For anyone who hasn’t yet been introduced to Capitola, it’s time to get acquainted. Legend has it the name of this coastal town came from the tomboyish heroine of an 1800s adventure series by popular novelist of her day E.D.E.N. Southworth. Each place has its own personality, and the only adequate way of describing Capitola is “whimsical”—as in straight from the colorful and idealistic illustrations of a picture book.
Begin a trip to Capitola with a visit to Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria, destination of 1,500 customers daily. Upon walking in, visitors should take time to appreciate the mismatched china plates lining the walls before moving on to the main attraction: glass cases brimming with baked goods. Whether looking for an American classic like apple pie or French sweets like chocolate soufflé or crème brûlée, Gayle’s has everyone covered.
Afterwards, visitors can stretch their legs along the footpath simply known as the Duck Walk. It begins at the intersection of Riverview and Blue Gum Avenues, weaves between summer houses and Soquel Creek, and passes beneath an old wooden train trestle, its surface changing from sand to brick to cobblestone with quilt-like versatility.
Emerge from the other side into the heart of Capitola Village. Nearby, discover Mr. Toots, a cafe that excels in coffee and community. Lucky visitors might find an older gentleman tickling the keys of the Yamaha piano or a father teaching his daughter chess at the counter, taking advantage of the set stocked there along with other games. Lofted on the second floor, the cafe also provides a view of Soquel Cove and the wharf.
After catching sight of the shoreline, visitors will want to experience it firsthand. Its distinctive feature is a row of beachfront cottages painted to emulate the ones of Cinque Terre in Italy, with vivid hues of saffron, coral, and aquamarine. If a stroll is too slow-paced, rent surfboards, paddleboards, or bodyboards at Capitola Beach Company. Need to brush up on using them? Not to worry. The rental shop offers lessons, too.
After a morning of recreation, it’s time for lunch. Esplanade Park is the epitome of picnicking spots. A contradiction to its name, it’s really just a small lawn, but it provides an elevated roost right beside the coast where people can enjoy a sandwich with a view of the bluffs above and the waves below.
For visitors who would rather lunch inside, but don’t want to forfeit the seascape, Sotola Bar & Grill is an excellent option. The clean white walls and driftwood decor make this place as cool and airy as the ocean breeze pouring through their open windows.
Revitalized by a meal, visitors might choose to surf Capitola’s boutiques next. Find summer staples like swimsuits, sunglasses, and flip-flops along with year-round retail like clothing, jewelry, and art. If that last item is particularly intriguing, visiting Gallery 1 should be a top priority. Here, they create art out of license plates: individual letters have been arranged in word collages on reclaimed wooden plaques, and an entire guitar has been created of whole plates.
Interested in learning while on this excursion? Check out the Capitola Historical Museum. Outside the main museum, visitors can also find a fully furnished cottage showcasing how vacationers spent the holidays here in 1912.
For dinner, try East End Gastropub, a stylish brewery, or Bella Roma Caffe, an Italian restaurant reminiscent of Ancient Rome. But the crowning glory is Shadowbrook—a 1920s summer-home-turned-restaurant with seven dining rooms, including a converted wine cellar and a greenhouse. The natural beauty of the surrounding garden creeps inside the building itself: vines, along with strings of white lights, spiral around wooden ceiling beams, and a Cyprus tree shoots through the floor and exits out the ceiling like a natural pillar. There’s no question that this restaurant has earned its place in the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America.
Capitola’s manifest personality makes it hard not to humanize her. And once people have become acquainted, they’ll be drawn back repeatedly until it feels as though they’re visiting an old friend.
Capitola is the oldest seaside resort on the Pacific Coast. Its annual events include the Wharf to Wharf Race, the Art and Wine Festival, and a sand castle competition. Its most well-known celebration is the Begonia Festival, in which flower floats cruise down Soquel Creek to the lagoon.
Capitola Population: 10,093
Places to Visit in Capitola
Written by Johanna Hickle
Photography by Daniel Garcia
This article originally appeared in Issue 9.2 “Sight and Sound”