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This Santa Cruz County gem offers a throwback-style seaside getaway

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Sitting on Monterey Bay, Capitola is a little beach town with a big claim to fame: It’s the oldest beach resort on the West Coast.

Located five miles south of Santa Cruz and 40 miles north of Monterey, Capitola started out as a tent camp on the beach in the 1870s. That humble setup was replaced by a majestic Victorian-style hotel (which lasted until 1929), followed by beachside Italianate homes that now comprise the Capitola Venetian Hotel. Today you can experience more slices of local history, too, like the Inn at Depot Hill, housed in the town’s former Southern Pacific Railroad depot, or the Capitola Hotel, which sits near the site of the original “Grand Capitola” hotel. There are historic dining options, too, like Shadowbrook, a former summer home on a steep hillside that has been a unique, special-occasion restaurant since 1947 (they’ll even send a vintage-car shuttle to get you if you’re within three miles).

The heart of the town is still along Capitola Beach, neighboring Esplanade Park, and the 855-foot pier, which is lined with wooden benches for taking in the spectacular views. To make the most of the sand and water, rent boogie boards, stand-up paddle boards, or surfboards, along with beach chairs and sun umbrellas, from Capitola Beach Company. With its relatively calm waters this is a good spot for kids to add a surfing lesson, too, and you can stock up on classic gear at the local branch of O’Neill Surf Shop.

Then, explore shops and restaurants on the hillside above the shoreline and along Soquel Creek—boutiques such as Nubia Swimwear and Craft Gallery, and Gayle’s Bakery and Rosticceria, which the San Francisco Chronicle has called “maybe the best bakery anywhere.” Head a little farther inland to explore the village of Soquel, which dates back to the 1840s and has the antiques shops to prove it. Sitting in the shadow of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Soquel also has hilly vineyards and wineries such as Bargetto Winery, established in 1933.

When it’s time to refuel, grab a seat at one of the restaurants lining the beach. Local favorites include fresh-caught seafood at Wharf House and The Sand Bar & Grill; Bloody Marys and live music at Zelda’s on the Beach; and tropical cuisine at Paradise Beach Grille. Each spot will reinforce why Capitola has been a popular seaside resort for so long—the blissful bay and sunset views are hard to beat.

Featured Capitola