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13 Fun & Best Things to Do in Capitola, California

13 Fun & Best Things to Do in Capitola, California

The city of Capitola is a small seaside town on Monterey Bay’s northern coast. Located just two hours from San Francisco, Capitola is a popular site for weekend beach getaways.

The exact origins of the city are often up for debate among historians, making Capitola an interesting spot for those who love delving into local historical mysteries. Historians do agree that a seaside resort called “Camp Capitola” opened sometime between 1860-1870 on Monterey Bay. However, what they disagree on is what year the resort was founded, the origin of the name Capitola, and exactly who named it and when.

Santa Cruz County encompasses the towns of Capitola, Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and Scotts Valley. The county, although fairly small, brings in over a billion dollars in tourism annually.

With over 14 state parks and beaches, and a national maritime sanctuary, it’s no wonder the county is such a popular tourist destination. The breathtaking ocean views at Capitola Beach are just part of the town’s overall ambiance. There’s so much more to see and do.

Although it’s known as a beach town, Capitola is also a great place to discover local artists, listen to live music, and indulge in a wide variety of boutiques and restaurants. On Wednesday evenings during the summer, Capitola hosts its Twilight Concerts series, and on Fridays, it hosts Movies at the Beach. Both events are free.

In July, the city also hosts the Wharf to Wharf race, a 6-mile footrace from the Santa Cruz Wharf to the Capitola Wharf. In 2022, the event celebrated its 50th annual running. And in September, the city hosts the Capitola Art & Wine Festival, featuring local artisans, wines, live music, and street performers all in the city’s village overlooking Monterey Bay.

One of the most recognizable sights of Capitola, the historic and colorful Venetian Court, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “The first Condominium Beach Community in the United States, built in 1924.”

One of the most memorable Capitola experiences is a stroll on the Capitola Wharf, where you can drop a line, relax on a bench, or rent a boat.

Inn at Depot Hill Capitola California
1. Inn at Depot Hill Top Recommendation

Guests can enjoy an evening wine reception complete with appetizers, or relax in the beautiful garden or on the terrace. There are also a variety of activities nearby, including happy hour, golfing, and beachgoing. And of course, you can enjoy a delicious breakfast in bed!

SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium
2. Fairfield Inn & Suites Santa Cruz - Capitola

This hotel is 10 minutes’ drive from central Santa Cruz and New Brighton State Beach. It offers an outdoor pool and spacious suites with 32-inch flat-screen TVs and an iPod docking station. Plus, they provide daily housekeeping, vending machines (drinks), and non-smoking rooms for guests' convenience.

The Escape Game Minneapolis
3. Capitola Venetian Hotel

This beautiful property is located just 6 km from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and features free WiFi throughout the hotel. You'll love being able to relax in your own private space while still being close to all the great Santa Cruz attractions. And don't forget about the free private parking on site - a real bonus when visiting this busy California town!

TLDR

If you’re in need of quick advice on the best things to do in Capitola, California, look no further. This curated shortlist should get you started.

  • Most significant landmark – Capitola Beach
  • Best park – New Brighton State Beach Park
  • Best free activity – Capitola Historical Museum
  • Best activity for kids – The Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery
  • Best activity for adults – Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
  • Best food – Paradise Beach Grille
  • Best nightlife – The Catalyst
  • Best all-around accommodationBest Western Plus Capitola By-The-Sea Inn & Suites

Fun & Best Things to Do in Capitola, California

1. Capitola Beach

Capitola Beach Scenery

Address: San Jose Ave & Esplanade Capitola, CA 95010

At the northern end of Monterey Bay lies Capitola Beach. As an urban beach, it’s often packed with locals and tourists on warm days during the spring and summer months. In the evenings, there are often events on the beach where they have live music, host art shows, and show movies.

Capitola Wharf is a large fishing pier located on Capitola Beach. The dock extends out into the calm waters of Soquel Cove. Nearby, Soquel Creek forms a lagoon behind Capitola Beach. This lagoon is fantastic for bird-watching.

