Are you looking for hidden gems on California’s Central Coast? Well, then, take a look at all the fun things to do in Capitola, California!
I am one of those persons who pay attention to road signs when driving around. That habit gets a little bit more intense when I am on a road trip.
After an unhealthy dose of fried artichokes near Castroville (so good!), we continued moving north along CA-1.
The gloomy skies started to open up just when I spotted the “Santa Cruz County Line” sign.
I felt beyond excited since I was officially on new territory.
Since I love colorful places, it was a must for me to stop by Capitola By-the-Sea.
The village presents an interesting mix of prettiness and history (more proof that California’s beach towns rock).
Now, get ready to get a tour of this multicolored village.
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Things to Do in Capitola
Even though Capitola is small, you can spend half or full in town. There are plenty of things to see, do and eat. I encourage you to visit and make your own conclusions.
Visit the Capitola Wharf and the Capitola City Beach
Frederick A. Hihn, a German immigrant, acquired an area known as Soquel Landing (from a family who owned the land by a Mexican grant) and paid for the first wharf in 1857. The wharf was supposed to serve as an outlet for produce and lumber from the interior.
Today, the wharf is used for fishing, boat renting, and other recreational activities. A walk around the structure is a necessity because of the views.
A walk around the structure is a necessity because of the views.
To one side, it is possible to admire the rocky, chalky cliffs that are so common in Monterey Bay. Gorgeous houses hang from the cliffs with charm.
On the other side, you have Capitola’s beach and town (which is a depression among the cliffs). This is where the views explode with color.
The beach is located to several restaurants, a grocery store, and Esplanade Park (in case you do not want to station yourself in the sand).
Do Not Miss The Venetian Court
In one of the previous photos, you probably noticed a row of colorful apartments. Almost everybody called then “The Venetians” and they happened to be one of the symbols of Capitola.
The historical references are confusing (at least to me). Some say the wharf wasn’t as successful as Hinh wanted it to be. Others say he was just too ambitious (a businessman after all) and wanted to make more money of his property.
In 1869, he approved a ten-year lease agreement to Samuel Alonzo Hall (known for helping to establish the nearby town of Soquel). Hall wanted to farm the land but found himself letting beach visitors camp in his leased property.
His daughter convinced him to open a camp. After investing in sturdy tents and other amenities, he called the development Camp Capitola. It is believed Capitola refers to the main character of a book loved by Hall’s daughter.
The Camp was a success. People from the interior kept coming to cool themselves during the summer.
Once it was time to renew the lease, Hinh raised the price. Hall had to leave but Hihn kept exploding the land for tourism purposes.
There was some sort of hotel development while Hihn was still alive. However, construction of the Venetian Court, in the Mediterranean Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Mission Revival architecture styles, began in 1924 and continued for several years.
They are inscribed in the National Register of Historic Places as one of the first condominium seaside developments in California (others claim it is the FIRST of such developments in the state).
The two rows of colorful units nearest to the beach are privately owned condos (many of which are available as vacation rentals by the owner). The large brown building in the back row (nearest to the street) is now operated as the Capitola Venetian Hotel.
Since the structures are private property you cannot walk freely around. Pictures have to be taken from the beach, wharf, or from other points.
Check out the Soquel Creek
The Soquel Creek’s headwaters are located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It flows through Capitola before it empties in the Soquel Cove (in the Monterey Bay).
I have discussed at length Capitola’s resort past. As you can imagine, people have built vacation houses along the stream.
These houses have more of a beach cottage feeling and come in bright colors too.
The most peculiar house is the one built to resemble a windmill.
A bridge, once used for a train, crosses the Soquel Creek. According to what I have read, the bridge can be crossed by pedestrians (sounds crazy, have you seen that altitude?).
An infamous restaurant called Shadowbrook is located next to the creek and can be reached via cable car.
