The quaint seaside village of Capitola began as a humble tent camp along the shore of the Monterey Bay. Camp Capitola, as it was known, welcomed its first guests in 1874 making it the first beach resort in California. A few years later, it premiered a magnificent wood-frame Victorian hotel — Hotel Capitola — that echoed grand contemporaries like the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego and San Francisco’s original Cliff House. The hotel succumbed to fire in 1929, but the romance of the original beach resort still exists in the colorful, seaside shops and restaurants tucked into a hillside along Soquel Creek. Wandering the village and its bayfront promenade — window shopping and snacking along the way — is a quintessential part of a Santa Cruz experience.
It’s all about the bustling scene at Capitola Beach and the bench-filled Esplanade Park that fronts it. Beach goers perch themselves on a wide, arcing sea wall lined with colorful tiles painted by community members and take in the panoramic beach scene. A nearby bandstand comes alive during the summer months with live music and a free movie series screening popular flicks at dusk, like Wall-E and The Avengers.
You know summer has officially arrived when the Capitola Beach Company rolls out its rental trailer stocked with everything you need for a fun day at the beach including boogie boards, beach chairs and sun umbrellas. Don’t miss their boutique down the street that’s filled with men’s and women’s beach apparel individually selected by owners Jill and Matt. Around the corner, Nubia Swimwear offers an exhaustive selection of stylish womens and girls swimwear from designers across the globe.
Want a memento to bring home? Stop by the family-owned Village Mouse whose fantastic interior displays souvenirs, beachy home decor and holiday decor. Connected to the shop is the Thomas Kinkade Gallery brimming with studio-proof paintings of bucolic American scenes including a few local landscapes. And check out Craft Gallery which features the work of local artists and craftspeople including manager Josie who welds sheet metal — starting with the metal hood from her old car — into seaside imagery. She calls it “drawing with fire.”
Zelda’s On The Beach is a fun spot for live music and Bloody Mary’s enjoyed on a huge deck set right on the beach. A few doors down, Paradise Beach Grille boasts a comfortable dining room, a lively lounge and a killer torch-lit patio overlooking Soquel Creek and the beach. Pair tropical-imbued seafood dishes like Coconut Prawns or an Ahi Tuna Salad with a glass of wine from their large selection of local labels. Just remember that patio come The Begonia Festival when flower-filled floats sail down the creek.
An unmistakable part of the seaside landscape is the complex of colorful houses that line Capitola Beach. They were built as condominiums in 1925 and were intended to bring Venice’s charm to Capitola. The brown houses within the same complex now comprise the atmospheric Capitola Venetian Hotel. Snag a multi-bedroom room with kitchen and living area and be walking distance to everything!
Capitola has a fascinating history and even the most casual glimpse lends fun insight into America’s captivation with recreation and leisure. If you have an interest in the events and forces that shaped the local landscape, drop by the Capitola Historical Museum. for a peek into the town’s rich history.