Many people know this beach because of its popular multi-colored Capitola Venetian hotel. These townhouse-style units are right on the sand and provide a picturesque backdrop for the beach.

Most people park in metered spaces next to the beach on Esplanade or adjacent side streets. Check out the local Capitola Beach Company for information on their surfing or paddleboarding lessons. For a truly unique artistic experience on the beach, check out the Capitola Watercolor Journaling Experience.

For beachfront lodging near Capitola Beach, check out the following options:

2. Santa Cruz Harbor

Santa Cruz Harbor Sceenry

Address: 135 5th Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

The Santa Cruz Harbor is currently home to over 1,000 boating slips, giving easy access to Monterey Bay. It’s also used as a launchpad for stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes.

Additionally, many private charters offer sailing, whale watching, or fishing excursions. When the harbor was first constructed in 1964, only 360 slips were available. However, with its expansion in 1973, an additional 450 slips were created, signaling tremendous growth in the area.

The harbor is not just for boats, as many full-time RVers enjoy the harbor with its full hook-ups and beautiful views. In addition, visitors can walk or hike the nearby trails filled with historical markers about the bay.

The harbor is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which provides refuge to numerous marine animals, plants, and birds. Because of this sanctuary, you can often see whales, harbor seals, and dolphins from the shoreline.

The harbor is for everyone, both children and adults alike. There are many beach options, including Harbor Beach, Twin Lakes State Beach, and Seabright State Beach. So, whether you want to build sandcastles along the shoreline, frolic in Santa Cruz’s Monterey Bay, or watch the diverse marine life, you can do it at the harbor.

Recommended tours

See Related: Best Things to Do in California

3. Capitola Historical Museum

Capitola Historical Museum
image by Capitola Historical Museum/Facebook

Address: 410 Capitola Ave, Capitola, CA 95010

Located next to Capitola City Hall, The Capitola Historical Museum promotes Capitola’s history through programs, exhibits, events, and artifacts. In addition, the museum aims to teach the community its culture and architecture to create better awareness and appreciation.

The Capitola Historical Museum has a new exhibit every year focusing on the art and history of the area. In addition, there are rotating exhibits of artifacts and photographs at the Capitola Library. The historical museum also includes a 20th Century bath house and a fully furnished beach cottage from the same period.

A memorable walking trip or museum tour can be arranged for a suggested $50 donation, but there is also a free printable walking tour of Capitola. This self-guided walking tour includes the Capitola Historical Museum. 

Recommended tours

4. Shadowbrook Restaurant

Shadowbrook Restaurant
image by Daniel M/TripAdvisor

Address: 1750 Wharf Rd, Capitola, CA 95010

Shadowbrook Restaurant has been a Capitola staple since 1947, although its original building was built right before the Great Depression. Initially built as a summer home, Shadowbrook’s building was abandoned for unknown reasons and left for ruin.

It wasn’t until 1944 when the first Shadowbrook Restaurant partners discovered the dilapidated yet promising building. Then, after three years of restoration and reconstruction, Shadowbrook Restaurant opened for dinner.

With an initial occupancy of 50, it was small but immediately popular. Ten years after opening, the owners added a cable car, and roughly 15 years after that, they added a cupola entry and deck.

In 1972, the restaurant began year-round dining for the first time. Since then, the restaurant has added a wine cellar, bakery, additional seating, and a wood-fired oven.

Try one of their specialties, such as honey-glazed pork chops, Thai-style game hen, or hazelnut-crusted brook trout. Shadowbrook Restaurant also offers complimentary shuttle services within a 3 miles radius of Wharf Road.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Murphys, California

5. New Brighton State Beach

New Brighton State Beach

Address: 1500 Park Ave, Capitola, CA 95010

New Brighton State Beach is a fantastic beach for adults and children alike. It has a sandy beach perfect for frolicking, swimming, or fishing, and the state beach also has a campground.  

New Brighton State Beach offers Little Rangers, Campfire, and Junior Ranger programs.

The Junior Ranger program is a kids-only program for children ages 7-12. The program allows kids to play games and earn prizes, practice outdoor skills, and learn about birds, sea life, and local park animals all while exploring New Brighton State Beach.

