Somewhere between the surf and sand, the redwoods and radicals, Santa Cruz’s rep for exceptional wine, beer, and spirits gets overshadowed. It’s no wonder. The renowned bastion of counterculture sits on an enviable stretch of land conjoining California’s majestic redwoods with the marine sanctuary of the Monterey Bay. Yet amidst the natural splendor, a strong commitment to craft drink has taken hold. After a visit, don’t be surprised if half of your pics are of noteworthy pints and bottles.

Venus Spirits gin should be in your photo stream. The smartly-designed bottle holds an utterly drinkable mix of botanicals like lavender, citrus, and juniper. It’s the first small batch from owner Sean Venus, who set down his Gordon Biersch brewer hat to start producing high-end organic spirits from alembic stills. For El Ladrón, his unaged agave spirit, he tapped his connections in the organic food product world and had agave juice imported from Mexico. At 47%, it drinks deceptively smooth, with full flavors of agave opening up late on the palate. A tasting room –and a single-malt whiskey that’s still on oak — is forthcoming.

Where can you enjoy Venus now? Head to nearby West Cliff Drive –an outrageously scenic promenade that skirts the Monterey Bay –and follow it to Aquarius, which sits directly on the sand of Cowell’s Beach. Their bar stocks one of the better selections of spirits in town, as well as a few local craft beers on tap. Grab a seat in the airy Jack O’Neill lounge that honors the town’s wetsuit pioneer, and enjoy the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Santa Cruz Wharf and surfers at famed surf spot Steamer Lane.

From the lounge, you’ll also note the blinking lights and twirling rides of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The historic seaside play zone has delighted visitors since 1907. Stroll the atmospheric esplanade, stopping to try your hand at toppling a stack of metal bottles…with beer in hand. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing makes a seasonal double IPA specifically for the Boardwalk, providing options beyond Heineken tall boys. The cleverly titled DIPA is packed with malt and citrusy Simcoe hops, and celebrates the Giant Dipper (or dipa’), the Boardwalk’s 90 year-old wooden coaster. Need something more wholesome than funnel cakes and Dippin’ Dots? Cross the street to The Picnic Basket, where you’ll enjoy good food and local wines on an outdoor patio surveying the action.

Historically, Santa Cruz is probably most noted for its wine. The region has produced grapes since the 1860s and its appellation –The Santa Cruz Mountain AVA — hides over 200 vineyards and some 60 wineries in winding mountain roads. Its most enigmatic figure might be Randall Grahm, the merry mind behind Bonny Doon Vineyard. They’re known for their original artwork as much as for their thoughtfully crafted Old World blends. Drop by their stylish new tasting room in quaint, cliff-side Davenport to sample wines like a killer rosé and their flagship Le Cigare Volant, a local homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Fifteen minutes away, a former brussels sprouts packing facility serves as an industrial-cool winery hub with ten tasting rooms all within a cork’s toss of each other. Most pour the region’s famed Pinot Noir, but duck into Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard for a few surprises. In addition to rare Portuguese and Spanish varietals, winemaker Jeff Emery also helps produce artisan brandies under the Osocalis label (Osocalis being the Native American word for the area before it was anglicized to Soquel). Using traditional alambic Charentais stills, a blend of mostly Colombard and Pinot Noir grapes is double-distilled and set on new oak for varying ages. The rare bottling is a steal at $40 –great on its own but perfect for cocktails –and the XO is an extraordinary, Cognac-like spirit with polished fruit, spice, and a finish that lasts for days.

Santa Cruz is also quietly becoming a beer town. In recent years, the area has boomed with taphouses and breweries whose products you’d be hard pressed to find outside of the area. A supportive community with genuine camaraderie has grown alongside it, too. To get a feel, consider the following three spots that aren’t quite walking distance but close enough to be called neighbors.

Discretion Brewing is a 10-barrel organic brewery and brewpub that recently gained the chef from one of the better wine bars in town. He pairs upscale brew-friendly foods—think beer-braised pork belly sliders and potatoes with Spanish chorizo—with brewmaster Michael Demers’ wide selection of exceptional beers, including an English-style mild that won them a 2014 World Beer Cup gold medal.

Beer Thirty Bottle Shop and Pour House pours the best sampler in town. They’ve got thirty constantly rotating taps complemented by a cold case stocked with hundreds more. The well-informed staff can guide you through offerings and help assemble a covetable tray of tasting glasses. They also encourage you to grab food from one of three adjacent eateries and bring it back to the handsome taproom and light-strung beer garden.

The brewers at Sante Adairius Rustic Ales worked together at the local homebrewers’ cooperative before coming together to produce some of Santa Cruz’s best brew. The 831 IPA is a danky, hop-bursting mainstay, but they’re probably best known for their tart, barrel-aged saisons. Kegs usually only last a day or two in the modern farmhouse style tasting room, but a few special ones end up in a bottle. If you see one up on the chalkboard, snag it.

Venus Spirits
427 A Swift Street
Not yet open to the public but you can find their products at 41st Ave Liquor and U-Save Liquors

Inside The Dream Inn
175 W Cliff Dr
(831) 460-5012
Daily 7:00 am – 9:30 pm

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
400 Beach St
(831) 423-5590
Hours vary seasonally

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
402 Ingalls St, Ste 27
(831) 425-4900
Daily 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm

The Picnic Basket
125 Beach St, Ste B
(831) 427-9946
Daily 7:00 am to 9:00 pm

Bonny Doon Vineyard
450 Hwy 1, Davenport, CA
(831) 471-8031
Wed – Mon: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard&Osocalis
334 Ingalls St
(831) 426-6209
Wed – Sun: 12:00 pm – 5:00pm

Discretion Brewing
2703 41st Ave, Ste A, Soquel
(831) 316-0662
Daily 11:30 am – 9:00 pm

Beer Thirty Bottle Shop and Pour House
2504 S Main St, Soquel
(831) 477-9967
Sun – Thu: 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Fri – Sat: 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
103 Kennedy Dr, Capitola
(831) 462-1227
Tue – Fri 3:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Sat – Sun 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm