Six Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Westside Santa Cruz

Romantic getaways on Monterey Bay, from Natural Bridges to West Cliff Drive to the Santa Cruz Wharf to Venus Spirits, plus some of the world’s best chocolate.

By Majken Talbot

Feb. 6, 2024—1. Donnelly Chocolate Dreams
Chocolate has a well-deserved reputation as an aphrodisiac, which makes it the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. But not all chocolate is created equal. Donnelly Chocolates has been a local favorite since they opened their doors in 1988. Don't let their bare-bones storefront on Mission Street fool you. These Santa Cruz chocolatiers have won numerous awards, including "Best Artisan Chocolate" at the Eurochocolate Festival in Perugia, Italy. Their ice cream bars are a local legend.

For Valentine's Day, check out their silky and decadent truffles! Excellent flavor options include passionfruit, raspberry, rose, chipotle, and brandied cherries dark chocolate. It’s recommended to plan ahead. Reserve your truffles a day or two before the holiday and beat the Valentine's Day rush!

2. Wine Tasting at the Swift Street Courtyard
This trendy, two-acre commercial complex is home to half a dozen great local wineries and restaurants. Equinox Sparkling Wines offers a perfect option for this romantic holiday.

The Equinox vintners use the méthode champenoise—the traditional production method for making French champagne. Their tasting room offers no less than six different wine flights ranging from $25 to $30. Prefer to savor a glass instead of sampling multiple options? Try a glass of Monterey Blanc de Blanc for $16. Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, it's crisp, full-bodied and delicious. Alternatively, grab a bottle of sparkling rosé and head out for a Valentine's Day picnic.

Equinox Wines has partnered with Fonda Felix Cocina and Empanadas. You can scan the QR code at the wine bar to order the delicious empanadas. Fonda Felix will deliver the food directly to your table in the Equinox tasting room. Fonda Felix offers a dazzling selection of delicious empanadas ranging from Argentine Beef to Winter Squash. They also offer vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Order two empanadas per person for a snack, or try three for a small meal. These savory snacks are packed with flavor and immensely satisfying.

Bring your Donnelly Chocolate truffles to the Equinox Tasting Room to create your own personal Sparkling Wine and Chocolate pairing!

3. A Picnic on the Beach
Westside Santa Cruz offers a perfect spot to incorporate some outdoor fun in a Valentine's Day date—an unforgettable picnic at Natural Bridges State Beach. Natural Bridges is a gorgeous geologic feature carved out of what were once the coastal cliffs. Two of the three original natural bridges have collapsed, leaving a lone rock with a stunning arch. The rocky island provides a home for pelicans and cormorants.

The $10 entrance fee for this state park is well worth it. A picturesque, sandy beach provides a perfect place for viewing all kinds of sea life, including migrating gray and humpback whales. Moore Creek winds through a salt marsh and cuts through the beach's northern end as it rushes to the ocean. A nearby cypress grove shelters charming wooden picnic tables with BBQ grills and water stations. Pick a spot with a spectacular view of the rock and surf.

4. Monarchs, Wetlands, and Tidepools — Oh My!
Natural Bridges State Beach is also a winter home to the miraculous Monarch butterflies. Every year, the fragile, colorful Monarch migrates a staggering 3,000 miles to escape the cold bite of winter. The typical lifespan of a butterfly is 6-8 weeks, but the Monarchs overwintering here live an astonishing 6-9 months, so they can reach their final destination in the Rockies.

A wooden boardwalk snakes through a grove of Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees to the Monarchs' magical realm. These striking-looking butterflies hook their tiny feet together so they can cluster in the thousands upon a single branch. Watch the Monarchs as they swoop and dive in the sunlit canopy overhead like golden confetti.

Stop off at the Visitor Center for a map with directions to the tidepools. Follow the Monarch Trail to the Moore trail. This short, easy hike leads to a boardwalk that transverses the scenic Moore Creek Wetlands and loops back to the beach. To reach the tidepools, turn right and follow the map directions northwards.

A short jaunt through a seaside neighborhood leads to the Natural Bridges Marine Reserve. Hunt through the pristine tidepools for hidden green anemones, sea stars, limpets, and hermit crabs, but please respect this protected marine reserve by not disturbing or collecting any of these living creatures. The rocks can be slippery, so wear trail shoes or a good pair of water shoes.

It's best to view the tide pools at low tide, (which falls around 8 am on Valentine's Day). Check out Santa Cruz Tide Forecast for more up-to-date, accurate tidal info.

5. Scenic Stroll or Ride on West Cliff Drive to Dinner on the Wharf
Santa Cruz's famous West Cliff Drive is custom made for a romantic walk or bike ride. From Natural Bridges State Park, a wide, well-paved walkway follows the beach and provides unparalleled vistas of California’s coastline. Take breaks to admire the views from one of the wooden benches along this iconic 2.5-mile pathway. (If you prefer to bike, you can rent a beach cruiser at Cruiser King near the Santa Cruz Wharf for $15 an hour.)

The wharf offers numerous options for a Valentine's Day dinner. Makai Kitchen Island and Groggery features a tempting Hawaiian menu with signature dishes like grilled Mahi Mahi with pineapple Beurre Blanc. A full tiki bar complements their fun, tropical island décor. For the full waterfront dining experience, reserve a table on their heated outdoor patio.

6. Whiskey and Chocolate at Venus Spirits
Venus Spirits is a local, award-winning distillery that produces small-batch whiskey, gin, aquavit, vodka, blue agave spirits and rum. Join them for a whiskey and chocolate tasting Valentine’s Day exclusive event. This unique event will be held in their tasting room from 5:30 to 7pm and includes a whiskey and chocolate pairing with a distillery tour. Tickets are $75. This event is sure to be popular, so purchase tickets in advance.

Prefer fine dining and cocktails? Treat your Valentine to a romantic dinner and cocktails at the Venus Spirits Distillery right next door. The space boasts high ceilings with an industrial chic feel. For Valentine's Day, they are serving up two classic, romantic main courses: Filet Mignon and Seafood Scampi. Their featured Valentine's cocktail, Strawberry Fields Forever, is sure to delight the palate. This strawberry-infused agave spirit with cacao nib syrup and fresh mint can be enjoyed for $15.