Pre-registration is required for the Junior Ranger program. Head to the Santa Cruz District State Park Programs website for more information and to reserve your slot.

The campground at Brighton State Beach also has the Pacific Migrations Visitor Center, which examines the animal and human movements around the Pacific Rim. The visitor center also includes a park store.

To book one of the 100 campsites or 11 RV hookup sites, head to Reserve California. If you prefer a hotel over camping, the Best Western Plus Capitola By-The-Sea and the Inn at Depot Hill are located close by.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Pleasanton, California

6. Paradise Beach Grille

Paradise Beach Grille
image by Paradise Beach Grille/Facebook

Address: 215 Esplanade, Capitola, CA 95010

Immediately next to Capitola Beach, Paradise Beach Grille serves delicious American cuisine with beautiful ocean views. The Grille is a perfect place for a cozy dinner with an outdoor patio and fireplace.

The restaurant features a contemporary menu with an extensive wine list and plenty of craft beer. While the restaurant may appear upscale, it is also very family-friendly. Kids love the beach access and children’s menu, while adults love the delicious entrees, sophisticated appetizers, and wide collection of local red and white wines.

A restaurant favorite includes their coconut prawns appetizer. While their specialties include many pasta and potato dishes, they also offer delicious gluten-free options for those with dietary restrictions.

Paradise Beach Grille, next to Capitola Beach, is the perfect place to end your day on the beach or have lunch with an ocean view.

For more information on hours and menu options, check out their website. 

Recommended lodging near Paradise Beach Grille:

See Related: Best Things to Do in Lone Pine, California

7. CineLux Capitola Cafe & Lounge

Address: 1475 41st Ave, Capitola, CA 95010

While you may not automatically think of going to a movie theater during your stay on the west coast, the CineLux Capitola Cafe & Lounge is an excellent choice for unwinding after a day at the beach or during a sporadic rainstorm.

CineLux began in 1966 in Campbell, California, during an era of single-screen theaters. Today, CineLux Theaters is locally owned by the second generation.

While they may have started during the era of single-screen theaters, the Cafe & Lounge now has luxury seating, digital projection, surround sound, and a menu featuring craft beers and local wines.

So if you find yourself visiting Capitola during a rare day of rain, take the family to CineLux Capitola Cafe & Lounge to see the latest blockbuster while enjoying a delicious variety of local eats and spirits.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit their website.

8. The Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery

Santa Cruz Children's Museum of Discovery Entrance
image by Jeanette B/TripAdvisor

Address: 1855 41st Ave C-10, Capitola, CA 95010

If you’re planning a visit to Capitola, your first thought may not be the Santa Cruz Children’s Discovery Museum. However, after a few hours at the beach, your children may need a fun (and educational) break indoors. And, on the rare occasion it rains, this is a fantastic spot.

The museum provides hands-on experiences for various learning styles, with rotating high-quality exhibits that include tiered learning to involve children of all levels.

​​In addition to regular exhibits, the museum also has events such as the Hot August Nights Ice Cream Party, the Teddy Bear Clinic, and Food Truck Fridays.

Located in the Capitola Mall, the museum is convenient and easily accessible to locals and tourists. It’s one of the top fun things to do in Capitola with kids.

For hours and admission info, visit their website.

See Related: Most Famous Landmarks in California to Visit

9. Sage Float Spa

Sage Float Spa Interior
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 1395 41st Ave, Capitola, CA 95010

The 1980 movie Altered States shows a psycho-physiologist experimenting with drugs while using a sensory deprivation tank. During his sensory deprivation, he has visions of genetic memories.

While this movie sounds like science fiction, it was based on a real-life neuropsychiatrist named John C. Lilly, who wondered what would happen if the brain was deprived of all sensory input. So he built a floatation chamber filled with water.

Lilly’s results showed that while sensory deprivation didn’t lead to a comatose state, participants felt intense relaxation and calm. With studies showing relaxation and stress release, sensory deprivation tanks have become a distraction-free setting for conquering anxiety and depression.

