Regular Blondes & Bagels readers already know I am obsessed with Capitola. This small town nestled next to Santa Cruz is seriously one of Northern California’s gems – and best kept secrets. Although this small beach town does gather a crowd on a warm day, it’s not necessarily the biggest vacation spot along the California coast.
But it’s my favorite.
The last time KB and I were in Big Sur area I had this childhood flashback of colorful houses and beach days with my cousins. A quick phone call to my parents confirmed that the town of my memories was actually called Capitola – and it was a 15 minute drive from our favorite bed and breakfast. KB was a good sport and we made the trip. I walked down the small streets (it only takes 15-20 minutes to walk the whole town it’s that small) with a goofy grin on my face. Capitola holds so many memories for me and I was really eager to come back and this time bring friends.
So we packed up the car on what promised to be a sunny Sunday with our pals Alex & Maryana and made the hour and a half trek from San Francisco down to cozy Capitola! Check out below why I am so downright in love with this little town – and why I swear it’s one of Northern California’s best kept vacation secrets.
If Capitola is known for anything it would be the colorful houses that line the beach near the pier. These assorted pastel buildings are actually a hotel called “The Venetian.” The buildings are so fun and you can totally stay there during your trip! There’s something really fun and special about the architecture of the little beach hotel.
Even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel, the beach right in public access. This is definitely my favorite photo spot in all of Capitola. If you can find some empty space between the other tourists, you’ll get a shot to remember!
Sunshine and margaritas? Down. So down.
Margaritaville is a chain restaurant, but it’s super tasty and well situated right on the beach in Capitola. KB, Alex, and Maryana shared a pitcher of the classic house margarita while I opted for a glass of the strawberry margarita. We also indulged in some seriously mouthwatering tacos. Oh, and can’t forget the chips & guac. What’s a warm California day without guac and margaritas?
Living in San Francisco we have a crazy amount of shopping available to us. What makes Capitola so unique is the local factor. Most of the shops in Capitola’s main square are small businesses so you manage to find unique items you can’t find elsewhere. You also get really amazing customer service! Maryana was actually about to head to Cabo and managed to find a gorgeous bathing suit. I also puppy dog eyed KB until he bought me a beautiful starfish ornament for our first Christmas tree together this year!
My favorite shop in Capitola (…and probably in California) is a bath shop called “Panache.” Panache has been around since my childhood. In fact some of my strongest memories of Capitola were shopping trips with my mom to a little lotion shop – turns out that store was Panache! I walked in some 15 years later and the shop is still under the same ownership.
What makes Panache so special is the ability to customize your own scent. You can choose from a variety of essential oils and they’ll mix up a custom body butter, lotion, or body wash just for you. It seriously rocks. I was wanting a coconut scent for summer on this trip and my friends at Panache custom blended a coconut body wash on the spot.
If you’re not one for shopping, head straight to the beach! The Capitola beach is mostly sand, very few pesky rocks. There’s plenty of space, volleyball courts, and even a band that sometimes plays in the nearby gazebo on the weekends!
The four of us put on our hats, pulled out our beach blankets, and lay in the sun until KB got sun burnt (poor little tomato). It was pretty crowded so I was super thankful we got in early. Most of the parking spots at the beach fill up by 10 or 11 am, so my tip is to get a space before noon!
No one in our group is into surfing – but surfing in Capitola is a thing. There are even really reasonably priced surf lessons! If you’ve ever had an ache to learn (or if you’re already a pro), Capitola is a great spot for some oceanic exercise. It’s also just as fun to hang out on the pier and watch the surfers! They like to gather to the far left of the beach and spectators can watch from a high vantage point as they tackle the waves.
About halfway through our day in Capitola we all realized it was National Ice Cream Day. So obviously we had to find some ice cream. Turns out in Capitola you can totally have ice cream for lunch! We found a shop close to the beach that had a line out the door. I was about to give up on the wait but KB was pretty insistent – he needed some ice cream! We split a small cone of mint chip. So ridiculously refreshing on a hot day.
Capitola is a quick and easy California coast vacation – and few people know about it! While the larger cities like Santa Cruz boast boardwalks, Capitola is understated, cozy, and beautiful. Whether you’re a Californian looking for an easy vacation or a visitor that’s interested in special stops off the beaten path – Capitola is the perfect destination.
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