One of California’s most iconic hidden gems is the tiny beach town of Capitola in Santa Cruz County. It’s best known for Capitola Village, a quaint neighborhood of multicolored homes, hole-in-the-wall shops and fun restaurants right on the water — but you can’t go wrong with a stroll slightly out-of-bounds at Pleasure Point to watch the surfers or some window shopping on 41st Avenue.
If you’re planning a drive down the coast, read on for some inspiration about where to eat, drink, and explore in Capitola and the surrounding areas.
The gem of Capitola is Capitola Village, which is one of the West Coast’s oldest vacation retreats. Its row of brightly-painted homes is an iconic photo spot, but it’s also just a great place to explore if you’re interested in window shopping, art galleries, and fun restaurants. The accompanying Capitola Beach is a calm stretch of water compared to other areas on the Santa Cruz coastline.
Zelda’s is your one-stop-shop for everything from brunch on the waterfront to late-night DJ sets. Their massive sunny patio area is a must for lovely beach views while chowing down on a hardy meal, and you can come back when the sun goes down for live music and a beachside party.
Here’s another waterside restaurant with great views of Capitola Beach from the balcony tables. Order the Dungeness crab tostadas or Baja fish tacos for a fresh seafood meal to compliment the view.
The second-floor cafe above Margaritaville in Capitola Village is a must for your morning coffee with views of the colorful houses across the way. Some fun drink options include the honey lavender latte and Mexican hot chocolate.
This tried-and-true ice cream shop in Capitola Village sells Marianne’s Ice Cream, which has been a local institution since 1947. Try it out for a fun homestyle ice cream experience by the beach.
Capitola Beach Company offers boogie boards and other equipment for rent, and you can sign up for surfing or stand up paddle boarding lessons.
Keep an eye out for annual events like the Capitola Art & Wine Festival, the Wharf to Wharf race, the Hot Rod and Custom Car Show, and more. On summer evenings the beach sometimes hosts outdoor movie screenings, live concerts, and art shows.
41st Avenue and Pleasure Point
Although technically not within the Capitola jurisdiction, Pleasure Point is a must-visit surf spot right next door at the end of 41st Avenue. Take a walk up East Cliff Drive for a totally Santa Cruz experience where you can watch surfers at The Hook or ride a beach cruiser along the bluffs. The nearby 41st Avenue has countless fun shops to explore including surf and skate legends like O’Neill and Rip Curl.
This no-frills Mexican restaurant near Pleasure Point is where locals get their burrito fix. Whether you want some chips and guac to enjoy on a bench while watching the surfers, or a sit-down combo meal, you really can’t go wrong.
A few doors down from Taqueria Vallarta, Zameen serves a fantastic Mediterranean-Californian menu with favorites like Greek-style feta garlic fries, a flavorful falafel bowl, and a gyros wrap on naan bread.
This local favorite pizza spot is great for pizza by the slice to enjoy on the road, but you can also slide into a booth to chow down on a whole pie. East Side Eatery is the sister restaurant across the street with more of a sit-down vibe.
Verve Coffee Roasters first opened at 41st Avenue’s Capitola location and quickly became one of the most popular coffee chains in NorCal. It’s a great spot to grab a coffee before browsing the surrounding skate shops.
11. Chill Out Cafe
This cash-only breakfast restaurant is a bright red shack on 41st Ave, serving bomb breakfast burritos and sandwiches to flip flop-clad customers. Settle in on their back patio with a massive burrito and a bottle of Tapatio hot sauce, or stop in for a Mexican mocha chai to go.
Santa Cruz’s Penny Ice Creamery serves some of the most gourmet and creative ice cream in the city with special add-ons like fresh waffle cones made in-store and torched marshmallow topping.
The influence of Bohemia, or today’s Czech Republic, inspired this brewery’s crisp and innovative lagers. You can’t miss the gorgeous two-story glass building on 41st Avenue, which has added a lively beer garden during the pandemic. Come for the beer, stay for the frozen mimosas.
More places to explore
Shadowbrook Restaurant is one of Santa Cruz’s finer establishments, being a popular spot for weddings and special occasions. It’s known for its bright red cable car that transports you down the hillside right into the restaurant itself, and part of the hillside is incorporated into the interior of the restaurant itself. Dress to impress and get ready for a memorable meal.
15. Gayle’s Bakery
Just up the road from the Village, this hoppin’ bakery and deli-style restaurant is an absolute Santa Cruz institution. Take a number and get ready to browse the cases of sandwiches, salads, baked treats, and more. If you have a birthday to celebrate, it’s also a great spot to buy a cake.
16. Local breweries and tap rooms
- Sante Adairius: Here’s a small but mighty Santa Cruz brewery with a comfortable tasting room to enjoy their traditional beers. Consider getting a flight or half pours to best enjoy their selection.
- Discretion: This brewery just across the freeway in Soquel is massively popular both in and out of Santa Cruz. In addition to their delicious beers, they also throw fun events including trivia and live music in the beer garden.
- Beer Thirty: If you’re willing to stray a bit from Capitola, this lively beer garden is the place to be for cornhole, ping pong, and several dozen craft beers on tap.
This beach and campground on the southern end of Capitola are worth a visit if you’re seeking a slightly less manicured environment compared to Capitola Beach. The area has more of a raw coastline feel, given that there are no businesses lined up on the shore. The Pacific Migrations Visitor Center is open periodically if you want to learn about some research going on in the area, and campsites are available for both tents and RVs. Be advised that there is a $10 vehicle day-use fee.
Featured image: Lux Blue on Shutterstock