How to Spend 50 Perfect Hours in Santa Cruz and Capitola

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Santa Cruz is known for its surfing community, vibrant culinary options, and wide range of fun attractions—from museums to rollercoasters. Just five miles down the road is the 10,000-person town of Capitola, the perfect place to partake in water sports.


DAY 1

8:00 a.m. – Wake up in your retro-decorated room at Dream Inn, a Joie de Vivre property right on the beach. Throw on your bathrobe and fire up the Keurig coffeemaker. Then, take your cup of coffee out on the patio and enjoy the sea breeze while watching early morning surfers off in the distance.

Get dressed in comfortable clothes (an elastic waistband is advisable for today—you’ll later find out why), sneakers, and a hat. Grab your sunscreen and a water bottle on your way out.

(via thepicnicbasketsc.com)

9:00 a.m. – Keep your car parked and walk a few blocks down the beach to The Picnic Basket. Snag a seat on the patio and order the breakfast burrito, some homemade yogurt and a slice of morning cake (brown sugar almond custard cake). Wash it down with a hot cup of coffee.

10:00 a.m. – Walk a little further down the beach until you come to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, one of the oldest amusement parks in the U.S. (founded in the early 1900s). Walk around and check out rides such as The Giant Dipper rollercoaster and Neptune’s Kingdom for some mini golf and ping-pong.

12:30 p.m. – Between rides, grab a quick bite at one of the restaurants within the Boardwalk. Try not to eat too much for lunch; you want to save your appetite. Just grab a snack or maybe a small salad.

2:00 p.m. – Start making your way into downtown Santa Cruz to get ready for a true culinary treat. At 2:30p.m., meet your guide for a Santa Cruz Food Tour. Food tours are one of the hottest ways to see a new destination (these types of tours are offered everywhere from Paris to Lisbon to Chicago and San Francisco). Over the next 3.5 hours, you will taste a food from a variety of eateries—from an ice cream shop and a bakery to a burger joint and a Mediterranean restaurant. All the while, you will learn about the history of Santa Cruz from fantastic guides and meet other fun travelers. Tours are offered from April through November and cost $59 per person. You will eat quite a bit during this tour (hence the elastic-waist pants).

(via Flickr)

5:30 p.m. – Walk back to Dream Inn to relax and allow yourself to digest. When you are ready, go for a walk north along West Cliff Drive. Remember your camera, as there will undoubtedly be perfect opportunities to capture Christmas card-appropriate photos of your family as the sun goes down.

7:30 p.m. – Hungry? If so, walk over to Riva Fish House for some clam chowder in a bread bowl. You are likely to be exhausted by this time (eating can be tiring!), so go back to Dream Inn and fall asleep with thoughts of delicious food swirling in your head.

DAY 2

9:00 a.m. – Wake up a little later today, pack a bag with your swimsuit, a beach towel and some sunscreen and head out wearing clothes that allow you to move easily (high fashion isn’t a priority here; comfort reigns supreme at the beach). Then, drive a mile down the road to 542 Seabright Ave. and grab a table at Seabreeze Café. This place is known for their cinnamon rolls, waffles, and tofu scrambles. Change up your beverage choice and go for the grapefruit juice.

10:30 a.m. – Drive a few blocks down and park out front of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, a fun place to learn about the nature of the region. Admission is free for people under 18 years old and just $4 for adults. Check online before you go to see if there are any public education programs scheduled.

12:30 p.m. – Time to check out adorable Capitola. Set your GPS to 504 Bay Ave and—10 minutes later—walk into Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria. Walk up to the counter and order the turkey and gouda sandwich, Italiano sandwich, and quinoa and hummus salad. Then, take a seat and enjoy.

1:30 p.m. – Full and ready to go; drive over to Capitola Surf and Paddle. Consider renting a paddle board ($20/hour or $50/day) or a try surfing (surfboards run $10/hour or $30/day). If you are looking for a more personalized experience, spring for a private lesson (offered on stand up paddle boards or surfboards—both cost $85/person for two hours).

3:30 p.m. – Dry off and change back into your clothes, then go to Armida Winery Tasting Room. This place offers a perfect view of the ocean and tasty varietals. Don’t leave without trying the Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. Chat with the friendly locals and wine shop owners, then walk around downtown and check out some of the cute boutiques. A few favorites include Sweet AsylumStella Mitchell Boutique and In the Raw.

6:30 p.m. – Most likely hungry by now, drive up the road and park in front of Shadowbrook Restaurant, a local favorite since it opened in the last 1940s. Take the cable car up to the building (or walk along the garden path) and settle into a table (reservations are recommended). Order the filet mignon or prime rib and ask your server about the night’s market fish (if the lobster tail is offered, add that to your list of food items). Then ask as to the best wine pairings and enjoy a night of relaxation with great food.

DAY 3

9:30 a.m. – Wake up slowly this morning, check out of the Dream Inn, and then drive up to 320 Cedar Street. Park your car and walk inside The Bagelry, a Santa Cruz favorite since it opened in 1977. Order a few bagels and a selection of cream cheeses, then grab a couple bottles of water and head out.

Drive five miles south to Capitola City Beach for a morning picnic. Watch the surfers and reminisce about the delightful memories you made over the last two days. 

This article comes to us courtesy of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Each week the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee features a #Perfect50 Hours series detailing how to spend 50 hours in a different San Francisco Bay Area city. See more here

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