When the temperature starts rising and the Farm’s warm atmosphere shifts from uncomfortable to unbearable, maybe it’s time for an adventure over the hill. Just a short drive over Highway 17, Santa Cruz offers cool weather, great beaches and excellent eateries. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is always a popular destination, but if you are looking for something a little less “touristy,” here are some suggestions from a lifelong resident.
Just six miles from the Boardwalk sits Capitola Village, a quaint but lively assortment of restaurants and shops positioned right on top of the town beach. Capitola Beach is the centerpiece of the Village’s aesthetic, thrumming with visitors of all ages. It’s often crowded, and metered parking can be pretty hard to snag, so I’d suggest going to the recently opened Upper Lot, where parking is plentiful and costs $0.50 an hour. If you decide to visit on the weekends, free shuttles run to the beach. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the beach itself, but furry friends of all sizes are welcome in the rest of the town.
For those interested in Santa Cruz’s famed surfing scene, Capitola is a great place to start. The Capitola Beach Company, located at 131 Monterey Avenue, provides equipment rentals and lessons for surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. They have a pop-up shack just in front of the restrooms. In addition, Capitola Beach is home to beginner-friendly waves and an army of lifeguards. No matter what you decide to do, it is a great place to relax and enjoy the sounds of the ocean.
The beach, however, is not Capitola’s only attraction. The Village is small, but its size is deceptive; the stores contain such a variety of products that it might take a whole day to see everything. The ethos of the Village invites lingering, and you never know what you might find. If you happen to get hungry after some beach time, perusing stacks of beach attire or admiring local happenings, the Village has some great eating options.
The famed Pizza My Heart chain has a location at Capitola Beach — or, more accurately, on Capitola Beach; the restaurant is fewer than twenty steps off the beach. Although it’s more of an order window than a traditional dine-in, it is actually the chain’s original location. Don’t let the line dissuade you — it’s always there, but it moves quickly. Personally, I think their slices are a bit on the thin side, but their flavor and reputation more than make up for it.
If pizza isn’t really your thing, consider checking out the Reef Dog Deli. When I walked in, it smelled delicious, and the bustling kitchen made it evident that my food would be made-to-order. There’s a grab-and-go section for those in a hurry, and they have pictures hung all across the walls of the namesake dog, Reef, romping across the beach and paddling through waves. What’s not to like about that? And for dessert, you can stop by Polar Bear Ice Cream just a few moments away.
If you’ve already visited Capitola and would like to try something different, I’d suggest going a few miles south to Seacliff Beach. What’s interesting about Seacliff is that it’s technically the second of three state beaches connected together for many miles; New Brighton State Beach leads into Seacliff, and becomes Rio Del Mar State Beach further south. If you’re a fan of walking along the beach, head south — you can go a very long way before Mother Nature stops you at the mouth of the Pajaro River in Watsonville. At Seacliff, there’s a remarkable concrete shipwreck right on the beach called the S.S. Palo Alto — it used to be a World War I oil tanker and a restaurant. Locals call it the Cement Ship. Cool, right? You cannot walk on it anymore, but the connecting pier is still open for visitors and fishers.
Seacliff is absolutely the place for you if you’re hoping for a nice relaxing time “at the beach.” It doesn’t have a surrounding village like Capitola Beach, but it is the premier location for playing beach games, people watching, reading a book, fishing from the tide line, peacefully listening to the ocean or all of the above.
Just because there’s no prominent commercial presence there, doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of life or food. In the pizza department, Pizza One is easily one of the best establishments in the area — for my money, it blows Pizza My Heart out of the water in terms of flavor, size and shape. Parking can be a bit of a hassle, but it’s just a short walk away from Seacliff Beach.
And finally, perhaps the most popular ice cream parlor in the entire county: Marianne’s Ice Cream. I cannot emphasize how good their scoops are. With a location right next to Seacliff and over 100 flavors to choose from, you might want to decide your favorite beforehand. There’s almost always a crowd of people waiting outside or taking pictures of their prizes before eating them, but the line is worth it.
This week, I spent an afternoon on campus for a summer event, and the hot, warm weather reminded me just how much I love living next to the ocean with its perpetual foggy skies and 60º weather. If you decide to spend a day enjoying the coast, remember to bring a sweatshirt. You’ll need it.