Friday, July 19, 2013

Captivating Capitola: a tiny beach town that defines relaxation

Capitola Shop

The pier
By Carol A. Cassara

Capitola. It’s a charming little beach town just a few miles south of Santa Cruz, California, on the northeast shore of beautiful Monterey Bay. That’s on the central coast of California, and if you’ve missed a visit to Capitola, well, you’re really missing something special: a place to relax, eat good food, imbibe a bit and even catch a few rays.

The area’s several picturesque beaches are marked by dramatic cliffs and rocky shores, but in a smaller, manageable scale than, say, Big Sur, some 60 miles further south. 

Downtown Capitola has its own tiny beach that’s usually fogged over until about noon. But that’s ok—visitors while away the waiting time by visiting some of the few dozen adorable boutiques and speciality shops just steps away on the Esplanade.  Lunch, dinner and cocktails are purveyed at excellent restaurants right along the water.

The Venetian
Vacation rental units and cute little motels are scattered around downtown, most with easy beach access if not beachside entrances. The colorful units at the Mediterranean-style Capitola Venetian have become an icon for the area. They weren’t always so colorful: I remember when they were adobe brown.  But the color adds to the visual pleasure of this tiny little gem of a city. If you can take advantage of a Venetian special, an ocean view room can be had in summer for as little as $199 a night, a non-view room on weekdays for $129.  That’s as good a deal as you’ll find for a beachfront vacation. There are also two-bedroom apartments that sleep two to five people.

And small is right: the entire city has only 1.6 square miles of land—and fewer than 10,000 people call it home.

Back in the day, a girlfriend and I would rent an apartment near the beach for six weeks each summer.  Since we worked in San Jose some 40 miles away, we’d make the hour-long commute over the Santa Cruz Mountains every day to and from our jobs in Silicon Valley. It was worth it to watch the sun set over the water, hear the gulls caw and breathe in the summer-fresh sea air.

If you’re looking for a peaceful place to while away some retirement hours, Capitola has the allure of a beach town that’s absolutely manageable. For the most part, you can fulfill all your needs for a short stay right in downtown.
Book Cafe
But if you can venture out a mile or so, there are traditional grocery stores, a small indoor  mall with a Macy’s, hair and nail salons galore and even an independent book-café. Back in the mid-1980s, the Capitola Book-Café was the very first bookstore I’d ever seen offer food and drink. Its shelves are more sparsely populated now than they were back then, as you might expect, but the book quality is quite good and the community has rallied round to help it stay alive.  I stopped in on a recent visit and bought a few books to show my own support—it was an important part of my own California history.

Monterey and Carmel are only 40 traffic-free (most of the time) miles away, so you can do all the favorite touristy things with just a short drive.

While you might not have heard of Capitola before, it’s a captivating little place to spend some down time.

Bio: Carol Cassara is a writer who lives life out loud with her husband and dogs in Northern California. She blogs daily on creating your best life at

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