6 Best Things to Do in Capitola

Trip Ideas Apr 30, 2024

Nestled along the sunny coast of California, Capitola is a picturesque seaside village that epitomizes the relaxed charm and beauty of the Santa Cruz area. This delightful town, with its scenic beaches, colorful houses, and vibrant community life, attracts a steady stream of tourists and locals alike, all yearning to experience its unique coastal allure.

Capitola's appeal is immediate and powerful, from the iconic Capitola Beach with its famously colorful houses to the bustling Capitola Village, brimming with quaint shops and top-tier restaurants. The town's setting is as functional as it is beautiful, providing a perfect backdrop for a variety of activities, from surfing the Capitola waves to exploring the rich cultural fabric woven through the city's history and present.

The charm of Capitola can be attributed significantly to its striking visual palette, especially the row of brightly painted houses along the beach, known as the "Venetian Hotel." These multi-colored dwellings, often featured in postcards and travel magazines, are not just a feast for the eyes but also a hallmark of the town's vibrant architectural style. The Capitola colored houses have become synonymous with the town's identity, drawing visitors who wander along the beachfront just to admire these vibrant structures.

Capitola
Source: Tripadvisor

Beyond its picturesque landscapes, Capitola is celebrated for its dynamic culinary scene. The town boasts some of the best Capitola restaurants, offering everything from gourmet seafood caught fresh from the Pacific to artisan pizzas that have locals and visitors coming back for more. Restaurants in Capitola Village, like Margaritaville and the renowned Gayle's Bakery, provide an array of choices for every palate, ensuring that dining out in Capitola is always a memorable experience. Whether you're looking for a fine dining atmosphere or a casual beachside meal, Capitola caters to all tastes with exceptional quality and creativity.

Capitola's allure extends into its many events and festivals, which are a draw for those looking for what to do in Capitola. From the Capitola Art & Wine Festival to seasonal activities on the Capitola Boardwalk, there's always something happening in this lively community. The Capitola Beach things to do list includes surfing, volleyball, and simply enjoying the spectacular views at low tide Capitola, making it a hub for outdoor enthusiasts and beach lovers alike.

1. Visit Capitola Beach

Capitola Beach is one of the quintessential spots on the Californian coast, renowned for its picturesque setting and vibrant, laid-back lifestyle. Nestled in the heart of Capitola, this beach is a canvas of colorful houses and a hub of endless activity, making it a perfect destination for anyone looking to soak up the sun, indulge in watersports, or simply enjoy the scenic beauty of the Pacific shoreline.

The beach itself boasts a wide expanse of soft, golden sand, making it an ideal locale for sunbathing. Visitors can relax under the California sun, enjoying the gentle sea breeze and the rhythmic sound of waves. The beach is well-equipped for comfort, with ample restrooms and other facilities ensuring a convenient day out for families and solo travelers alike.

For those inclined towards aquatic adventures, Capitola Beach offers excellent conditions for swimming and surfing. The Capitola waves are famous for their consistent breaks, which attract surfers of all skill levels. Beginners can take lessons from local surf schools like Capitola Surf and Paddle, which operate directly off the beach, ensuring you get to learn surfing in the very waves you’ll be conquering.

Capitola Beach
Source: World Beach Guide

Adjacent to the beach is the iconic Capitola Wharf, a prime spot for fishing and simply taking in the panoramic views of the Monterey Bay. The wharf also hosts a variety of eateries, from the laid-back Margaritaville to seafood favorites at the Wharf House Restaurant, providing delightful dining options with a view. These establishments serve up some of the best Capitola food, ranging from fresh seafood to classic American beach fare.

The colorful houses of Capitola, often referred to as the Capitola Venetian Hotel, are another charming aspect of the beach. These brightly painted cottages line the shore in a dazzling array of colors, offering a photogenic backdrop that epitomizes Capitola’s vibrant character. These Capitola colorful houses are not just a feast for the eyes but also available for rent, providing a unique stay experience right on the beach.

Capitola Village, just a short stroll from the beach, is the heart of the town's commercial and social life. Here, the streets are lined with boutique shops, art galleries, and some of the best Capitola restaurants. Dining in Capitola Village is a delight, with options ranging from the upscale Shadowbrook Restaurant, known for its romantic ambiance and fine dining, to the more laid-back atmosphere of Pizza My Heart Capitola, where diners can enjoy a delicious slice with beachside views.

For those visiting, there are plenty of things to do in Capitola Beach and the surrounding area. Whether it’s exploring the colorful Capitola Beach cottages, engaging in fun water activities like kayaking and paddle boarding, or simply enjoying a relaxing day at the Capitola gardens, there’s something for everyone in this charming coastal town.

