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Best Capitola and Santa Cruz Itinerary for a Weekend on the California Coast

Today I want to bring you my itinerary for a weekend in Capitola and Santa Cruz. These neighboring beach towns in California have everything from world-class surfing to great sailing and fun shops and restaurants. I’ve been coming here my whole life, and I want to share my favorite places with you in this Santa Cruz and Capitola itinerary. It’s perfect if you want to spend a couple days on the Pacific coast. I’ve included a map, too.

Capitola and Santa Cruz

Capitola and Santa Cruz

Capitola and Santa Cruz are two of my favorite beach destinations in Northern California. They’re an easy day trip from San Francisco and other places in the Bay Area, but it’s worth spending a night to take in the best of what they have to offer.

I know this from firsthand experience. My family had a boat in Santa Cruz when I was growing up, and we used to spend almost every weekend here. From sailing to sunbathing and seeking thrills at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, we hit the highlights.

Right now I’m spending a weekend in Capitola and Santa Cruz with my boyfriend and his dog. We’re visiting friends who live here, and we’re looking forward to seeing what our California road trip will reveal.

Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse
Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse

Day 1

We start our trip in Capitola. This gem of a town is right on Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz County. It’s famous for being the oldest seaside resort town on the Pacific coast. With golden beaches, a colorful waterfront area, and great shops and restaurants, there’s a lot to love about this place.

Monarch Cove Inn, Capitola

We arrive in Capitola in the morning and check into our room at the Monarch Cove Inn. This dog-friendly hotel in Capitola is right on the cliff on historic Depot Hill. It’s nestled in a beautiful residential neighborhood, and it makes us feel as if we’re living like locals. It’s also in an ideal location for walking into Capitola Village and out to two beaches in town.

Monarch Cove Inn’s guest lodgings are dotted among gardens and next to a monarch butterfly habitat, making us feel immersed in nature as soon as we get out of the car. There’s a sense of history here, and the place has a unique character befitting the area’s independent spirit.

Our accommodation is a stand-alone Victorian cottage with a separate kitchen and a large private garden for the dog to run around in. It’s everything we could have wanted for our stay. If you want to follow in our footsteps, you can book a room here.

Capitola Hotel
Monarch Cove Inn

New Brighton State Beach

After getting settled in at the hotel, we walk along a tree-lined trail to New Brighton State Beach. This dog-friendly stretch of sand is named after the famous seaside resort town in the United Kingdom. New Brighton Beach is known for its forested bluffs, sandy shoreline, and oceanfront homes. On clear days it’s possible to see all the way to Monterey, too.

We meet our local friends and their dog at the beach, setting up chairs and towels so we can spend the afternoon soaking up the California sun. We keep an eye out for dolphins, sea lions, and pelicans as the dogs play in the sand.

Our friends have ordered lunch from a Capitola Village favorite called Castagnola Deli & Cafe. We tuck into sandwiches, potato salad, and delicious clam chowder as we have ourselves a sunny beach picnic.

New Brighton State Beach
New Brighton State Beach

Catamaran Cruise from Santa Cruz Harbor

After a couple hours at the beach, we head back to the hotel to shower and change before boarding a boat for a catamaran cruise from Santa Cruz Harbor. With the promise of cocktails and views, we know it’s going to be a good time.

The hour-long trip takes us out past the Walton Lighthouse (also called Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse), in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, beside the sea lions on Santa Cruz Wharf, and along Seabright Beach and Twin Lakes State Beach.

It’s an amazing way to see the coast, and fun way to kick off our evening in Capitola and Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Catamaran Cruise
Catamaran Cruise in Santa Cruz

Drinks in Capitola

Our next stop is Shadowbrook in Capitola. This famous restaurant is at the base of a steep hill leading down to Soquel Creek, and it has its own funicular for guests to arrive and depart in style.

We choose to make our entrance via the garden walkway, which leads us through an enchanted green space as we descend to the restaurant. We order cocktails and wine at the bar, then spend some time exploring the various rooms and terraces.

The Arts and Crafts interiors transport us back in time, and the waterfront tables make us feel like we’re in a romantic fairy tale. When we’re done with our drinks, we board the funicular for the trip back to reality.

