When you’re in college, coffee can become as central and necessary to your life as earplugs are for blocking out your noisy roommate. There are so many coffee shops in the Santa Cruz area that it was impossible to cover them all, but I’ve reviewed a few to give you an idea of what’s out there. Each café offers different perks and no two are alike, so whether you’re looking to caffeinate yourself during finals week, study, meet up with friends, or just unwind solo, there’s a place for you.
131 Front St.
Cleverly nestled away on the quiet end of Front Street, the Firefly boasts back-country charm and a sleepy, old-town kind of feel. This place is a favorite of folks living on Beach Hill, and is mostly run by students from UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo. There’s a rustic wood-post fence that lines a front porch where you can sit and enjoy your drink while the sea breeze blows through the windchimes. The ambience is very down-to-earth; my coffee came in a unique, Zodiac-designed mug and the barista was busy making savory bacon and cheese scones. There are also two large bookcases and WiFi if you feel like zoning out for a while. This is the perfect place to “get away from it all.”
Bad Ass Coffee
1207 Pacific Ave.
If you ever get one elaborate drink here, make sure to get the Menehune Mocha on the rocks. It’s a blended raspberry mocha and will absolutely knock your socks off. Bad Ass is a bright and friendly place and is known for its tropical, Hawaiian-themed drinks and décor. There are a couple of computers for customer use and a big-screen TV in the lounge area. Bad Ass offers free computer use for their customers and all you need is a receipt of your purchase to surf the net. This place is also kid-friendly, verified by a play area for toddlers near the front.
418 Cedar St.
Make sure you know what you want before you get to the register; these guys take their coffee seriously. “Perg’s” is located on Cedar Street right in the heart of downtown. It’s a beautiful Victorian-era house that’s been converted into one of the best-known coffee shops in Santa Cruz. There’s plenty of room to relax on plush sofas or at one of their many tables; or if the mood so strikes, you can sit and enjoy the sun on the charming outdoor porch and garden. Perg’s also serves beer and locally made wine from the Bonny Doon vineyard. There’s free WiFi and it’s not unusual to see other students congregating here to study or socialize.
3701 Portola Dr.
Closer to campus and accessible by any bus that runs by Bay and Mission, Coffeetopia is an ideal place to go when you’re over on the West Side. The shop is on the small side so there isn’t much desk space if you’re looking to study, but the baristas are friendly and very helpful. I asked one to make me his favorite drink and was pleasantly surprised when he proudly handed me a delicious, run-of-the-mill cappuccino. This is a great, traditional coffee shop that will give you the best of the basic espresso varieties. Flares of beach culture add to the laid-back atmosphere. Colorful oil paintings by local artists are hung on the walls and there is a weather and surf channel to keep you up-to-date on the present conditions. Complete with WiFi and two computers in back for customer use, this is a student-friendly, albeit small, place to go and get some work done while enjoying a good ol’ cuppa joe.
1010 Cedar St
Little Shanghai has been around for just over twenty years in the heart of downtown serving locals and tourists various stir-frys along with noodle bowls. The weekday lunchtime special runs just under $7 and is great for a quick lunch. During the night, dinner is a little more formal with a “sit-down and order from the menu style” but still has that casual feeling.
580 River St., Suite A
519 Seabright Ave. #101
This is a great place to go for lunch or breakfast. I loved the healthy sandwich choices and the menu was catered toward vegetarian tastes. There is a large outdoor seating area with lots of room to spread out and enjoy the sun. Its locations are a bit removed from the bustle of downtown — one in the River Street shopping center and one in the homey Seabright neighborhood. These guys pride themselves on their mochas; try out the Crème Brulee or the German Chocolate Mocha for a treat. The only bummer is that they close up shop at 7 p.m. on weekdays, so it’s not a prime place for a late-night study session.
1104 Ocean St.
As far as I’m concerned, Fin’s is the friendliest of all the coffee shops. The baristas will remember your face and favorite drink and there is a great feeling of community here. This is a wonderful place to go if you want to meet some of the non-downtown denizens, yet still feel part of the Santa Cruz scene. There is live music every Friday night and I was lucky enough to hear an outstanding bluegrass group perform. The atmosphere and superb espresso are what makes Fin’s a great spot to chill out and meet some locals.
The Buttery Corner Café
702 Soquel Ave.
This is a nice place to go if you’re craving something sweet. The Buttery has lots of tasty and reasonably-priced pastries. You can get anything from an espresso cookie (similar to a Russian teacake) to a custom-made birthday cake. It’s a little crowded here and there is more emphasis on the bakery and lunch items than the coffee. I wouldn’t suggest this as a study spot, but if you’ve got a hankering for something flaky, buttery, chocolaty, you name it — definitely come here and indulge your sweet tooth.
1545 Pacific Ave.
Where to start with Lulu’s? Excellent cappuccinos, excellent service, excellent ambience, not to mention excellent hours! Lulu’s is open every night of the week until midnight, which makes it a prime and popular place to study and socialize. On the downside, Lulu’s can be a little crowded, especially around finals week. But the espresso drinks are first-rate, there’s a wide assortment of snacks to choose from if you’re feeling peckish, and the front patio is great to sit and people-watch.
Lulu’s at the Octagon
118 Cooper St.
Located in downtown’s historic Octagon building, this smaller branch of Lulu’s is a bit pricier and more polished than its sister shop on Pacific. The coffee is vacuum-pressed, which ups the price by a few cents but makes for a fresher taste. The layout of the shop is posh and simple; small mahogany tables are set up around the inside perimeter, which makes for a great place for a relaxed, solo study session. The outside patio is nestled up next to the Museum of Art and History and although the seating is limited (be prepared to have to jump on the first open deck chair available), it’s a quiet place to go to enjoy a classy cup of coffee.
Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting
1330 Pacific Ave.
I love this place because of the abundant selection of brewed coffee. There are almost two dozen different drip flavors to choose from at any time, so you don’t have to settle for any set menu of pre-brewed java. They proudly serve Fair Trade Organic coffee, so for the globally conscious, this is the place for you. There is live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and some performers make use of the upright piano. This isn’t the ideal place to study as there is limited seating and it can get a bit noisy, but it’s a great place to go when you’re strolling down Pacific and need a pick-me-up.