2. Tour the Capitola Historical Museum

Touring the Capitola Historical Museum offers a deep dive into the rich tapestry of this charming coastal town's history. Nestled near the vibrant scenes of Capitola Beach with its colorful houses and bustling boardwalk, the museum is a gateway to understanding the unique cultural and historical heritage of Capitola, from its early days to the present.

The Capitola Historical Museum houses a variety of exhibits that chronicle the evolution of this seaside village. As you step inside, you're transported back to the time of Capitola's founding. The detailed displays not only cover the development of the town's infrastructure but also delve into the lives of its early settlers. The museum takes great care to preserve artifacts that illustrate how Capitola transitioned from a humble fishing village to a beloved tourist destination, known for its Capitola Beach cottages and the iconic, brightly colored houses that line the shore.

Capitola Wharf
Source: City Of Capitol

A visitor's experience at the museum might start with a look at old photographs and maps, which paint a vivid picture of early Capitola. These include images of the original Capitola Hotel, once a magnet for San Francisco Bay Area vacationers seeking relaxation beside the tranquil Pacific waters. Another exhibit might feature maritime artifacts, reflecting Capitola’s enduring relationship with the sea, showcased alongside tales of local fishermen and the evolution of Capitola's surf culture.

One of the standout exhibits is dedicated to the architectural development in Capitola, particularly the famous Capitola colored houses. These dwellings, often captured in photographs and paintings, are a testament to the vibrant aesthetic that defines the town. The museum provides insights into the architectural styles and influences that led to their creation, along with information on how these structures have been preserved and integrated into the modern Capitola landscape.

In addition to its permanent collections, the Capitola Historical Museum frequently hosts special events and educational programs that engage the community and visitors alike. These may include lectures on local history, guided walks that explore historic Capitola, or seasonal exhibits that focus on specific aspects of the town’s culture, such as the Capitola Art & Wine Festival, an event that brings together local wineries like Armida Winery and Capitola’s best restaurants.

For those planning to visit, the museum's location in downtown Capitola makes it easily accessible. It’s just a short walk from the main beach area, close to several Capitola restaurants and the picturesque Capitola Village. This proximity allows visitors to combine a museum tour with other activities like exploring Capitola Beach, dining at the best Capitola restaurants, or simply enjoying the scenic beauty of the Capitola boardwalk and beaches.

 3. Stroll along the Capitola Wharf

Nestled on the scenic coast of California, the Capitola Wharf extends gracefully into the Pacific, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in its picturesque charm and array of activities. This beloved pier, set against the backdrop of Capitola’s famously colorful houses, offers a unique blend of leisure and recreation, making it an essential stop for anyone visiting the area. As you stroll along the wooden planks, the gentle sounds of lapping waves and distant calls of seabirds create a serene atmosphere, ideal for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Fishing is a popular activity on Capitola Wharf, where enthusiasts of all skill levels can cast their lines without the need for a fishing license. The waters around the wharf are teeming with diverse marine life, offering anglers the chance to reel in perch, mackerel, and even the occasional salmon. Fishing gear is available for rent directly on the wharf, and local fishers are often willing to share their knowledge of the best bait and techniques to ensure a fruitful outing.

Bird watching is another tranquil pursuit available to visitors. The wharf is a prime spot for observing a variety of seabirds, including pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls, which often gather along the railings or soar overhead. The natural beauty of the area, enhanced by the rhythmic sounds of the ocean, provides a perfect setting for photographers and nature lovers to capture stunning wildlife scenes.

Capitola Wharf
Source: Santa Cruz Local

Capitola Wharf also boasts a selection of dining options that cater to every palate, ranging from casual cafes to fine dining establishments. Many restaurants offer fresh, locally-sourced seafood, allowing diners to enjoy delicious meals accompanied by breathtaking ocean views. Among the best places to eat in Capitola, located on or near the wharf, are spots like Margaritaville Capitola and the highly acclaimed seafood restaurants that highlight the local culinary scene. These eateries not only provide exquisite food but also contribute to the vibrant atmosphere of Capitola Village.

Shopping and leisure activities continue to draw visitors to the wharf and its surroundings. The nearby Capitola Village is home to a variety of shops, from local boutiques like Billabong Capitola to popular outlets such as Bath and Body Works Capitola. For wine enthusiasts, a visit to Armida Winery Capitola is a must, offering a chance to taste some of the finest local wines in a welcoming setting.

