Best coastal towns

5 small towns where the coastline takes center stage

capitola wharf and beach

Capitola Wharf and beach

Thomas J. Story

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  • Capitola map

    Where: On Monterey Bay, 6 miles south of Santa Cruz.
    Main drag: The Esplanade.
    Fave cause: National advocacy group Ocean Champions is based here.
    Home style: 1920s bungalows; stucco cottages built as summer rentals.
    Visit:; Inn at Depot Hill (from $239) 


The tiki gods smile on the capital of perfect surf

Population: 9,521 

What a house costs: $643,150

The vibe: Capitola-by-the-Sea started in the 1860s as a resort town, a place for people from "over the hill" in San Jose to escape the heat. In the 1920s, it took on a Mediterranean feel, sprouting bungalows and stucco shacks reminiscent of those found in Italian fishing villages. But the Mediterranean doesn't have surf like Capitola's. That’s why world-renowned surfboard and wetsuit manufacturer O'Neill is headquartered here, and why marine environmental causes are big. And why even residents like Stephen Hanecak, chef at the Paradise Beach Grille, learn to balance their time between hard work and play. "Four or five days a week," he says, "I’m out there first thing with my surfboard, trying to start my day by catching some waves." –Matt Villano

Meet your neighbors over: Apple-carrot muffins and cappuccinos at Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria, a happening breakfast nook. A stroll along the Esplanade’s "tile wall," composed of hundreds of ceramic tiles painted by residents. A Zin at Cava Wine Bar.

On Saturday: Take a plunge (surfboard optional) into the water at Capitola City Beach. Then explore Capitola's cottage-lined back streets, maybe stopping at the historical museum. Dinner: Shadowbrook Restaurant, with a stellar wine list and its own funicular railroad.

Inside scoop: "Everything about our life here revolves around the beach." –Stephen Hanecak, surfer and chef at Paradise Beach Grille

Next: four more ocean towns


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