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Santa Cruz's Best Kept Secret Isn't in Santa Cruz

Why Capitola should be your next weekend destination.


Santa Cruz may have the vintage boardwalk glory, but it also has the kitsch and crowds that come with it. Break in summer at its more mellow cousin just a few short miles south, in Capitola, a coastal village where the Soquel Creek gushes into the Monterey Bay. At first glance, its candy-colored houses may seem just as hokey as the boardwalk, but spend some time exploring the mural-slathered alleys and you’ll find plenty of tucked away secrets worthy of the trip

Stray from the Thomas Kinkade gallery in downtown for Lumen Gallery, just up the road on a quieter stretch. You’ll be rewarded with handmade jewelry, glassware, statement sculptures, and California coast-inspired paintings. Most of the work, like leather Mason jar coozies, are made by local artists. 

Having your face pried from the infinite glass case at Gayle’s Bakery certainly isn’t a flattering moment, but it’s worth it for a close-up look at the decadent treats on the other side. Opt for the pasties that incorporate fresh fruits, like the orange buttercrunch rolls, blackberry turnover, and the particularly famous strawberry shortcake cookie. 

Newcomer Sante Adairius Rustic Ales’s small and modern tasting room lets you sample their experimental Belgian-inspired beers. The craft brews are aged in wine barrels and tend to have whimsical female names, like Lucybelle (a crisp, dry saison), Maiden Fields (a tart wheat beer), and West Ashley (a complex apricot beer). 

Ask around the beach for the best restaurant in Capitola and Roux Dat will rise as a frequent answer. Off the main drag, this homespun Cajun Creole spot serves dishes meant to refuel after a day paddleboarding in the sun. Shrimp and corn etouffee and portabella fennel gumbo over brown rice arrive on dishes as festive and bright as the food. 

No trip to the coast is complete without, well, the beach. Capitola’s is wide, generally uncrowded, with mellow surf perfect for wading, fishing, or giving stand up paddleboarding a shot. On shore, volleyball matches, soccer, and full days of lazy sunbathing pass the time before the drive up the coast.


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