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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 city’s exact origins are often up for debate among historians, making Capitola an interesting spot for those who love delving into local historical mysteries.
Historians agree that a seaside resort called “Camp Capitola” opened sometime between 1860 and 1870 on Monterey Bay. However, they disagree on 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 various boutiques and restaurants. On Wednesday evenings during the summer, Capitola hosts its Twilight Concerts series; on Fridays, it hosts Movies at the Beach. Both events are free.
The city also hosts the Wharf to Wharf race in July, a 6-mile footrace from the Santa Cruz Wharf to the Capitola Wharf. In 2022, the event celebrated its 50th annual running. 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.
- Things to Do in Capitola, California
- 1. Capitola Beach
- 2. Santa Cruz Harbor
- 3. Capitola Historical Museum
- 4. Shadowbrook Restaurant
- 5. New Brighton State Beach
- 6. Paradise Beach Grille
- 7. CineLux Capitola Cafe & Lounge
- 8. The Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery
- 9. Sage Float Spa
- 10. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
- 11. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- 12. Capitola Wharf Pier
- 13. Armida Winery Tasting Room
- Places to Stay in Capitola
- How to Get around Capitola, California
- By Foot or on Two Wheels
- Public transportation
- Rental cars
- Private Shuttles or Cars
- What are some fun things to do in Capitola, California?
- What do you do in Capitola, California, when you’re a food lover?
- What are the best places to visit in Capitola, California?
- Is Capitola, California, worth visiting?
- What is Capitola, California, known for?
- Most significant landmark – Capitola Beach
- Best park – New Brighton State Beach Park
- Free activity – Capitola Historical Museum
- Activity for kids – The Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery
- Activity for adults – Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
- Best food – Paradise Beach Grille
- Best nightlife – The Catalyst
- Best place to stay – Best Western Plus Capitola By-The-Sea Inn & Suites
Things to Do in Capitola, California
1. Capitola Beach
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
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 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. Many beach options include 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.
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3. Capitola Historical Museum
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 includes a 20th-century bathhouse 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.
4. Shadowbrook Restaurant
Address: 1750 Wharf Rd, Capitola, CA 95010
Shadowbrook Restaurant has been a Capitola staple since 1947, although its original building was built 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 that 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-mile radius of Wharf Road.
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5. 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.
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6. Paradise Beach Grille
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:
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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.
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8. The Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery
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 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.
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9. Sage Float Spa
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 senses. But you won’t know until you float for yourself.
For more information or to book your floating experience, visit their website.
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10. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
Address: 103 Kennedy Dr, Capitola, CA 95010
With taprooms serving many delicious craft beers, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales has locations in both Capitola and Santa Cruz.
They have a dog-friendly patio area and plenty of craft beers, including a Barrel-aged Saison with Apricot, American Wild Ale, and Barrel-aged Blended Dark Ale with Cherry.
Their taprooms 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.
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11. 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 ride tickets 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, with mini golf, pinball machines, and laser tag.
The boardwalk is also known for its food, including deep-fried artichokes, 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 one of 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. Some of the more famous concerts at the venue include Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beach Boys, and Nirvana.
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12. Capitola Wharf Pier
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, such as triggerfish, sturgeon, barracuda, and black sea bass, have been caught near the Capitola Wharf. 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.
13. Armida Winery Tasting Room
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.
Places to Stay in Capitola
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!
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.
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!
How to Get 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 the 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
In addition to walking and biking, the county provides public transportation through Santa Cruz Metro. The city also has a free shuttle bus 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.
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 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
- Blue Water Sedans & Limousines
What are some fun things to do in Capitola, California?
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 do you 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 excellent 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. Head to Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria for family-friendly dining 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 things to do with kids, visit one of the many outdoor 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 are 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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- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.