Here is my list of best things to do in Capitola, CA. Capitola is an awesome place and it’s really unique and different to other places in California. In this article, you will see why 🙂
Just 70 miles from San Francisco, Capitola is a seaside town that offers visitors and locals plenty of fun things to do. Laid out in 1869, the town is the oldest beach resort on the West Coast so you can expect plenty of restaurants and shops, not to mention lovely forest walks among the redwoods. Then, of course, there are beaches for which the area is super-famous.
Capitola also hosts a number of seasonal events that draw visitors from across the country.
Many people head for Santa Cruz for their summer holidays, but my family and I prefer to stay in Capitola. Capitola is small enough to get around without ever having to get behind the wheel.
It is also within a few minutes’ drive of both Apsos and Santa Cruz so we plan a number of side trips to these towns. All in all, it’s a great destination for a family trip.
Capitola Village started life as a humble camp on the shores of Monterey Bay. In its early days, it was known as Camp Capitola. The first visitors arrived at the camp in 1874.
Here are my suggestions for the top 20 things to do in Capitola:
#1: Walk on Capitola Beach
Of course, visitors to Capitola make a beeline for Capitola Beach. This is one of Santa Cruz’s most popular beaches and it’s easy to understand why. The beach is on the Esplanade right alongside the village.
With easy access to the shops and restaurants, there is still plenty of sandy space to enjoy a family picnic and enjoy the lovely views of Monterey Bay. The beach is bounded by the charming and colorful Venetian Hotel that lends the beach a laid-back Mediterranean feel. It was built in 1924 and is the oldest seaside condominium in California.
You can book a stay at the hotel or in the colorful privately owned condominiums in the rows in front of the hotel. Where else will you find comfortable accommodation right on the beach?
There are plenty of benches in Esplanade Park that faces the bay so you can lounge in the warmth of the golden sun and enjoy the view.
#2: Activities Around Capitola Beach
The south end of the beach is good for surfing. If you’re new to surfing, you can book surfing or paddleboarding lessons online or in person at the Capitola Beach Company.
The Soquel Creek that runs across the beach is a safe children’s paddling spot. Popular pastimes on the beach include volleyball and birdwatching.
Expect good weather on most days in Capitola. Here the sun shines 300 days of the year. So, you can expect to see paddlers out on the sparkling bay waters on most days. Paddling is a great way to get up close to marine wildlife like seals, sea lions, sea otters, dolphins, and whales. Hire a kayak or a stand-up board and find your way around the bay.
Fishermen throw a line in at the Capitola Wharf Pier near Soquel Cove. The 855-foot wharf was built in 1857, it makes for a lovely walk. You can hire kayaks or even fishing gear and bait at the Capitols Boat and Boat Shop. You don’t need a permit to fish off the pier.
Wander down to Capitola Beach on long warm summer evenings to enjoy a free twilight concert, movies, and art shows.
#3: Spend the Day at the New Brighton State Beach
If you’re not into crowds, why not take a drive a little way out of the village to the New Brighton State Beach.
The Pacific Migrations Visitor Center, at the entrance to the beach, has a gift store and a small museum. Here, you’ll find interesting displays of historical relics from indigenous people and the colonial settlers that followed.
A Chinese fishing village occupied the site in the 1870s and 1880s but the inhabitants later moved on to Monterey.
The Park occupies 95 acres and has a camping ground located on the bluff overlooking Monterey Bay. Visitors enjoy fishing, swimming, and hiking in the nearby oak and pine forests. There is plenty of wildlife around and the bluff offers splendid views of Monterey Bay.
There is a picnic area complete with barbecue grills in lovely shaded areas, so bring along a basket and enjoy a meal to the sound of the waves and rustle of the salty sea breeze in your hair.
Children can sign up for Junior Ranger programs or campfire stories. They’re free of charge.
The day-use parking lot at New Brighton State Beach will cost you $10 a day.
#4: Visit the Iconic SS Palo Alto at the Seacliff State Beach
New Brighton State Beach is just a short walk away from Seacliff State Beach, famous for the half-sunk concrete freighter, the SS Palo Alto, and the pier that connects to it. The ship was finished too late for war service. So, the state parked it at the wharf in 1929, and it became an entertainment center.
