Santa Cruz is too often referred to as a "weird" place, full of hippies, homeless optionals, and trust-ifarians. And, while some of these subcultures do permeate the downtown, what really sets Santa Cruz apart, I think, is its food culture.
I remember when I first moved to France, the shock of the single bio organic isle in the super market. Here, organic is the standard. People expect fresh and local. And if they don't expect quality, they at the very least expect rustic or artisan.
This is a small town, remember, so our offerings of restaurants and diners is slim compared to a real city. But just a little bit of hunting can yield a very, very good lunch.
The River Street Cafe is one of my favorite place to sit when it's raining. Their tiny restaurant is also a sun room, so you're dry and warm when it's wet outside.
It is also one of my favorite places to sit when it's sunny. An outdoor patio, strings of lights and festive garlands make already good meals taste even better.