Santa Cruz, California is home to hippies, surfers, students, and all-around friendly people. In Santa Cruz, you’ll also find some of the best vegan-friendly restaurants in Northern California. Here’s an insider-scoop of the 10 best vegan-friendly eateries in Santa Cruz, CA.
SANTA CRUZ RESTAURANTS FOR VEGAN-AMERICAN DISHES
Woodstock Pizza (Google Maps) has a great menu that meets any vegetarian and vegan pizza-lovers needs. One of their most popular pies is their mouth-watering “grateful veg” pizza with fresh veggies and magical ‘shrooms (not actual shrooms, just a Santa Cruz play-on-words for their popular mushroom topping). Go entirely vegan and opt for the ‘make your own’ pizza option. You can also choose to have a gluten-free vegan crust and a kosher vegan pizza sauce, in addition to a plethora of pizza toppings to choose from. Woodstock’s Pizza is one of the best spots for vegan food in Santa Cruz.
Right at the start of downtown Santa Cruz’s main street is Cafe Gratitude (GoogleMaps). This is an excellent location for a restaurant that serves the vegan and vegetarian community living in health-conscious Santa Cruz. Cafe Gratitude has a modern, funky vibe complete with graffiti walls that match the burst of flavors they are serving up. Come here for a serious dose of the ambiance of Santa Cruz itself.
Cafe Gratitude serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some of their most popular dishes are their filling bowls, such as the crowd favorite macrobiotic bowl. They’re a little on the expensive side, but you’re paying for the quality of the ingredients which comes through in the dishes. If you are planning on stopping in around lunchtime they might busy which speaks to the uber-popularity of Cafe Gratitude for vegan bites in Santa Cruz.
One of the go-tos for vegan and vegetarian restaurants, Saturn Cafe (GoogleMaps), is so liked there are now multiple locations outside of Santa Cruz. Saturn Cafe specializes in vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts. For a fun atmosphere and excellent eats head to Saturn Cafe. The space-themed diner is sure to make your dining experience in Santa Cruz unique.
Their most popular dish is the vegan breakfast burrito with meat subbed for tofu and all the classic fixings, such as home fries, soyrizo, guacamole, vegan tofu spread, and fresh salsa. A close runner up is their space cowboy burger, which can be made vegan upon request.
SANTA CRUZ ASIAN-FUSION VEGAN OPTIONS
The upscale Malabar (GoogleMaps) is located right in downtown Santa Cruz and breaks from the ultra-casual vibes you get at most eateries in the city with a dash of elegance. They serve primarily Asian-fusion dishes on their lunch, tapas, and dinner menus and 100% vegetarian dishes, with plenty of vegan options. Malabar has a varied selection for each course offered so you will have plenty to taste test.
Although the restaurant is not 100% vegan, they have a special vegan menu and all vegetarian options. Plus, the portions are a decent size for the price. A favorite vegan dish is the delicious eggplant dosa, paired with their flavorful mango almond curry and a vegan mango lassi.
Dharma’s (GoogleMaps) has made Santa Cruz it’s home for the past 37 years, making the cafe a staple in the community for vegetarian and vegan meals as you will not find any meat on the menu. Dharma’s is about a 10 minute drive from downtown Santa Cruz and is open 7 days a week for your appetite. Dharma’s has a diverse menu, a relaxed atmosphere, and friendly waitstaff. Pricing on their dishes is reasonable if not slightly underpriced for what you are getting as their portions are huge.
The majority of their ingredients are organic and served in a variety of different types of cuisines; American, Thai, Mexican, and Japanese. They also have a recent gluten-free menu. Some of Dharma’s most popular dishes are the dan dan noodles, a noodle dish served in a peanut sauce and topped with veggies and tofu, and the nada chicken burrito, a whole wheat tortilla served with brown rice, faux chicken-spiced soy chips, and other classic burrito fixings.
CHARLIE HONG KONG
Charlie Hong Kong (GoogleMaps) is an entirely vegan restaurant in Santa Cruz that serves cuisine inspired by Southeast Asian street-food. The classic neighborhood eatery is frequented by local residents and students and is a must-eat spot even for those just passing through Santa Cruz for a vegan meal.
Charlie Hong Kong has an outdoor, dog-friendly patio with a truly fun and easy atmosphere that is great for friends, families, date nights. Charlie Hong Kong’s mission is to provide healthy, sustainable, affordable locally grown food to the greater Santa Cruz community, which they have been doing successfully since 1998. For a beloved classic, order Charlie’s pad Thai bowl of noodles stir-fried with fresh veggies in a tangy-tomato tamarind sauce.
While not entirely vegetarian and vegan, Ambrosia (GoogleMaps) is a highly recommended Indian bistro by Santa Cruz locals. It is located in Aptos, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Santa Cruz, and features a vegan insert menu. Their mushroom masala is a plant-based dish that has flavorful button mushrooms sauteed with bell peppers and onions, entirely vegan and still popular even among the meat dishes. Ambrosia has been in the area for quite a few years and has gained a decent following of locals with their consistently good food and healthy vegan-friendly Indian options.
SANTA CRUZ VEGAN GLOBAL FLAVORS
VEG ON THE EDGE
Veg on the Edge (GoogleMaps) is a totally Santa Cruz all-vegan eatery. Veg on the Edge’s playful name matches the food they serve and specialize in, including vegan burgers, wraps, and bowls. Affordable prices and quick and friendly customer service give this fast food joint a positive connotation.
Veg on the Edge puts a West African spin on their dishes, including plantains and jollof rice on the menu. The restaurant does its part in searching for fresh produce and fair trade products to serve patrons during the all-day breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Veg on the Edge is also mostly gluten-free. The beyond meat burger is without a doubt the most popular item on the menu, but their plantain waffle sparks the most interest because of its interesting sweet and salty flavors – try it!
Looking for your next go-to Mexican restaurant for vegan food in Santa Cruz? Tortilla Flats (GoogleMaps) in Soquel is where you need to be. Tortilla Flats is a gourmet Mexican food restaurant that has a separate vegetarian and vegan menu. Reasonable pricing, a separate tapas menu, and zesty strong margaritas make Tortilla Flats a fan-favorite and a staple in the Santa Cruz vegan community.
The vibrant decor is Day of the Dead themed and the food is even more colorful. Sink your teeth into their vegetarian burrito grande and add the Mexican-spiced tofu which is available in enchiladas, burritos, or tacos.
One of the most popular restaurants in Santa Cruz for a vegan meal is Cafe Brasil (GoogleMaps). This Brazilian-inspired restaurant is one of the best breakfast spots on the Westside of Santa Cruz. Their most popular breakfast items are the acai bowls, served up fresh and customizable. Order a side banana pancake and you have just ordered the most delicious, freshest, and healthiest breakfast you may find in Santa Cruz.
Cafe Brasil serves breakfast, lunch, and brunch along with signature juices made from Brazilian fruits, such as acerola (Brazilian cherry), acai, and caju (cashew fruit). Cafe Brasil truly embraces its Brazilian roots with its menu options, while staying true to its vegan-friendly community in Santa Cruz by making any dish vegan or vegetarian upon request.
Mimi McFadden is the travel blogger behind The Atlas Heart. Originally from California, she’s been slow traveling the world since 2013 and has lived in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Greece, and Portugal. When she’s not writing, you can find her sipping on a pint of craft beer, chasing waterfalls, or planning her next adventure in a foreign land. Follow her travels on Instagram and Facebook.
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