All Photos by Molly Lautamo
Wandering the streets of Capitola village is like going on a treasure hunt. You never know what inspiring vista, quirky street art, or tasty eatery you’re going to stumble upon as you explore. Colorful murals turn a neighborhood alley into a mini outdoor gallery, a pelican sculpture watches over a garden overgrown with wildflowers, and hidden stairways lead to spectacular bird’s-eye-views of the maze of houses and shops that hug the glittering blue Monterey Bay below.
However you choose to spend your time in Capitola, the charming beach town will soon have you living from moment to moment. Although, you don’t really need an itinerary to enjoy yourself in Capitola, below are a few of the best sights, spots, and activities to help you unwind and relax into your sojourn by the sea.
An Artful Amble
Capitola has a surprising number of murals, mosaics, and unexpected pops of color right along the beach that continue up into the neighborhoods perched on the hills above the village. Ditch the itinerary for the morning, and take a relaxing, aimless walk through town in search of hidden pockets of artistic inspiration.
Find flowers and succulents weeping from window boxes on historic houses painted bold colors like periwinkle purple and sunset peach. A mosaic of bright, cheery tiles decorates the curving Esplanade at Capitola Beach. A coral pink bench sits empty against the backdrop of a matching coral wall. A mural depicting the Capitola Venetian Hotel lies hidden down an alleyway and a two-story high mermaid decorates the back-side of a tall building.
The longer you walk, the more you’ll find, including breathtaking views of the Monterey Bay.
The murals and houses are beautiful, but you can’t beat the countless inspiring ocean views that Capitola has to offer. Partway up Cliff Drive, following the train tracks, you’ll find an expansive view of the entire village, sparkling blue ocean, and the historic Capitola Wharf. Nearby stairs lead down to the sand for a leisurely stroll along the wharf’s wooden planks and a close-up view of diving pelicans, harbor seals, otters, and local fishermen. To head back into town, take the Stockton Avenue bridge, crossing picturesque Soquel Creek with a view of the old railroad trestle high above the water.
For a different angle, and a workout, take the steep stairway up to Grand Avenue. In the morning, this stairway is bustling with dedicated runners burning enough calories to warrant a pastry (or three) from Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria, but in the afternoon it empties and the arch of greenery overhead makes it feel like a secret passageway. At the top, you’re rewarded with a rooftop view of Capitola Village and, of course, the ever-inspiring ocean. If you wander deeper into the neighborhood, you’ll find stunning views to the east of New Brighton State Beach and the surfers down below at Capitola Beach.
If you’re looking for some retail therapy, you don’t have to go far. There are endless gift shops and no shortage of high-end beach fashion if you’re looking for a new outfit to complement your newly acquired tan. Craft Gallery features the work of local artists and you can find the intricate glass sculptures of local artist Chris Johnson at Many Hands Gallery. Take a quick break from your shopping spree and stop by the free Capitola Historical Museum where you can explore old photos and relics from the West Coast’s oldest beach resort.
Capitola Beach is one of the mellowest breaks for first-time surfers. Its consistently small waves make it a perfect place to practice your pop-up without worrying about getting in the way of experienced locals. If you’re just trying out the sport, rent your wetsuit and board from Capitola Beach Company. For those who are already hooked and want to invest in their own surf gear, check out O’Neill Surf Shop, founded in Santa Cruz by Jack O’Neill in the 1950’s.
Just around the bend, New Brighton State Beach has a long stretch of sunny sand, perfect for sunbathing. The campground perched on the cliffs above offers beautiful campsites nestled between cypress trees, with the most desirable sites overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All campsites are within walking distance to the beach with a private stairway leading down to the sand. This campground often books up 6 months in advance so plan ahead!
For a legendary dining experience, head up the hill to Shadowbrook Restaurant. Ride the cherry-red gondola to dinner or walk yourself down through the winding garden pathway. Choose from outdoor seating overlooking the river, a cozy seat at the bar next to the wood-burning fireplace, or the formal dining area to up the romance.
A relaxing vacation is never complete without a comfortable place to lay your head at night. The beautiful inns and hotels in Capitola, however, provide far more than just a place to sleep. Captivating ocean views and a private covered hot tub, for those staying in the Carriage House, make it hard to leave the historic Monarch Cove Inn. Drink your coffee in the lush gardens overlooking the ocean as monarch butterflies flit lazily through the eucalyptus trees, or have breakfast in bed as the morning light filters through the Victorian cottage windows. Just don’t forget to take advantage of the rest that Capitola has to offer!
A train depot through the first half of the 1900s, the Inn at Depot Hill was uprooted in the early 1960s from Park Avenue and moved to its current location on Monterey Avenue above Capitola Village. Now a luxurious bed and breakfast, the inn’s intricately decorated rooms all pay homage to different train stations around the world, from Kyoto to Paris. With a complimentary breakfast, baked goods in the afternoon, wine in the evenings, and a private sunny courtyard to relax in, you may never make it beyond the inn’s welcoming walls.
The Capitola Hotel, located right in the middle of the village, also serves complimentary breakfast, coffee, tea and afternoon cookies. Just steps from the beach, you can easily roll out of bed for a walk along the sand or a sunrise surf session before hitting the shops.
No matter what time of year you visit, the slow, easy vibe of Capitola will immediately put you on beach time. There’s no rush, so kick off your shoes and stay awhile. From exploring the charming, narrow streets lined with cozy coffee shops, posh boutiques, and ocean-view lunch spots, to surfing or sunbathing at the beach, Capitola is the ultimate relaxation getaway.