Capitola Restaurant

Dinner in Capitola

Next on our itinerary is dinner at Trestles, a restaurant in Capitola Village we’ve heard great things about. The ever-changing menu focuses on locally-sourced seasonal produce, and it offers everything from fresh seafood to vegetables from Dirty Girl Farms and the Aptos Farmers’ Market.

Seated at a table in the buzzing dining room, we tuck into flavorful salads, tuna specials, pasta dishes, and more. It all goes down a treat as we watch the chefs working in the open kitchen.

Day 2

The next morning our weekend in Capitola and Santa Cruz continues with a stroll along the cliffs from the Monarch Cove Inn to Capitola Village. We follow the Grand Avenue walking trail, which runs atop the Capitola Bluffs.

Capitola Beach House
House in Capitola

On the way we take in the beautiful houses on Depot Hill and watch people learning to surf in the water below us. We look out for whales off the coast, too.

Capitola Village

When we get to Capitola Village we stop for a breakfast of coffee and banana bread at Castagnola Deli & Cafe. We eat outside at the tables lining the street, watching the world go by as we fuel up for the day.

Appetites sated, we walk around the streets, doing some window shopping and taking in the atmosphere. There’s everything from clothing boutiques to surf shops and art galleries in town.

Capitola Village
Capitola Village

We also stop to admire the Historic Lawn Way Cottages. These early 20th-century homes line a pedestrianized street that once hosted holiday tents. They formed the start of Camp Capitola, which was established on July 4, 1874 by Samuel Hall, the town’s founder.

Soon we find ourselves on the waterfront, where we take in the colorful facades of the Capitola Venetian Hotel on Capitola Beach. It’s one of the most unique places to stay in California. There’s a historic wharf here, too, and it rounds out the oceanside scene.

Downtown Santa Cruz

After exploring Capitola Village, we walk back to the Monarch Cove Inn, check out of our cottage, and start the next leg of our Capitola and Santa Cruz itinerary with a trip to downtown Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Surf Shop

It’s a 20-minute drive to Pacific Avenue, a street known for its shops, restaurants, and cafes. We walk up and down it, popping into famous surf shops like Berdels and O’Neill as we go. We can’t resist the cookies from the Pacific Cookie Company, or the coffee at Verve.

Farm Stand in Santa Cruz County

After exploring downtown Santa Cruz, we leave town and start driving to San Francisco. Along the way we stop at Rodoni Farm Fresh Produce, a farm stand 2 miles south of Davenport on Highway 1. It offers a variety of organic fruits and vegetables, cut flowers, snacks, drinks, locally-made soap, honey, and other goods.

We spend some time browsing in the shop, picking up everything from ripe strawberries to fresh lettuce.

Outside there are things to surprise and delight visitors. From a larger-than-life yellow Adirondack chair to a replica of the Flintstones’ Flintmobile, the attractions are ripe for photo ops.

Santa Cruz Farm Stand
Rodoni Farm Fresh Produce

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Farther north, we stop at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in San Mateo County. The tallest lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States, it was built in the 1870s to guide ships making their way up and down the Pacific coast.

We walk around the grounds, admiring the lighthouse and looking out for seals and whales, which are regularly spotted off the shore.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Lunch in Pescadero

Continuing north, we stop for a late lunch in Pescadero. This historic town on the California coast is home to Duarte’s Tavern. Established in 1894, the restaurant known for its artichoke soup, olallieberry pies, and other local specialties. I’ve been coming here my whole life, and I always stop for lunch when I’m nearby.

We order food to go and sit outside at the picnic tables to enjoy it under the sun. It’s the perfect way to end our trip.

Duartes Tavern
Duarte’s Tavern

Capitola and Santa Cruz

Afterwards, we head back out to Highway 1 for the rest of the drive to San Francisco. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our Capitola and Santa Cruz itinerary and the weekend we spent on the California coast.

From the beaches to the picturesque towns and delicious food, it’s been a great reminder of how much there is to see and do in this part of the Golden State.

Map of the Capitola and Santa Cruz Itinerary

As promised, I’ve created an interactive Google map of all the places on my Capitola and Santa Cruz itinerary. You can see it here. I hope it helps you plan your trip. Happy travels!

Santa Cruz Boat
Sailboat in Santa Cruz

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Capitola and Santa Cruz

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