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What? Never heard of Capitola? If you haven’t yet ventured that far north, you’re missing one of the Bay Area’s well-kept secrets.

A quaint, colorful village, Capitola-by-the-Sea, ten minutes south of Santa Cruz, is slightly reminiscent of the picturesque village of Portofino on the Ligurian coast of Italy. Swim or stroll along the short, beautiful sandy white beach or do some shopping at the boutiques and art galleries. Coffee houses and restaurants, too, are all within steps of the sand.

For the more adventurous, take a walk out on the Capitola Wharf, where you can rent a variety of fishing gear, a motorboat, a water bike or just grab a snack at Capitola Boat and Bait. For $75, four people can rent a motorized skiff, depart as early as 7 a.m., and stay out until 3 p.m. Call ahead to reserve.

At the entrance to the wharf, right on the sand, the multicolored Venetian condominiums (with hand-carved doorways) were the first to be built in California in the 1920s.

Several popular restaurants, like Margaritaville and Zelda’s, line the boardwalk. Named after the “Barbarian Princess of the South,” the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda’s offers beachfront and indoor fine dining – and an all-day happy hour on Tuesdays! If you fancy a leisurely sip while watching the waves, happy hour margaritas are just a buck any other day from 2:30-5:30pm.

Capitola always seems to be celebrating some special event!

In the spring, there’s a beach Easter egg hunt for kids, and if you look carefully during low tide, you’ll discover an Irish sun cross hidden in the sand.

In summer, Capitola hosts the Classic Car Show and the Vintage Motorcycle Show, as well as the popular Wharf-to-Wharf Race, a 6-mile run, which begins at the Santa Cruz Wharf and ends at the Capitola Wharf. For several weeks in the summer, you can bring a picnic dinner to weekly evening concerts by the sea.

In the fall, at the world-famous Begonia Festival, elaborate begonia-laden floats glide up and down the Soquel Creek to the delight of cheering onlookers. And in mid-September, at the annual Art and Wine Festival, several streets along the boardwalk are dedicated to wine tasting, international food booths, music and a variety of unique artwork, handmade crafts, jewelry and pottery.

December events include the annual Christmas Tree Lighting, caroling in the village and an annual art show and wine tasting, Art in the Cellars, at Bargetto Winery in Soquel, not far from Capitola Village.

For a calendar of Capitola events, see capitolachamber.com.

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