What began as a humble camp by the beach has developed into a city of over 10,000 permanent residents and seasonal tourists. Capitola beach welcomed some of its first guests in 1874, making it one of the west coast’s earliest beach resorts. It belongs to the famed Santa Cruz county and thus competes with several stunning Pacific beaches.
Capitola beach is best known for its brightly painted cottages that can be rented for a stay by the beach. Tourists come to Capitola for its sandy beach and gentle waves, making it an exceptional surfing destination for beginners. Besides, Capitola’s residents contribute to its bustling beach events.
Capitola’s highlight is its beach, but the best thing about Capitola is its convenience as a resort. You can find all amenities within a few minutes’ walk from the sandy stretches of the beach. Some of the nearby services include:
- Outdoor showers
- Shuttle bus in the summer
Although Capitola’s cityscape provides a charming backdrop to the sea, the cliffs sheltering the beach give a serene sense of isolation. The long stretches of sand are ideal for community events. In addition to swimming and surfing, Capitola’s tourists can occasionally glimpse marine life in the nearby sanctuary of Monterey Bay.
Capitola’s wharf is a signature landmark that divides its beach and directs visitors. It’s located at the base of the hill and is home to some of the earliest vacation homes and condominiums.
You’ll find the wharf on the sandy stretches in front of the colorful Venetian houses. Below the Wharf are kayaks you can rent for the day. The kayaks are launched from a small platform, which you can reach through a set of attached stairs.
If you think tourists wouldn’t visit a beach because of some nearby cottages, think again. Capitola’s Venetian village is an Instagrammable scene, even without the nearby shore.
The single-story houses showcase a rainbow of joyful colors on their painted, textured walls. The small scale of the city and its numerous stepping trails are reminiscent of exotic lands and fairytale worlds.
Even better, as you walk through the village, you’ll come across street art and intricate shop fronts. Not only will you capture dramatic scenes by the beach, but you can also bring back memorable purchases from the old boutique stores.
If you’re from San Francisco, you might prefer a day-use visit to Capitola as it’s only 70 miles away. Alternatively, you can stay in Capitola at one of its hotels or Venetian houses. Here are some of the best accommodation options steeped in Capitola’s history and culture.
Since Capitola beach is known for its iconic colorful houses, it makes sense to try to explore them from the inside. Indeed, there’s hope for tourists to stay over in one of those seaside cottages.
The Venetian houses are privately owned, and many are available for rent. Similar to small-scale neighborhoods, the Venetian court has its own rules to ensure a peaceful stay for tourists and locals alike.
Several street signs warn against bicycling, skateboarding, and smoking. If you’re heading to Capitola to relax, this might feel like paradise to you. Otherwise, the Venetian court may not be up to the hype of the younger generations.
As for the units themselves, not all Venetian houses are created equal. Your best bet is to find a spot in the front rows. Even then, rental prices will vary depending on the views and proximity to landmarks, such as the Capitola wharf and Capitola village, restaurants, and quaint shops.
Due to their small size, only a few Venetian houses with three bedrooms accommodate up to eight people. Beware of the busy summer season, as you might need to book your spot earlier. Besides, some owners only rent their property by the week, especially in season.
The facade of the Capitola Venetian Hotel stands out on postcards of the city. The maritime identity is pronounced throughout the charming hotel interiors. The designers paid close attention to decorative details, including hand-carved Venetian doors.
As the hotel is a few steps away from the sandy beach, you’ll get a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Added to this beauty, the Capitola Venetian Hotel has a strategic location nearby local shops and restaurants.
Babbling Brook Inn is grounded in local identity if you don’t mind commuting to Capitola beach during your stay. What you get in return for the commute is an experience of the Redwood Forest essence, which is also part of this region’s natural heritage.
The property dates back to the 18th century and is built with authentic wood shingles. Babbling Brook Inn was once a corn grist mill, but its internal pathways now lead visitors through a serene garden. The rustic water wheel and covered bridge complement the cozy fireplaces in the themed rooms.
The bright white Capitola hotel embraces the past of its surroundings by adorning the walls with industrial aesthetics and historic photos of the 1800s.
You’ll get to choose one of ten unique rooms, each with its distinct maritime vibe. If you’re lucky enough to find a vacant room for the weekend stay, you’ll have the added benefit of enjoying a hearty cheese meal. On weekdays, the Capitola hotel serves complimentary breakfast and cookies in the afternoon.
While Capitola is well known for its beach, the town is also well-known for its impressive architecture and urban design. Capitola offers the best of both worlds with its numerous walkways, public art, and eateries. You can expect a rich experience of a relaxing beach and exotic city life.
Here are some of the less known activities at Capitola’s beach:
- Watercolor Journaling
- Sea Car Tour
- Coastal Electric Bike Tour
- Fairytale House Walking Tour
Capitola’s waters are ideal for short laps because of its swim buoy string. In the summer, you get the bonus of lifeguards on duty. Since the water is generally flat, it’s a favored water playground for tourists and locals. If you want to feel more contained, head over to the smaller beach on the western side of the wharf.
As for the adventurous swimmers, your best bet is to go northeast to the area between Capitola Wharf and New Brighton State.
That said, you should know that there have been some concerns about water cleanliness at Capitola beach. The local authorities have improved the situation, but you should check if there are any warnings when you plan to visit.
Capitola is a staple for longboarders and beginners on the Santa Cruz surf beaches. In the less than welcoming summer heat, surfing crowds flock to Capitola for its soft, gentle waves. Autumn is another ideal season for surfing at Capitola, but with the added benefit of fewer crowds. You’ll need to watch for some hazards, including rocks and beginner surfers.
Besides watching the swimmers and surfers on Capitola beach, diners can occasionally watch dolphins and whales migrating through the Pacific Ocean. Capitola belongs to Monterey Bay, which is considered a national sanctuary.
To explore this rich habitat, some companies provide marine watching tours. In Santa Cruz, year-round tours look for various species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
The most common whale species in Santa Cruz is the Humpback Whale, which usually crosses the waters between April and November. Other wildlife animals include seabirds, turtles, seals, and sharks.
Capitola Beach FAQs
What is Capitola known for?
Capitola has been a popular beach resort for over 150 years. Yet, what sets it apart from other Santa Cruz beaches is the array of colorful houses near the beach.
Is Capitola beach clean?
As of 2021, Capitola beach was ranked third among the most polluted beaches in the state. This is attributed to fecal bacteria from sewage, agricultural pollutants, and bird waste.
However, Santa Cruz county has been working on ensuring water cleanliness and safety.
Are dogs allowed on Capitola beach?
Officially, dogs are permitted on Capitola Beach as long as they’re on a leash. Yet, dogs are left to run freely on the beach.
Does Capitola beach have a boardwalk?
Capitola has a boardwalk commonly known as the wharf. Capitola’s wharf is an iconic landmark that separates the beach into distinctive zones. You’ll find a separate platform where kayaks can be rented underneath the wharf.
Is Capitola Worth Visiting?
Capitola is an ideal destination for swimming and surfing when the water is clean. Even if Capitola’s water isn’t currently safe enough for swimming, Capitola’s beach is worth visiting.
The city’s close-knit community adds joy to the various events and activities by the beach. Most importantly, the iconic colorful houses make for a unique urban experience.