Santa Cruz is a coastal beach town on the breathtaking Monterey Bay, just over a windy highway 13 from the South Bay Area. It’s about a 45 minute drive from San Jose with no traffic, but there’s usually traffic so it could be 1.5 hours.
Capitola is a quintessential, quaint California beach town: laid-back, quirky, and charming. Located to the east of Santa Cruz downtown, Capitola is Santa Cruz’s quieter, more chill neighbor. To be honest, my favorite thing to do is get a latte and a snack at Verve, then bring it to the beach for a walk.
Things to do
Go to Capitola State Beach—this is the beach that has the little painted buildings.
Take a walk on East Cliff—these surf breaks between Pleasure Point and the Hook have a paved pathway for a leisurely walk, or rent a bike at the near by Family Cyclery. Make sure you watch for dolphins and whales!
Visit the University of California, Santa Cruz—perched atop the hills among old-growth redwood forests. It’s beautiful, if you feel like going on a walk.
Go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk—this seems pretty obvious.
Play in the tide pools you’ll need to track when low-tide is, but the tide pools in Santa Cruz are beautiful. Take a walk along the beach and gather sea glass then look for crabs, sea anemones, starfish, and mussels.
Go see the Monarchs at Natural Bridges—from mid-October through through mid-January, thousands of Monarch Butterflies chill at Natural Bridges State Beach (bottom left of the above map).
Take a day trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium—worthy of a day trip, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the entire world. Spend a day watching otters play, schools of fish swimming over your head, and a sunfish the size of your kitchen table.
Do a Santa Cruz Food Tour
Taqueria Vallarta—quick & easy fast casual Mexican food. Order a burrito! a few locations, but I always go to the one in Capitola because it’s the nicest.
Margaritaville—sit-down Mexican food with a view of the “painted houses” on Capitola beach
Shadowbrook—fine dining in a historic building with an amazing view. This is our go-to “special occasion” restaurant—their prime rib is my favorite.
The Crow’s Nest—sit-down dining with an incredible view of the harbor and lighthouse. Great for brunch or sunset, but make a reservation! they also have a rooftop deck if it’s nice out.
Oswald—more of a “foodie” spot that you’d see in a big city with cute, bistro vibes
Laili—sit-down contemporary Mediterranean & Afghan spot in downtown SC
Pizza My Heart—New York-style by the slice. It’s tasty. I believe they have two locations in Capitola and one in Santa Cruz
Sea Breeze Cafe
Penny Ice Cream
Marianne’s Ice Cream
Kelly’s French Bakery
VERVE COFFEE ROASTERS—my absolute FAVORITE coffee shop of all time! They have four locations in Santa Cruz; the 41st Ave location is my favorite (it’s where Gus and I had our first date!)
Cat & Cloud Coffee
Have fun! Comment below if you have any more places to add!