Alcohol Licensing


Alcohol licensing is regulated by the State of California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and they issue the alcohol license for your business. Through the City Review Process, the Santa Cruz Planning Department and Police Department coordinate to enforce local regulations around alcohol, including hours of operations and security standards. So cue the Jackson Five’s classic version of “ABC” and let’s go through this step by step.

ABC License

To apply for your alcoholic beverage license you must go in person to the ABC office in Salinas. The application process for a new license can take up to 90 days, including the required 30-day posting period.

The Salinas office address is 1137 Westridge Pkwy # 100, Salinas, CA 93907 and the primary contact is Karyn Nielsen. You can contact the Salinas office by phone (831) 755-1990 or email.

Make sure you visit the Salinas ABC office to determine what type of ABC license you will need before you begin the City permit process for the alcohol license for your business.

Each business with an alcoholic beverage license must possess a seller's permit from the State Board of Equalization, too. There is no fee to obtain a seller's permit and you can visit the State Board of Equalization website to register.

City Review Process

Alcohol service is heavily regulated in the City of Santa Cruz to ensure that businesses serving or selling alcohol are not harming public safety and welfare. The City regulates the sale and service of alcohol based on two classifications: low-risk outlets and high-risk outlets.

A “Low-risk alcohol outlet” is a bona fide restaurant, wine-tasting room, brewpub (Type 75), bed and breakfast inn, conference center and similar establishments that include food service but do not include regular live entertainment or a food store (e.g. a grocery store) where alcoholic beverages are sold.

An Administrative Use Permit is required to establish a Low-risk alcohol outlet, which includes a public hearing and final action by the Zoning Administrator. While the Zoning Administrator makes his or her decision in conjunction with the Police Department, make sure you also reach out to the Police Department for a separate conversation.

Even if you think that your business will be considered low-risk, it is strongly recommended that you speak with the Police Department in advance of submitting your application to Planning.

“High-risk alcohol outlet” is a retail outlet where alcoholic beverages are sold such as a bar, tavern, liquor store, convenience store, nightclub, banquet facility, and/or premises where live entertainment and/or dancing occurs. This also includes any on-sale or off-sale alcohol outlets which, as part of its regular operating hours, stays open past midnight on one or more days of the week.

Generally, a business that serves alcohol with service past midnight, does not provide food service, and/or has regular live entertainment, will most likely be considered a “high-risk alcohol outlet” and will be subject to the strict location limitations in the City Zoning Ordinance.

High-risk outlets are not prohibited in the city; however, they are discouraged and the rules regarding where you can locate make them difficult to establish. If you are interested in establishing a high-risk alcohol outlet, you must speak with the Police Department and Planning Department prior to submitting an application.

As with every business, there are unique aspects of your operation that will need to be addressed in the permitting process, and alcohol uses are so varied that it’s tough to look at these definitions and try to determine if your business is a high or low risk. We recommend you talk with the Police Department first to identify any challenges you may encounter and understand the rules and process for permitting your business. The contact for alcohol permitting in the Santa Cruz Police Department is Lt. Warren Barry. He can be reached at (831) 420-5859 or by email.

Alcohol Sales Permit Fee

The Finance Department collects the City's annual Alcohol Sales Permit Fee which is intended to recover the cost of the Police Department's Alcohol Education, Monitoring and Compliance Program. The fee is based on the following three components:

  1. Risk — which is determined by definition under the local alcohol ordinance, classifying businesses as either low or high risk.
  2. Hours — which is determined by the latest hour in which a business sold alcohol on any day in the previous year.
  3. Volume — which refers to the dollar volume of an outlet's wholesale alcohol purchases for the previous calendar year. In the case of a partial year for new businesses, the volume will be based on annualized purchases.

The total fee will be calculated based on a business’s classification into various categories within the risk, hours, and volume components.

If you’d like to learn more about the Alcohol Sales Permit Fee or the Alcohol Education, Monitoring and Compliance Program, please contact the Revenue Division at 831-420-5070 or email.