10 Top Taprooms & Microbreweries in Santa Cruz
Prior to the 1970’s, the variety of beer and ale available in America was limited to light, low calorie lagers like Coors and Budweiser. These 6-packs reigned supreme while imported beers bordered on nonexistent. This homogeneous trend began to change thanks to a grassroots home brewing culture that birthed the micro brewing industry, which, to quote the Brewers Association is “expanding the minds of the beer consumers and creating the most diverse brewing culture in the world.” Santa Cruz has numerous taprooms and microbreweries, all of which offer ale aficionados innovative, high quality artisanal beers.
Santa Cruz serves as an ideal backdrop for those looking to expand their beer boundaries, with numerous brewpubs bubbling up in the past few decades. Below are ten of the top taprooms and microbreweries within its borders, though there are many other worthy craft breweries in Santa Cruz county that we encourage you to explore.
233 Cathcart St., Santa Cruz
Spanish for ‘hops’, Lúpulo offers an extensive and ever-changing selection of bottled and on-tap beers and their knowledgeable staff can offer guidance as well as in-depth information on each ale available. Lúpulo’s kitchen serves seasonal Spanish-inspired tapas, perfect for sharing with friends and pairing with one (or more) of their rare beers. All bottled beers are available for purchase to go or enjoy in-house.
1030 41st St., Santa Cruz
Better known as Nubo, New Bohemia Brewing Company serves up light pilsners, hefeweizens, and lagers while also brewing their own experimental ales on-site. Just like Europe’s beer gardens, Nubo is all about community and connection, as is evident from their expansive communal bar that invites beer lovers to sit together and socialize. While indulging in bread (sourced from Companion Bakeshop, cheese, chocolate and charcuterie boards.
3. 99 Bottles
110 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz
Located in the heart of downtown, 99 Bottles embodies the traditional “home away from home” pub vibe. It is the place to go to watch the game, enjoy an evening with friends, play a rousing game of trivia, or listen to live music. As their name suggests, the ale inventory consists of 99 varieties from local brews to imports from around the world. Hearty, delicious pub food abounds in addition to full lunch and dinner menus. Serious beer drinkers who make it through the establishment’s complete line-up of beers are awarded an engraved plaque on the “wall of fame” and a 99 Bottles t-shirt with which to proclaim their beer drinking prowess.
150 Dubois St., Santa Cruz
Daily hours: 11am–6pm
Unpretentious and welcoming, Santa Cruz Ale Works is “all about the proliferation of good beer.” His interest in home brewing led co-owner and craft brewer, Marc, to study brewing technology at the University of Sunderland in Newcastle, England. In 1999, Marc met Keith at a pub in Berkeley and soon after, Santa Cruz Ale Works was born. Known for their Dark Night Oatmeal Stout, the alehouse also offers a crisp India pale ale, rich hefeweizen and a brew that varies by season. If available, we also recommend trying the pomegranate cider. Nothing beats a beer coupled with a perfect sandwich, and Santa Cruz Ale Works creates some of the best around (customer favorites include the Cuban and the Bahn Mi.) A favorite of local mountain bikers and hikers thanks to its location near Harvest West Park.
402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz
Daily hours: 11:30am–10pm
Boasting seven certified organic flagship beers brewed on site as well as hard ciders, seasonal ales, draught root beers and even kombucha, the award-winning Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing offers something for every palate. Family owned and operated, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing creates their beers in the traditional manner without filtering, radiating, pasteurizing, or use of any GMO ingredients. Nestled in the Swift Street Courtyard at 402 Ingalls Street, the taproom and beer garden are open daily, both of which are frequented by locals of all ages who appreciate artisan beers served in a low-key, welcoming environment. For those with an appetite, snacks include corn dogs and Bavarian pretzels along with entrees from neighboring Kelly’s French Bakery. Something is happening daily at SCBC including two happy hours each weekday from noon to 1pm and 5pm-6pm when customers can enjoy $5 pints.
519 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz
Daily hours: 11:30am–11:30pm
Established in 1988 when the microbrewery culture was making fledging footholds, as its name suggests, Seabright Brewery can be found in midtown and is the oldest brewery in Santa Cruz. Brewing their beers on premises using the best domestic and imported hops, barley, and yeast and foregoes the use of any preservatives. In addition to its namesake Seabright Amber Ale, customers can enjoy a myriad of other beers on tap complimented with classic bar food including what is rumored to be one of the best burgers and French fries found anywhere in Santa Cruz. Seabright Brewery also has a full bar for those looking to enjoy a cocktail. A spacious outdoor patio welcomes customers and their canine pals and is the perfect way to enjoy a warm Santa Cruz day. Open daily and serving lunch and dinner, locals and tourists alike can enjoy the live music that permeates the brewery on Friday evenings and avid sports fans come here to watch their favorite teams on game days.
303 Portrero St., Santa Cruz
Since 2007, Uncommon Brewers has been crafting the most unusual and eclectic beers. According to their website, Uncommon Brewers dabbles in the “less explored regions of craft brewing… looking for subtlety of flavor, interplays of ingredients that bring something new to their beers.” Many of their creations are award-winning and, like fine wine, designed to be aged, allowing them to evolve and deepen. This is the place you come to buy unusual beer you won’t find anywhere else, like their Golden State Ale with toasted California poppy seeds as a bacon-infused brown ale. Beer is all they do (with the exception of IPAs.) Visitors are welcome, but be sure to call to schedule an appointment first.
334D Ingalls St., Santa Cruz
Located across from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, West End Tap & Kitchen offers a variety of its own artisan brews on tap along with others including Hermitage and East Cliff ales. They also have a respectable wine list and a menu that will make your mouth water. West End’s laid back Santa Cruz atmosphere has a touch of sophistication perfect for a special occasion yet is a perfect place to bring the family or meet friends after a day at Wilder Ranch. The popularity of this Westside brewery-meets-eatery has lead to the opening of its sister location, East End Gastropub, on 41st Avenue in Capitola.
820 Swift St., Santa Cruz
Open seven days a week, Humble Sea got its humble beginnings in the Pleasure Point area of Santa Cruz in 2009 where owner Nick Pavlina concocted home brews, a hobby he acquired from his father. Nick’s surfing buddies were the lucky taste testers, offering feedback and helping Nick hone his craft. As the demand for his beers grew, Taylor West and Frank Scott Krueger fortuitously moved into the same Pleasure Point house as Nick. The triumvirates’ mutual admiration and appreciation of beers led to collaboration and the formation of Humble Sea Brewery. Humble Sea welcomes “beer nerds and commoners alike” to partake of their lagers, pale ales, IPAs and ‘collab’ beers. They have an extensive list of each, all with names and descriptions that will delight and intrigue. Their wheat pale ale Water Wings is described as such, “So what if everyone’s laughing at you? They don’t know what it’s like to feel as free as you do right now. Drifting in a pool, belly up, arms upheld by water wings. They can have their horseplay and diving competitions. They can have their belly flops and noodle fights. Just as long as they don’t splash your beer: a pale ale brewed with wheat creating a dry refreshing pale ale. Paired with El Dorado and Mosaic hops to provide a fruity character with hints of tropical fruit.”
21517 East Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz
East Cliff is known for its “distinctive British style ales that are cask conditioned and hand-pulled.” Created in the traditional British fashion, ECBC beers possess the light carbonation that occurs naturally during the fermentation process, offering a beer that allows the taste of the brew to blossom rather than become overpowered by ‘fizz’. ECBC also serves IPAs and Irish beers such as dry stout. The East Cliff brewing team is working to design hybrid microbrews that meld the best of American and British ingredients. Their taproom encourages community, serving as one of Santa Cruz’s premiere waterholes. Food from nearby U/S/ Meals includes classic sandwiches and burgers as well as traditional British pub fare (read fish & chips and curry fries.) ECBC is open daily with happy hours weekdays from 3-6pm.
Whether you are a beer connoisseur or want to expand your knowledge of artisan ales, each of these ten Santa Cruz locations offers distinctly unique microbrews. We invite you to try them all and find your favorite!