between four stellar Santa Cruz locations, including the surf and hedonism of Pleasure Point, the classic Pacific Avenue and the industrial Westside. You can’t lose whichever you choose. Verve’s seasonal single-origin brews capture the best flavors during the best time of year. They engage in direct trade with farms around the world in countries such as Asia, Latin America and Africa. Chat up the staff for a picture of them surfing at dawn and roasting by day. Always ask about their experimental drinks that never stray too far from their roots. If you love tea and coffee, head to Verve for a cascara tea and a cappuccino.
Firefly Coffee House
If you love sugar-packed experimental caffeine, a rich London Fog or housemade bagels and pastries, then run over to Firefly Coffee House. Ask for the Frosted Firefly, one of the seasonal specials – a latte infused with peppermint, mixed with Irish cream and topped off with chocolate. More of a tea fan? The London Fog brewed with vanilla, Earl Grey tea and steamed milk will transport you to a misty day on the Thames. They source their coffee from a local roaster called Java Bob’s. Be sure to snag a picnic table before the crowds roll in from early morning surfs.
11th Hour Coffee
Order a drink, indulge in a waffle, buy a plant. 11th Hour Coffee brightens up Santa Cruz with its garden vibes and walls of succulents. The earthy aroma of craft coffee doesn’t hurt, either. As they explain in their mission statement, “We started this company with grassroots values, but we execute quality like your favorite corporation that you want canceled.”
The staff and creators take pride in their work and make the space a beautiful and unique experience. According to Google reviews, they like to take “coffee and life just seriously enough to create a meaningful and enjoyable experience." Aside from their sunny location with a new patio setup, they offer merch from hoodies to coffee mugs and grinders if you want to show off your new love for them.
Cat & Cloud Coffee
Look around Santa Cruz and you’re bound to find one of Cat & Cloud Cafe’s locations. They started off in Pleasure Point and then expanded to Downtown to partner with local bakery Companion Bakeshop, not to mention their location in Aptos. Even if you don’t venture inside a Cat & Cloud location, it’s likely you’ll find bags of their coffee sitting around other local restaurants or cafes.
If you’re cutting down on single-use consumption, they will serve your coffee in your own clean, reusable coffee cup. They even have a podcast where they share different lessons and anecdotes about the journey from starting their first location to “being barista champions.” Check out their minimalist icon, a line-drawing of a cat holding a cloud. If you don’t leave the cafe with one of their adorable mugs or thermoses, then you may not have a soul.
Come to Lulu’s for artisan coffee, pastries and brunch. They have their hands full in Santa Cruz with retail and commercial roasting works, a handful of coffeehouses, occasional pop-ups and a fully equipped kitchen and bakery at their flagship cafe. They also deliver drinks and food to most of Santa Cruz for free (with just a US$10 purchase minimum).
They value sustainable farming, and they ensure they maintain a code of ethics all the way from the farm to your cup. Check out the brick-clad Pacfic Avenue location for fresh baked goods and a dark academia aesthetic, head over to Midtown to visit their drive-thru and walk up window, or slide over to Westside for a peek at their 70s Fotomat coffee booth. If you’re in Cali long enough, visit all three.
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