In 2019, citizens celebrated the ship’s centenary. Today the wreck provides shelter for a host of marine species. The ship is closed but you can fish off the pier.
#5: Shopping in Capitola Village
Capitola Village is right alongside the beach so it retains a real beach village feel. Here almost everyone dresses casually in sandals and shorts, enjoying the sea breeze and the laidback atmosphere.
Charming, little boutique shops line the streets of Capitola so you may want to plan a morning browsing the shops. Many of them sell beachwear and swimsuits, but you’ll also find a number of small art galleries and craft shops.
#6: Visit Gayle’s Bakery
Enjoy delicious pastries, cakes and grab-and-go meals at one of the coolest places in Capitola. Their extensive menus change so you’ll have to check online.
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Make up a picnic basket at Gayle’s and head off to one of the seashore picnics spots to enjoy lunch. You can also pick up a bottle of wine there.
#7: Visit Armida Winery
While you’re in town make a stop at the Armida Winery. For $20 you can taste some of their best wines. If you buy a bottle of wine you won’t pay for the tasting.
#8: Visit Phoebe’s Fine Jewelry and Art Glass
If you’re into beautiful artworks and jewelry, Phoebe’s has it all. Opened in 1996, this art gallery is filled to the brim with delightful artworks created by a number of talented artisans. The store is open between 11 am and 5 pm daily.
#9: Retail Therapy at Capitola Mall
If you’re into some retail therapy, why not pop into the only mall in Santa Cruz County. The shopping center houses more than 80 shops and restaurants. Most of the big franchises are present in the mall and you’ll find a nice mix of local brands too. The mall has served the community since 1977.
#10: Explore the history of the village at Capitola Historical Museum
Make a plan to pay a visit to the Capitola Historical Museum. It’s in a lovely beach cottage that dates back more than a hundred years and has been lovingly restored. The museum makes an interesting stop that shouldn’t take too long, since it consists of just one room. Still, it’s worth getting to know the history of the village.
The museum keeps visitor interest up by hosting different exhibits throughout the year.
The museum is open in the afternoons on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It won’t cost a cent.
#11: Tranquil Walk Along the Soquel Creek
The headwaters of Soquel Creek come down from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The creek flows through the village and up at Soquel Cove. Interesting and colorful vacation homes line the creek.
Take a walk along the creek. It’s an easy walk through sometimes you may feel as though you’re in the neighborhood gardens, which, indeed you are. Take time out to enjoy the fresh air and get a feel for the neighborhood.
#12: Enjoy Annual Events
The people of Capitola love their events and depending on what time of the year you’re there you can join in the fun.
The Capitola Art and Wine Festival
Held mid-September, the Capitola Art and Wine Festival is fun for the whole family. Enjoy great wine and artisanal food and browse over a wide range of arts and crafts. Sip wines of your choice from the 222 Santa Cruz wine farms or pick up a work of art from one of the 160 artists on display at the show.
Street performers and live musicians add to the wonderful festive feel. The aroma of global cuisine tempts the tastebuds at every turn.
The Wharf-to-Wharf Race
The Wharf to Wharf is a six-mile race run every year in July from Santa Cruz to Capitola. It’s a lovely race all along Monterey Bay. Known as the “best little road race in California”, this year the race is virtual but gear up for 2022. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the race’s inception, so the celebrations start soon.
Capitola Beach Festival
Held in September, the Capitola Festival took over from the Capitola Begonia Festival when it bowed after its 65th anniversary. The beach festival really is about fun in the sun and includes rowboat races, outdoor art, and sand sculpture. There is also a mini wharf to wharf race of just three miles.
#13: Visit the Santa Cruz Outdoor Theatre
Enjoy an outdoor theatre experience in nearby Santa Cruz in the months of July through September. You can take along a basket filled with snacks and wine to enjoy the ancient delights of Shakespeare.