 4. Hike in the New Brighton State Beach

New Brighton State Beach offers a remarkable blend of coastal beauty and outdoor adventure, making it a favorite destination for hikers and campers alike. Located just a short drive from Capitola, this state beach features expansive sandy shores backed by towering cliffs and lush vegetation, creating a picturesque setting for a variety of recreational activities.

The hiking trails at New Brighton State Beach are well-maintained and cater to different levels of fitness and experience. One of the most popular trails is the Pacific Migrant Trail, which meanders along the coastline offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. As hikers traverse this trail, they are treated to a panorama that includes rugged cliffs, rolling waves, and the distant outlines of marine life, such as dolphins and whales during migration seasons.

New Brighton State Beach
Source: California State Parks

The flora and fauna along the trails at New Brighton State Beach add to the scenic allure of the hike. The area is home to diverse wildlife, including coastal birds like the California gull and the black oystercatcher. On occasion, visitors might spot deer or raccoons among the coastal scrub and Monterey pines. Birdwatchers, in particular, will find this area rewarding with frequent sightings of local and migratory species.

In addition to its hiking trails, New Brighton State Beach is renowned for its excellent camping facilities. The campground is situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean, offering campers not only incredible views but also direct access to the beach below. The campsites are equipped with essential amenities, including fire rings, picnic tables, and restrooms with showers. Sites can accommodate both tents and RVs, making it an ideal spot for various types of outdoor enthusiasts.

Reserving a campsite at New Brighton State Beach is highly recommended, especially during peak season, which runs from late spring through early fall. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance through the California State Parks reservation system, and it is advisable to book as early as possible to secure a spot. Campers should be prepared for the cool, moist climate of the Northern California coast by bringing suitable clothing and camping gear.

The combination of scenic trails, abundant wildlife, and excellent camping facilities makes New Brighton State Beach a premier destination for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. Whether you are there for a vigorous hike or a peaceful overnight stay, the natural beauty and serene environment of New Brighton provide a perfect escape into nature, all within close proximity to the vibrant community of Capitola.

5. Attend the Capitola Art & Wine Festival

The Capitola Art & Wine Festival is an illustrious event that embodies the vibrant cultural and gastronomic spirit of Capitola, California. Held annually, this festival draws locals and tourists alike to the picturesque streets of Capitola Village, where they can indulge in a weekend of exquisite art, fine wines, and lively entertainment. This festival not only showcases the rich artistic community and the renowned wineries of the Santa Cruz area but also provides a splendid opportunity for visitors to enjoy the stunning seaside setting.

As you wander through the festival, you are greeted by an array of booths displaying a diverse range of art forms. Artists from all over the region come to exhibit their work, which includes paintings, sculptures, photography, and handcrafted jewelry. The atmosphere is vibrant, filled with the colors and textures of the artworks that reflect both contemporary and traditional styles. Art enthusiasts have the chance to meet the artists, discuss their techniques, and purchase unique pieces to add to their collections.

Capitola Art Festival
Source: Capitola Village

Complementing the visual arts, a significant highlight of the Capitola Art & Wine Festival is the participation of local wineries. These wineries offer tastings of their finest vintages, providing festival-goers with a palate-pleasing journey through the various grape varieties and blends that the Capitola area is known for. Wineries such as Armida Winery bring their best selections, and knowledgeable vintners are on hand to discuss the nuances of their wines, making the tasting experience both educational and enjoyable.

When planning your visit to the Capitola Art & Wine Festival, it's advisable to aim for early attendance. Mornings are typically less crowded, offering a more relaxed environment to explore the art displays and wine booths without the rush. This timing also allows for better interaction with artists and winemakers, who can offer deeper insights into their work in a more personal setting. As the day progresses, the festival becomes livelier, with music performances and other entertainment peaking by the afternoon.

Purchasing tickets to the festival is straightforward. Tickets can be bought in advance through the festival’s official website, which often offers early bird specials and packages that include wine tasting tokens and a commemorative wine glass. Alternatively, tickets can usually be purchased at the entrance on the day of the event, though advance purchase is recommended to avoid long lines and ensure a smoother entry.

6. Enjoy a Day at The Capitola Mall

Capitola Mall stands as a central hub for shopping and entertainment in the heart of Capitola, California. This indoor mall provides a pleasant escape with a variety of stores, ranging from popular national brands to unique local boutiques. Key retail outlets include Bath and Body Works, Claires, and Hot Topic, catering to diverse shopping needs and preferences. Additionally, the mall hosts a selection of eateries, making it a convenient spot for a quick bite or a relaxed meal during a day of shopping.