At Sage Float Spa, while floating in a saturated solution of water and Epsom salts, you’ll be free from experiencing the senses of temperature, touch, sight, sound, and gravity. Floating has many benefits, including reducing stress, improving sleep, increasing immune function, and heightening of senses. But you won’t know until you float for yourself.

For more information or to book your floating experience, visit their website.

See Related: Best Day Trips from San Francisco, California

10. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Building
image by John M/TripAdvisor

Address: 103 Kennedy Dr, Capitola, CA 95010

With tap rooms serving a plethora of delicious craft beer, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales has locations in both Capitola and Santa Cruz.

They have a dog-friendly patio area and plenty of craft beers to choose from, including a Barrel-aged Saison with Apricot, American Wild Ale, and Barrel-aged, Blended Dark Ale with Cherry.

Their tap rooms include Four Legs Good, a strong Blond Quad beer with an ABV of 9.9%, and a farmhouse ale named Mercy Mercy with a lower ABV of 5.3%.

Their beers are not for the faint of heart, as most are in ABV’s 7-9% range. So make sure to eat some Bookie’s Pizza while drinking beer at Sante Adairius Rustic Ales so you don’t fall asleep on the brewery’s picnic tables.

For more information on their brews on tap, visit their website.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Big Bear, California

11. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Address: 400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Since 1907, the best seaside park in the world has been the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The boardwalk follows along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where you can see whales, dolphins, sea otters, and even sea lions from the shore.

Admission is free, and tickets for rides are affordable, making the boardwalk one of the top Capitola attractions.

The Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster and the Looff Carousel are National Historic Landmarks.

In addition, children and adults can play among the large selection of arcade games in the indoor arcade center, also with mini golf, pinball machines, and laser tag.

The boardwalk is also known for its food, including deep-fried artichokes, deep-fried Twinkies, special corn dogs, and chocolate-covered bacon.

After a day on the boardwalk, head to the iconic Catalyst Club for live music. The Catalyst Club is oneof the most popular and renowned live music clubs, offering an intimate setting for concertgoers and performers.

The Catalyst has featured rock, hip-hop, and reggae performers over the years. Some of the more famous concerts at the venue include Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beach Boys, and Nirvana.

Recommended tours:

12. Capitola Wharf Pier

Capitola Wharf Pier Board Walk

Address: 1400 Wharf Rd, Capitola, CA 95010

The Capitola Wharf Pier is located at Capitola Beach, where you’ll find old Victorian houses and the Venetian Court, a 1920s condominium complex known for its pastel colors.

Rebuilt in the 1980s after significant storm damage, the pier is only 855 feet long. However, while it’s not particularly large, it is rarely crowded like other piers. The only times the pier can get crowded is if there’s a run of fish and excess anglers have difficulty finding railing space.

Several rare fish have been caught near the Capitola Wharf, such as triggerfish, sturgeon, barracuda, and black sea bass. While the chances of catching these fish are about as common as winning the lottery, anglers still find it excellent to fish off the pier.

The pier is fantastic for a morning of fishing, a pleasant stroll, or watching the marine life.

At the base of the pier, you can rent a kayak for an afternoon family adventure or watch for dolphins at sunset.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in Southern California & Things to Do

13. Armida Winery Tasting Room

Armida Winery Tasting Room Entrance
image by Larry C/TripAdvisor

Address: 103 Stockton Ave, Capitola, CA 95010

The Armida Winery Tasting Room in Capitola is a three-hour drive from the original winery in Healdsburg, California, that contains a tasting room inside a geodesic dome.

All three buildings at the original winery are “Bucky Domes,” with acres of Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Alicante Bouschet, and Carignan surrounding the domes.

The Armida Winery tasting room in Capitola Village is intimate and offers a beautiful view of the Capitola surf while wine tasting.

While the tasting room serves several wines, including Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay, their most recognizable variety is Poizin, with a skull and crossbones on the bottle.

Armida Winery also offers access to a members-only wine club with many benefits, including a 25% discount on all wine orders and exclusive access to the winery’s small production wines.

Visit their website for more information on the Armida Winery, tasting room, or wine club.