Stroll The Capitola Village
The charm of Capitola goes back to its origins. Hinh made sure his property had a hint of his native Germany. He planted trees and gardens and built parks and walking paths.
When we got out of the main road and drove around town looking for a parking lot, my husband said: “Let’s stay here all day.”
That is how Capitola makes you feel. The town is so cute and alive that by instinct you want to stay there for a long time.
I recommend paying a visit to Lumen Gallery. There are hand-crafted jewelry, blown glass, ceramics, small paintings, mobiles, clocks, and much more. Pay a visit. You are going to thank me later.
For more gallery hopping, you can stop by Art Inspired, Craft Gallery, Village Sea Glass, and /or Gaia Earth Treasures.
Other unique stores are Capitola Seashells and Phoebe’s.
If you are into clothes or accessories shopping, there are a lot of stores selling all sorts of goods with the characteristic hippie/surfer Santa Cruz vibe. If you want to exude that vibe, you can stop by Big Kahuna-Banana Jack, Surf N Shack, Capitola Beach Company, and Free to Ride Surf Shop.
Visit the Village Museum
History lovers can visit the Capitola Historical Museum, a lovely red shack highlighting historical artifacts and photos of the city. This year they have an exhibition about the little-known facts about Capitola.
Opening times are Thursday to Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Indulge in Some Wine Tasting
Santa Cruz County may not be associated with vineyards but let me remind you the Santa Cruz Mountains wine growing region has been recognized with its own appellation.
Therefore, Capitola is a nice place to taste local wines. However, you can find bottles from all over the world if that is your desire.
Armida Winery – This colorful tasting room located next to Soquel Creek offers wines made with grapes planted in Sonoma County.
Capitola Wine Bar & Merchants – Cozy wine bar offering a wide selection of wines (by the glass or on flights), cheese/charcuterie plates, and other gourmet items.
Cork & Fork – This place prides itself on curating the best wines of California. They have excellent reviews from the area’s media. There is no doubt they know what they are doing. They serve small bites too.
Taste the Local Brews
Beer lovers have plenty of good tasting options.
At the heart of the Village, you will find English Ales. As the name implies, this place brews with English recipes and European ingredients. There are options for non-beer drinkers (and you can ask the staff to recommend a cup of wine).
Close to the Pacific Coast Highway, you will find Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House and Sante Adairius Rustic Ales. In nearby Soquel, Discretion Brewing offers beers and delicious pub food.
Camp at New Brighton State Beach
If you enjoy camping, the New Brighton State Beach campsites are located over a bluff overlooking Monterey Bay. It cannot get more scenic than that!
But, you do not need to camp here to enjoy the beach. Day use amenities include picnic areas, interpretative signs, exhibits, visitor’s center, and junior ranger programs. Main services (restrooms, showers, potable water) are available.
From New Brighton State Beach, it is a short walk to Seacliff State Beach and its famous concrete ship. Yes, you read that right! The S.S. Palo Alto, a concrete ship, lies in a state of disrepair at the end of Seacliff’s pier.
This is one of California’s most bizarre attractions. Pay it a visit!
Read More: Seacliff State Beach and the Palo Alto
Bonus: Camping Near Capitola
If you cannot find a camping site at New Brighton State Beach, there are other campsites in the area.
You can try your luck at the following:
- Seacliff State Beach
- Manresa State Beach
- Santa Cruz/ Monterey Bay KOA
- Santa Cruz Harbor RV Park
The last two options are administered by private entities. They may have better availability than the public campgrounds and the price difference may not be that much. Anyway, the Capitola area is popular with visitors. You should make reservations as much in advance as possible.
Shopping in Capitola
I prefer to stay away from malls but recognize it may be handy to have them nearby. Capitola has its own mall (called, of course, Capitola Mall) full of big retail stores (Target, Macy’s), supermarkets (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foos, pharmacies, banks, and a movie theater. Some of these stores and services may be useful during your stay in town.
Attend an Event
Capitola has quite a busy community. A look at their local calendar will reveal a wide range of events planned for almost every weekend.
