16 Jun 19
Santa Cruz Sentinel
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When you’ve had enough of Santa Cruz’s edgy carnival overtones and Carmel’s crowded sidewalks, it’s time to move on to Capitola.
This beachside village mixes European hamlet vibe with old-school surf-shop jive, backdropped by a kaleidoscope of restaurants, bars and shops. Garden walls are draped in purple bougainvillea. Palm trees line the boulevards. Vintage buildings are worn smooth by salty trade winds. The beach draws frolickers all summer long — and Capitola’s unofficial mascot is the mermaid, a motif so ubiquitous a visitor half expects to spot the mythical creatures splashing under Capitola Wharf.
The village — dubbed “one of the top 20 best small towns in the West” by Sunset magazine — is squeezed between Soquel and Aptos, a few miles east of Santa Cruz. Capitola was the West Coast’s first seaside resort, starting as a campground in the 1870s and transforming into a vacation destination with a 160-room hotel. Camp Capitola eventually became Capitola-by-the-Sea and gained city status in 1949.
But its retro feel makes it especially relaxing for strolling and exploring — and slow-mo is the way to go. This sampling will get you started.
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Start the party along the Esplanade, which runs parallel to Soquel Creek Lagoon. The place to be: The patio at Margaritaville or the Paradise Beach Grille, which both boast views of the lagoon, the pier and beach, and the iconic, pastel-colored 1920s Venetian Court hotel.
Margaritaville serves great mango-shrimp tacos and El Ultimo margaritas, while the Paradise offers buttermilk-battered halibut burgers and Santa Cruz Leis — made with local Venus gin, St.-Germain, pomegranate juice and fresh cucumber.
Serene Sequel Creek Lagoon makes a great spot for stand-up paddle boarding against a backdrop of sea, sky and the 1925 Venetian Hotel. (Photos courtesy Sally Rice)
Get even closer to the ocean at Zelda’s on the Beach, where umbrellas shade the beachside deck and the Lava Flow cocktails channel the tropics via coconut rum, pureed strawberries and pineapple juice. Don’t miss the Caprese sandwich on ciabatta and the seared blackened-ahi salad. All three of these eateries have jammin’ happy hours, too.
The 72-year-old Shadowbrook is another Capitola icon, a fine-dining restaurant built on five levels on a hillside overlooking Soquel Creek. You enter by riding down from the street in a mini-cable car known as the “hillavator.” Shadowbrook has a casual option, too: The Rock Room, a ski lodge-type lounge with small plates, such as wood-fired oysters and portobello fries. Be careful: One blood orange Manhattan may lead to two.
More in the mood for java? A narrow flight of stairs next to the Margaritaville entrance leads to Mr. Toots Coffeehouse, a comfy hideaway. Pick a couch and order up. The coffee drinks — especially the hazelnut latte — pair well with locally baked pastry, pie and quiche. The mini-library and board games are an invitation to linger.
What’s a California weekend without some wine tasting? Doug Conrad’s Capitola Wine Bar pours 200 hard-to-find vinos by the glass, half from California, the rest from Italy, France, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Pair a flight with cheese and charcuterie.
Or head for the dog- and kid-friendly Armida Winery tasting room, which sources zinfandel, pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from its mother ship winery near Healdsburg. Don’t miss Poizin — “The wine to die for” — a zin-petite sirah blend.
If you can’t leave town without a souvenir, Capitola Seashells offers more than 100 varieties from 20 countries, plus gorgeous blue coral from the South Pacific and bamboo-and-shell wind chimes. And mermaid coasters, of course.
Capitola Seashells offers more than 100 varieties from 20 countries. And mermaid coasters, of course.
Jones and Bones is a cramped curiosity shop stocked with eclectic treasures, including cork travel bags from Portugal, foraged dried mushrooms from Napa Valley’s Wineforest and infused, barrel-aged Runamok maple syrup from Vermont. It’s also the place to find the Australian Smood, the self-styled “world’s greatest potato masher,” if you’re in need.
One step inside the 10,000-square-foot Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria and it’s easy to see why this mecca of baked goods is consistently voted “best bakery” by locals. It’s more than that, though, with a lineup of cold salads (hello, salmon Nicoise) and hot entrees (Southern shrimp with garlic-cheese grits). But pastries and rustic loaves of bread are the main event. You might get past the lemon kouign-amanns, but not the fragrant garlic-cheese twists. Better take a handful to go, or you’ll regret it halfway home.
Pick up loaves of bread, biscotti, sandwiches, salads and cakes at Gayle’s in Capitola.
One more stop before you go: Capitola’s Sunnyside Produce, family owned and operated since 1980, stocks 200 or so mostly organic, mostly local and totally gorgeous fruits and veggies. Over here, mounds of perfectly ripe white peaches and plump plums. Over there, red, orange and yellow bell peppers so vibrantly colored they seem to shimmer.
Wait a minute — are those passionfruit? And purple Brussels sprouts? Let’s hope you brought an ice chest for the ride home from the beach.[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]
If You Go
Parking pro tip: Don’t jockey for a parking spot in the Village, the small, main tourist district. Instead, pull into the spacious Beach and Village Parking Lot behind City Hall (420 Capitola Ave.) and pay only 50 cents an hour for up to 12 hours.
Margaritaville: Open for lunch and dinner daily at 231 Esplanade, Capitola; www.margaritavillecapitola.com.
Paradise Beach Grille: Open for lunch and dinner daily at 215 Esplanade; http://paradisebeachgrille.com.
Zelda’s: Open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at 203 Esplanade; www.zeldasonthebeach.com.
Rock Room Lounge at Shadowbrook: Open for small plates and pizza from 4 to 10 p.m. or later Monday-Saturday, 2:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays at 1750 Wharf Road, www.shadowbrook-capitola.com.
Mr. Toots Coffeehouse: Opens at 7:30 a.m. daily at 231 Esplanade; www.facebook.com/MrTootsCoffeehouse.
Capitola Wine Bar: Opens at 2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon Friday-Saturday at 115 San Jose Ave.; www.capitolawinebar.com.
Armida Winery: Opens at noon Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. Friday-Sunday at 103 Stockton Ave., www.armida.com/capitola-tasting-room.
Capitola Seashells: Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 109 Capitola Ave.
Jones & Bones: Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 621 Capitola Ave.; www.jonesandbones.com.
Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria: Open 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily at 504 Bay Ave., www.gaylesbakery.com.
Sunnyside Produce: Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily at 2520 S. Main St., Soquel; Sunnyside’s Facebook page.
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