Getting around Capitola, California

By Foot or on Two Wheels

Capitola is a very pedestrian and bike-friendly city, with many options for bike rentals and detailed maps for both walking and riding.

There are many local options for bike rentals including, Specialized Santa Cruz Experience Center, Epicenter Cycling, Santa Cruz Cycle Sport, and Cycle Works.

Below are bike maps of the area to aid you in getting around Capitola and Santa Cruz:

  • Santa Cruz Hike and Bike Map 1
  • Santa Cruz Hike and Bike Map 2
  • Google Bike Map

Public transportation

In addition to walking and biking, the county provides public transportation through Santa Cruz Metro.

The city also has a free shuttle bus that goes between the Village Parking Lot (Lower 2) and the beach.

Available weekends and holidays from Memorial Day to September, the shuttle bus runs from 10 am to 8 pm.

Rideshare

Capitola offers plenty of rideshare opportunities with Lyft and Uber for those traveling within the greater-Capitola area.

Rental cars

There are four airports near Capitola Beach, each with rental car options:

  • Monterey (MRY) Airport (27.3 miles away) has six rental car agencies within the airport.
  • San Jose (SJC) (27.7 miles away) has 11 different rental car agencies across from Terminal B.
  • San Francisco (SFO) (50.9 miles away) partners with nine rental car agencies at the airport.
  • Oakland (OAK) (53.5 miles away) partners with 10 rental car companies at the airport.

Private Shuttles or Cars

If you’re traveling with a large group, you may want to consider a private shuttle or car. Many of these companies offer airport shuttle services and private charter services depending on your needs:

  • Capitola Car Service and Limo Rental
  • Santa Cruz Limo
  • Paradise Transportation
  • Echo’s Airport Express
  • Early Bird Airport Shuttle
  • SubShuttle
  • Blue Water Sedans & Limousines

FAQ

What are some fun things to do in Capitola, California?

The best things to do in Capitola depend on your interests. If you like the water, head to Capitola Beach with the famous multi-colored Capitola Venetian hotel, a very photograph-worthy location.

If you’re an art lover, visit one of the many art galleries on Capitola Avenue. Want to experience local wines? Try the tasting room at Armida Winery for a beautiful ocean view while trying five different wines.

What to do in Capitola, California, when you’re a food lover?

If you’re looking for things to do in Capitola that revolve around food, you will not be disappointed. San Jose Avenue in the city’s village is an excellent place for food lovers, including Caruso’s Tuscan Cuisine, Capitola Wine Bar, and Carousel Taffy and Treats.

If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, visit Shadowbrook Restaurant. Their well-known cable car will take you from the parking lot to the restaurant. For family-friendly dining, head to Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria for breakfast, lunch, or a slice of their old-fashioned chocolate cake.

What are the best places to visit in Capitola, California?

There are so many fun things to do in the area, including many free activities right in Capitola. Look for sea lions in the Pacific Ocean, explore local artists at one of the many art galleries, walk down Capitola Avenue, or head to the Capitola Mall.

If you’re looking for the best things to do in Capitola, California, with kids, visit one of the many tourist attractions, such as Capitola Beach. You can take a paddleboard or surfing lesson with Capitola Beach Company or just frolic and swim in the water. Kids will also enjoy the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum, especially if they’re tired of the sand and sun.

Is Capitola, California, worth visiting?

Absolutely! Capitola is one of the most popular seaside destinations on the west coast, and the reasons are clear. You can relax by the water, drink local craft beers or wine, appreciate art, shop at local artisan stores, or enjoy the many outdoor water activities, all within a walkable 2 square miles.

What is Capitola, California, known for?

Capitola is a small town roughly 70 miles from San Francisco and near the Santa Cruz Mountains. Many people don’t know that the Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds, was inspired by a real-life attack of shearwater birds in Capitola in 1961.

While that may be a small part of the history of Santa Cruz County, there’s also the wondrous natural beauty of the Monterey Pine Forest and the history of the old Capitola Resort. Visit the Capitola Historical Museum to see artifacts and exhibits from the city’s earliest days.

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