Bigger events include the Classic Car Show (June), Wharf to Wharf Race (July), Art & Wine Festival (September, and Begonia Festival (Labor Day Weekend).
Free concerts are offered during the summer at Esplanade Park.
Things to Do Near Capitola
Soquel – This small town, adjacent to Capitola (in theory, a census-designated place), has a center (The Village) full of antique shops, a brewery (Discretion Brewery), restaurants, and cafes. Do not miss the nearby-located, Bargetto Winery.
Aptos – This is another town adjacent to Capitola. In terms of things to do in Aptos, you can visit Seacliff State Beach (with its famous concrete ship at the end of the pier), hike at the Forest of the Nisene Marks State Park, or wine taste at Ser Winery.
Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz is known around the world for its surfing culture, Boardwalk, Wharf, historic Mission, and tantalizing beaches. You need several days to cover this city. I recommend doing a road trip to the county. Remember to include Capitola on your itinerary. To get some ideas on things to do in Santa Cruz, check these articles:
Moss Landing – Home to the Elkhorn Slough, a marine wildlife sanctuary. You can access the area through small cruises, kayaks, and paddleboards.
Monterey – This city, located 40 miles from Capitola, is one of the best stops on any road trip along California. Since it served as California’s capital, it is full of historical monuments. Others visit because of the Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Cannery Row.
Where is Capitola – How to Reach the Village
Capitola is located 6 miles from Santa Cruz, 35 miles from San Jose, and 76 miles from San Francisco. San Jose has the closest, biggest airport in the area. A car rental is recommended if you intend to explore the area.
If you are accessing the town by car, use the Bay Porter exit on CA-1 to go directly to the heart of town.
There are multiple public and private parking lots in town. Public lot charge per hour. A private lot may be cheaper if they charge a flat rate and you expect to be in town the entire day.
Weather in Capitola – When to Visit
The weather in this part of California is good all year round. Summer reaches the mid-80s and winters the mid-60s.
The city and surrounding areas get crowded during summer. Make reservations way in advance to ensure availability. Spring and fall may be the better seasons to visit.
Do not hesitate to visit during winter. Actually, I have visited Santa Cruz and Capitola mostly during winter. Some say it is the perfect time to hike and be active. During this season, some businesses have shorter hours or not offerings at all. You need to consider this while planning your vacation. However, I have never felt limited during my winter visits. There is way too much to do!
Hotels in Capitola
If you want to stay in charming Capitola, here are my top recommendations when it comes to hotels.
Capitola Beach Suites – Location is everything when it comes to this property! The beach is a jump away (200 feet). On top of that, you will have ocean views from your balcony and/or roof terrace (equipped with tables, chairs, and fireplace). Most rooms have a small sitting area and kitchen with full-sized electronics. The property has been highly rated by couples. Check out the latest prices and more details here!
Quality Inn & Suites Capitola – Easily accessed from the Pacific Coast Highway, this property offers ample rooms including essentials such as a mini-fridge, microwave, TV, and Wi-Fi. Suites separate rooms from the living and dining areas. Amenities include a pool and breakfast room. The hotel is located close to restaurants, supermarkets, and shops. This is a great place to check out what Capitola and Santa Cruz have to offer. Check out the latest prices and more details here!
Best Western Plus Inn & Suites – This highly-rated property caters to travelers looking for comfort. It includes amenities such as a pool, hot tub, fitness center, business center, and breakfast. Even single rooms include a small sitting area and desk. The location puts you super close to Pleasure Point (with panoramic views) and Downtown Capitola. Check out the latest prices and more details here!
Staying in Santa Cruz
Another option is to stay in bigger Santa Cruz and stop by Capitola as a day trip or half-day trip. If you are interested in doing this, you can stay in wonderful places such as Continental Inn, Hyatt Place Santa Cruz, and Beach Street Inn and Suites.
