Hungry in Santa Cruz, CA

I found myself returning to Santa Cruz in January this time to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I stayed at the Dream Inn like I had previously done because the hotel was overall pretty wheelchair friendly and the location was almost unbeatable. The last time I was in Santa Cruz in January was at the end of the month and the waves just off shore were larger than I had ever seen during the summer. Surfers surfing in the surf basically and even larger waves were further out. This time I was there at the beginning on the month and the waves were not as high as the previous trip but the soothing natural rhythm of the ocean is always pleasurable to look upon. Additionally, the last time I found myself on this shore I stayed in room #313 which I knew had a roll-in shower but now was in room #314 and to my pleasant surprise it was an identical setup.

In the spirit of winter and packing on a little extra girth to keep me warm, I surveyed some more food selections in Santa Cruz to provide you with more suggestions. If traveling to an ocean town I feel that it’s necessary to taste the local catch, even if it’s just a shrimp cocktail. A staple of most ocean towns is clam chowder and can be found anywhere that serves fish. Down at the Municipal Wharf, which is directly adjacent to the Dream Inn, are a number of places to go for this and on a cold day, what could be better? I’m not a fan of clams but the soup itself, the potatoes and spices merged together and surrounded by a chewy bread bowl is a satisfying meal. Almost at the very end is a restaurant and fish market called Stagnaro Bros. It is historic to Santa Cruz and features 20 different types of fresh seafood daily. You can even choose from the fast selection of dishes, like clam chowder, located outside and eat it on the spot. Inside is warm and has large windows to enjoy the view. A little further down at the end of the wharf is a small place called the Dolphin, which has outdoor and indoor seating, wine and beer, and a fast selection menu as well.

Perhaps you are looking for quality surf and turf? In that case, you may want to check out Hindquarters Bar & Grill. Here you’ll find a great selection of different cuts of beef, from prime rib, to filet mignon to hanger steaks. A popular choice at Hindquarters is ribs, served up in a variety of styles and sauces. Of course those who do not prefer red meat can still enjoy one of the many fish or chicken options or a combination of some kind.  Hindquarters is located closer to downtown as opposed to located on the water and is a common place for locals and tourists to celebrate something, even if it means having not seen an old friend for a while.

One of my traveling guidelines is starting the day with a good breakfast. With enough fuel to burn, one can explore for hours without perhaps needing a snack and taking a late lunch.  For the most part, I rather be exploring and a good breakfast allows me to maximize daylight. While on this Santa Cruz trip, a friend and I ate at a place recommended by former UCSC student called the Walnut Café located on Walnut Avenue right off the main downtown strip.  We arrived around 10:30 just before a large rush of people and sat outside, which was bit chilly but ended up being perfect in the sun and allowed for a little more space for my wheelchair.  We both had classic American dishes and split a side of French Toast; however, there were other items on the menu like eggs Benedict, huevos rancheros, scrambles, and omelets. There were two unisex restrooms, which created enough space for I would hope any wheelchair. The Walnut Café is also open for lunch too. Count on relying on street parking at a meter. There are a few garages in the downtown area but street parking is free with a handicapped placard and you usually can come up on a spot eventually. Being that it is downtown, spots are little harder to come by later in the day, especially on the weekends.  Use it as a lesson in being a patient driver.

Emily’s Bakery was noted in Sunset magazine as a great place for deli sandwiches but didn’t get a chance to try one. I was hoping to find an array of pastries, namely cookies, to choose from for an afternoon treat but there weren’t many selections. Though a little disappointed, I got a classic chocolate chip cookie which I am always happy with and was on my way. The cookie was tasty but would I go back? I’m not too sure, perhaps to try a sandwich. Handicapped parking was right outside the front door but restaurant accessibility is currently unknown.

On the other hand, The Buttery is a gem bakery and a must visit. From cookies to pies to cinnamon rolls to fresh bakes bread, The Buttery indulges the senses the moment you walk in the door. There are two sides to the bakery, both filled with tables for hungry guests to savor their selections. On a busy morning, the spacing can get a little tight, especially for a power chair but with a little patients it’s worth it. I ended up at The Buttery on a Tuesday morning around 10am and it was pretty packed. As I stared at the beautifully displayed pastries behind glass and waffled in the aromas of tasty things baking, I decided I would get a little fancy and try something I had never had. All the muffins looked so good and that is what I would normally go for, so in haste when it was my turn I quickly spouted, “I would like an apple galette.” It basically looked like a fancy way to turn apple pie into a pastry and figured I couldn’t go wrong. I decided to get on the road but felt it would be a chill place to grab a table and visit with a friend. A rookie mistake going to this popular bakery is not grabbing a number, located near the door. Plus, it’s not only all pastries and mouth watering breads, but a full kitchen serving breakfast and lunch. The few plates that I saw go by looked delicious and made a mark on me to come back here again and dive deeper into the menus.

A classic Santa Cruz restaurant is the Crow’s Nest. This upscale restaurant sits right along the water at the harbor which makes it a prime piece of property. Downstairs is the fancier part of the restaurant where meals are pricey and business casual attire is recommended. However, upstairs is a lot more casual with a open bar area and great outdoor patio seating. An elevator right outside the main door can take you up to the second floor and then a good chair lift takes you down to patio area.The patio is the reason to come to the Crow’s Nest, perfectly overlooking the ocean and harbor lighthouse. It would be a great setting for lunch or dinner. The fish tacos looked delicious but ended getting the mahi-mahi mango salad which was so refreshing on a nice summer eve. Whether you sit down or upstairs always request a window seat and let the host know you are in a wheelchair. Usually these tables are not guaranteed but you’ll never get one if you don’t ask. Handicapped parking is right outside and restrooms available inside. On the beach in front of the Crow’s Nest is an accessible rubber walkway that allows for a wheelchair to cruise on the beach.

I’m always on the lookout for good restaurants locals recommend but sometimes on vacation when you stay at a place like the Dream Inn with an ocean view, it’s fun to stay in the room and have room service. If staying multiple nights, I’ll usually have breakfast in my room one time. I’m a big eggs and bacon fan so I was happy with that. When ordering room service there’s a delicate delivery time that is hard to perfect, especially when it comes to toast but I don’t let it bother me. One late night, cheesecake with blackberry sauce somehow ended up between a friend and me. On a late afternoon after exploring all day I came back to the hotel to lie down for a bit before going back out again and ordered some fish and chips, which was a goal of mine before the trip was over. They were mahi mahi and enjoyed the meal to the fullest.

Santa Cruz is affluent in international cuisine and keeps the charm of local cafes and bakeries. These are just a few of many suggestions reviewed by a fellow wheelchair traveler.

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