#14: Dine out in Capitola
There are plenty of restaurants in Capitola but there are a couple of standouts that offer great menus in splendid settings. Here are our top picks:
Enjoy the rustic charm of the Shadowbrook Restaurant. Built in 1947, Shadowbrook overlooks Soquel Creek offering lovely views of the surrounding landscape.
The restaurant offers rooftop and indoor and outdoor seating. It has a comprehensive menu that includes vegetarian and vegan cuisine. If you’re within a three-mile radius of the restaurant you can take advantage of their shuttle service. A cable car takes you up to the restaurant.
Zelda’s on the Beach
Casual dining down at sea level is what you’ll get at Zelda’s on the beach. The enormous deck right down on the sand is great for good food and live music. Paradise Beach Grille also offers outdoor seating with views of the bay and the creek. Enjoy Happy Hour between 3.30 pm and 5.30 pm
#15: Enjoy a craft beer at Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
If you’re into good brews why not drop into the Santa Adairius Rustic Ales. The brewery serves old-world ales with a dash of charm. It also serves regular beers for the less adventurous beer drinker. The brewery is open every day of the week.
#16: Take a Drive to Aptos
Aptos is just 8 minutes drive from Capitola so why not take a drive to the village known as “the Gateway to the Forest of Nisene State Park”. While in Aptos make sure to pop into the Aptos History Museum. The museum contains artifacts and exhibits that go back as far as 7,000 BC. The museum is open on weekdays from 9 am to 4 pm.
#17: Nisene State Park
A great place to walk or cycle, the Nisene State Park has 30 miles of trails over 10,000 acres of land. Remnants of mill sites and trestles add interest to the trails. Young redwood forests occupy the land once stripped by loggers.
#18: Visit Santa Cruz (Near Capitola)
Santa Cruz is a half-hour cycle from Capitola and ten minutes by car. So, if you’re looking to expand your horizons you may want to take a trip to this lovely seaside town. The town is famed for its broad golden beaches, so it’s a great destination for a day in the sun.
#19: Ride on the Antique Roller Coaster
The Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk also has an amusement park with rides and games for the whole family. It costs nothing to get in, but you’ll have to pay for the rides.
The Big Dipper in the park is something of an institution in the town. The wooden roller coaster was built in 1924. Grab some street food while you’re here. There’s plenty to choose from.
#20: Watch the Sea Lions from the Santa Cruz Wharf
Stopover at the Santa Cruz Wharf if you’re into fishing or boating. You can hire everything you need on the wharf which is also great for bird watching. Spend some time and watch the sea lions at play from the convenient viewing area. If you’re lucky, you may even come across some dolphins or whales.
The wharf is the longest on the west coast and was built in 1914 to allow ships to offload. Today, it houses plenty of shops and restaurants. So, why not browse around and stop for some delicious refreshments while you’re here.
Pay a visit to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center. It’s on the Wharf. You can take part in interactive exhibits that include a Kelp Forest and a touch pool. The center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
#21: Take a Ride on the Steam Train
Take a steam train ride. It’s good fun and there aren’t many such trains left in the world. The Roaring Camp Railway is in Felton. Choose from one of two routes. One goes to the Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk and the other through redwood forests to the top of Bear Mountain. The railroad was established in the 1880s to haul lumber.
The driver will share the history of the train and the area with you as you enjoy the view. The beach train runs on weekends during the summer months. While the Redwood Forest Steam Train runs throughout the year.
#22: Walk on
The promenade along West Cliff Drive is the perfect place to get some exercise. The six-mile path runs from the Santa Cruz Wharf to the Natural Bridges State Park. The Natural Bridges State Park is famous for its arched rocks and thousands of butterflies.
So, the pleasure is not just in the walk but in the destination too. Birds, otters, seals, and breaching whales add so much interest to the experience.
Along the way, you’ll come across a statue of a surfer gazing out to sea. The world’s first surfing museum is also found in the Mark Abbot Memorial Lighthouse.
So… we hope you enjoyed our guide on things to do in Capitola 🙂
With so much on the go in and around Capitola, it’s not surprising that this little town draws so much interest in the summer months. Plan your holiday carefully and set yourself up for a memorable visit that the whole family will enjoy.