Restaurants in Capitola
You would not go hungry in Capitola! Check out the following recommendation.
For breakfast, you cannot miss the scrumptious of Gayle’s Bakery. They have a mind-blowing selection of pies, danishes, croissants, and cookies. They have on the menu sandwiches, salads, soups, hot entrees, and roasted meats too.
Other breakfast options are Avenue Cafe and, in nearby Soquel, Pretty Good Advice and Sunrise Cafe.
For lunch and dinner, Shadowbrook, Sotola Bar & Grill, Caruso’s, East End Gastropub, and Roux Dat Cajun Creole are good options.
Those looking for affordable eats can consider Pizza My Heart, Mijo’s Taqueria, and Left Coast Sausage Worx.
For places with amazing views, check out the Wharf House Restaurant and Paradise Beach Grille (with views of The Venetians).
Note: I was misled by Yelp several times while in Santa Cruz. Restaurants with nearly five start ended by leaving a lot to be desired. Therefore, research properly before visiting or ask locals for their recommendations.
Beach Town Gear
As I spend a lot of time on beach towns, I have my gear packed and ready to throw in the car. Here is an idea of what I take to check out Capitola attractions.
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Flip Flops – Flip flops are a must on any beach trip. I am partial to the Tevas brand. >>Take a look at these beautiful flip flops
- Water Sandals – If you want a more polished look, check out these leather-made salt water sandals.
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Towels – This is the accessory I always forget about. WETCAT’s Turkish Towels take minimum space and dry fast. >Buy a Turkish towel here
- Foldable Chairs – Portable chairs allow you to set camp at the beach, park, winery, and even a parking lot. A classic Coleman portable chair is a solid choice. >>Buy portable camping chair
- Beach Blanket – For laying on the sand, a beach blanket is necessary. Good ones are waterproof, sandproof, and light. The blankets manufactured by Wekapo fit several adults and are durable. >Buy this nice beach blanket here
- Soft Cooler Bag – A soft cooler bag with enough capacity is great for having drinks and some food items at hand. I love my CleverMade collapsible cooler bag. >Take a look at my cooler here
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Dry Bag – Keep your valuables (and electronics) protected by bringing a dry bag. >These dry bag is awesome
- Beach Bag or Large Tote – Carry all your gear on an amazing beach bag. Get one with tons of pockets (I love pockets). >>>Check out my beach bag top pick
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on beach trips. Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
Travel Planning Resources
If you are planning a trip to Capitola, Santa Cruz, or other areas of California, here are some resources that may help you with that (these are my personal favorites):
Plane Tickets: Travel aggregators like Kayak, Skyscanner, CheapOAir, and Momondo save you money by extracting the best route prices from different airlines. You can also use these to see what places have the most affordable flight prices for a particular date.
Book a Hotel: Booking.com is my go-to place to book accommodations. It is hard to beat them when it comes to prices. Plus, once you achieve the Genius level, you will be entitled to discounts. HotelsCombined is another great alternative (if you want to compare prices).
Vacation Homes: Vrbo allows you to book houses, condos, cottages, and cabins.
Short-Term Car Rentals: Zipcar, a car-sharing service, allows you to rent a car for a period of minutes, hours, or day. After renting with an app, you proceed to pick up the car in a designated spot. In this way, you avoid going to a rental office and filling in tons of paperwork.
Airport Parking: Airport Parking Reservations allows you to find the parking lot with the lowest price. Park Sleep Fly specializes in packages including hotel (the day before or after the trip), parking, and shuttle to the airport.
Insurance: Travelex offers policies covering trip cancellation/interruption, medical assistance, evacuation, and 24/7 assistance. They tend to pay claims faster than the industry standard.
Day Tours: GetYourGuide has an extensive offering of day tours or day trips. As an independent traveler, I book day tours to get insight into a destination or do fun activities.
What do you think about the colors of Capitola? What are your recommendations for things to do in Capitola?
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