Capitola cruisin’: California’s oldest seaside resort is open for winter

By Allen Pierleoni
apierleoni@sacbee.com

CAPITOLA VILLAGE — If this beachside hamlet had a theme song, it would be this sweet 1914 tune:

“By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea!

“You and me, you and me,

“Oh, how happy we’ll be!”

Who wouldn’t be happy visiting this charming village? The summer crowds are gone and spring break is months away. Lodging is abundant, the shops and restaurants are eager for business and the Mediterranean climate is famously mild in winter. The window is open from now into March.

California’s first seaside resort (or so it is widely said) hugs the northern edge of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, sandwiched between Soquel and Aptos, a few miles east of Santa Cruz.Sunset magazine calls Capitola “one of the top 20 best small towns in the West.”

At 1.7 square miles, it’s smaller than Santa Cruz and bigger than Carmel, with a vibe that echoes parts of both but mirrors neither.

Absent are the carnival overtones of edgy, traffic-crazed Santa Cruz, but the beach scene is a dominant player. The municipal pier is much smaller than the Santa Cruz Wharf, and without resident colonies of sea lions, but it is one of Capitola’s defining images. You won’t find the dog-walking millionaires in jeans who stroll the pathways of Carmel, or that town’s upscale European-style bistros, but the restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and shops are very much part of the Capitola experience.

A walkabout in the tourist-oriented downtown – Capitola Village – paints a clear picture: Surf shops, sandals and flip-flops. Bathing suits, beach towels, T-shirts and sunglasses. Crystals, crafts and jewelry. Bins of pastel-colored saltwater taffy, mounds of freshly made fudge. Calamari and clam chowder, and this telling offer on a hand-lettered sign in the window of a Thai restaurant: “To go only – french fries, $3.99.”

Capitola is beach volleyball and stand-up paddle boarding. Tiki torches, bamboo trim and glass bricks. Antique lamp posts, rusted sconces, wall murals and chalk art. Purple bougainvilla spilling over sun-bleached walls, gardens bursting with colors, palm trees lining the boulevards. Vintage buildings time-worn by salty breezes. So many mermaid motifs that a visitor half-expects to spot one of the legendary creatures cavorting under the wharf.

 

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