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  • Sally Bookman Team
  • 1414 Soquel Ave #100
  • Santa Cruz, CA 95062
  • (c) 831.687.8728
  • (o) 831.457.5535
  • (f) 831.515.5108
  • (e) info (at) sallybookman.com

Capitola By-The-Sea

About the Community of Capitola

The beauty of Monterey Bay is recognized around the world, with Monterey at one end and Santa Cruz at the other, but nestled along this bay is the quaint historic village of Capitola.  A favorite of generations of beach goers, the town thrives today as a major destination.  Sunset Magazine, April 2009 voted it as one of the top 20 beach towns in California.

One of its most alluring features is of course the sandy beach and gentle waves framed by bluffs on either side with the colorfully painted  stucco buildings of the Venetians sitting below the bluffs right on the sand.  Built in the mid 1920’s, the Venetians share a likeness with Italian fishing villages of the Cinque Terre.  In fact, Italian fishermen fished off these shores at one time and off the wharf which is now restored and houses tackle shops and a restaurant.  This wharf incidentally, now used by tourists, served a vital part in California’s history.  Back in 1906 redwood trees felled inland were hauled down to the wharf and shipped off to the big city to rebuild homes destroyed by fire in the great earthquake in San Francisco.

Capitola appeals to families seeking fun at the beach with gentle waves for the toddlers, a kind surf for novice surfers over by the rocks at the southern end of the beach and life guards watching over all.  There is Pizza (Pizza my Heart) and ice cream readily available for the kids and dining on the deck at Zeldas or a little more upscale, at Paradise Bar and Grille.

The little boutique stores and galleries lining Capitola Avenue offer something for the whole family – swimsuits, sandals, clothing, pottery, art, postcards, clocks and everything else in between.

A free shuttle will even help with parking which unfortunately, as in any small popular beach town, is very limited.

Capitola has a very active Chamber of Commerce and throughout the year activities are scheduled to attract and entertain visitors. There is the Easter Egg hunt on the beach, Twilight Concerts  for eight weeks of summer (bring a picnic to enjoy while the kids play in the sand) , the reknowned Wharf to Wharf race (6 km from Santa Cruz Wharf to Capitola wharf, held in July) the Begonia Festival where floats are decorated with a theme and paraded down Soquel Creek (in the 1960’s the two largest begonia growers were located in Capitola supplying over 90% of the begonias in the United States,) a wonderful Art and Wine Festival held in September, Halloween parade and the Holidays are welcomed by Santa who rides in on a surf board!

Capitola has always had its promoters, long before it had a Chamber of Commerce.
Back in the 1860’s, a man by the name of Fredrick Hihn who came to California during the Gold Rush, purchased the land that is now Capitola Village.  He set up a tent camp along the beach (hence the very small lot sizes) for summer tourists.  Later, in 1883 when the railroad arrived, the little tent city became a major destination for those  escaping the heat on the other side of the Santa Cruz.Mountains.  The little tents became little cabins and up on Depot Hill and in the village, Hihn created a subdivision map and began to sell lots for summer homes.  Those who could afford it, stayed in the grand hotel below the bluff close to the beach (where the present old movie theater and parking lot is now situated.)

When Hihn died in 1913, the land was purchased by another promoter, Henry Rispin, whose dream it was to modernize the town.  Rispin’s Mansion, located above the village on the Creek, stands today a ruin, waiting for final approval for restoration as an upscale Bed and Breakfast.  I think Rispin would approve!

Over the years Capitola has gone through many changes, adapting to increased population, incorporation (1949), annexing of land from unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz  and building up its tax base by supporting large retail businesses on 41st Avenue.  But it has never lost site of its focus as a tourist village and continues to monitor development that keeps the flavor of the village as our grandparents remembered it.

One of its largest draws is the Annual Begonia Festival (started in 1950) in early September which includes a parade of floats decorated with begonias parade down the Creek.  As many as 22,000 people come to watch the parade, the row boat races, the sand building contests and to attend the fine Art and Wine Festival.

Most visitors who come to the village are not aware that Capitola has some very distinct neighborhoods.

Above the village, looking down over the original tent city, is Depot Hill, so named because of the train depot (now a Bed and Breakfast) that sits by the train tracks at the bottom of the hill.  This area still maintains its turn of the century look with white clapboard church and little cottages with picket fences.  Unfortunately, the Cliff Walk, a favorite of lovers in days gone by, has long ago fallen into the ocean as this cliff continues to erode.

Over on the other headland, looking back towards Depot Hill, is Prospect Avenue with its renovated Victorians and newer homes and streets named after gems in a jewel box (hence the name The Jewel Box.)  These little cottages are now giving way to newer and larger homes and the tenor of that neighborhood is rapidly changing.

Another neighborhood to have experienced change is along Opal Cliff Drive  (Opal was actually the name of a lumberyard that handled the shipment of lumber from the hills of Soquel, to San Francisco by train.) The homes along the ocean front have undergone extensive renovation and rebuilding and at the height of the real estate boom sold for as much as $4.8 million dollars!

New Brighton State Beach draws campers and beach lovers and just past the beach, tucked in under the cliffs is Pot Belly Beach, once known as China Beach because of a Chinese fishing community that settled there during the 1870’s.  Later it came to be called Pot Belly Beach because of the little cabins each fitted with a pot belly stove, that were later erected on this site.

For such a little village, (only about four square miles in size and about 10,000 residents) there is so much rich history.  It is thanks to the efforts of many men and women from its past, that its charms continue to entice and entertain the visitor today and make it a favorite for a new generation of tourists drawn to the beach and the ocean.