For those looking to experience a mix of shopping and leisure, Capitola Mall offers more than just retail stores. The mall is equipped with entertainment options that suit all age groups, including a modern cinema that screens the latest movies. This makes it a perfect spot for families, friends, or even solo visitors looking to enjoy some leisure time.

The best times to visit Capitola Mall are during weekday mornings when the crowds are smaller, providing a more relaxed shopping experience. Weekends tend to be busier, especially during holiday seasons and sales events, when the mall often offers special promotions and discounts.

Capitola Mall
Source: Merlone Geier Partners

Throughout the year, Capitola Mall becomes a venue for various community events that draw crowds from across the region. These events range from holiday-themed activities such as Halloween costume contests and Christmas celebrations to special summer events that often include live music, pop-up vendors, and interactive activities for children. These events not only enhance the shopping experience but also help foster a sense of community among locals and visitors alike.

Visiting Capitola Mall is about more than just shopping; it's an opportunity to enjoy a day out filled with diverse activities, dining options, and the chance to participate in unique local events. Whether you're looking to update your wardrobe, catch the latest movie, or simply enjoy a day out with family and friends, Capitola Mall offers a welcoming and versatile environment to meet all these needs.

Conclusion

As we wrap up our exploration of Capitola, it's clear that this vibrant coastal town offers a diverse array of activities and sights that cater to every taste and interest. From the leisurely strolls along the iconic Capitola Wharf to the exciting events and delicious dining options in Capitola Village, there's no shortage of ways to enjoy the natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere of this seaside gem.

The unique charm of Capitola is best experienced through its varied attractions. Whether you're casting a line off the wharf, observing local wildlife, enjoying the stunning views from the colorful, beachside cottages, or exploring the quaint shops and boutiques, Capitola invites visitors to immerse themselves in its lively yet laid-back culture. The local cuisine, particularly the fresh seafood offered at the wharf’s restaurants, highlights the culinary delights of the region, making dining here a must-do experience.

Seasonal visits to Capitola can offer distinct experiences. Summer brings the buzz of tourists and locals alike, taking full advantage of the sunny beaches and numerous festivals, such as the Capitola Art & Wine Festival. However, visiting in the off-season, particularly in the fall or spring, can provide a more relaxed atmosphere, allowing for quieter walks and easier access to local attractions without the summer crowds.

For those planning a visit, it's recommended to check the schedule of events and consider timing your trip to coincide with local happenings like the Capitola Beach Festival or live music nights on the wharf. Each season in Capitola has its own charm, from the vibrant summer days to the tranquil beauty of winter, when you can appreciate the serene side of sea life and perhaps catch a glimpse of migrating whales.

In conclusion, Capitola is a treasure trove of activities, sights, and culinary delights, ideal for those looking to escape the ordinary and dive into the extraordinary. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an art lover, a foodie, or simply in need of a picturesque place to unwind, Capitola promises memorable moments that are sure to beckon you back time and again. Make the most of every visit by engaging with the local culture, savoring the regional flavors, and simply letting the laid-back, colorful character of Capitola wash over you.

FAQ

1. What is the historical significance of the location of Capitola?

Capitola is built on the site of an ancient Indian village that existed for over a thousand years. The native inhabitants were relocated to Mission Santa Cruz upon its establishment in 1791. This area, rich in history, later became part of the Soquel Rancho during the Mexican Era and subsequently developed into the modern city of Capitola.

Capitola's transformation into a seaside resort began with Frederick Hihn, a German immigrant who developed the area in the mid-19th century. By leasing the beach flat to Samuel A. Hall in 1869, a vacation spot was created which became known as "Camp Capitola" by 1874, renowned for being the oldest seaside resort on the Pacific Coast.

3. What were some key developments in Capitola's history?

After its establishment as a resort, Capitola went through several significant phases of development including the subdivision of land by Hihn in 1882, the construction of a large hotel and the introduction of streetcar service. In the early 20th century, Henry Allen Rispin bought Capitola intending to develop it into a fashionable retreat, adding the Venetian Courts and a golf course.

4. Who were some important figures in the history of Capitola?

Important historical figures include Frederick Hihn, who played a crucial role in the early development of Capitola, Samuel A. Hall, who first commercialized the area as a summer resort, and Henry Allen Rispin, who envisioned a grand future for Capitola in the early 20th century.

5. What cultural transformations has Capitola undergone throughout its history?

Capitola has seen transformations from a native village to a part of a Mexican rancho, a busy shipping point, a seaside resort, and finally to a modern city. These changes reflect a rich cultural tapestry influenced by various people and their visions for this beautiful coastal area.

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Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.