How to photograph Capitola

Capitola Wharf

Charming beach communities like Capitola are rare in Northern California. The city is famous for its laid-back atmosphere, surfers, and hip downtown bars at the water’s edge. Capitola is the perfect escape for busy Bay Area residents who slip out of their business suits for the weekend, partially envious of the aging surfing hippies that never sold out.

Fun in the sun, a beer at the beach on Zelda’s patio, the best slice of pizza you can get with sandy, naked feet, or a late night flirty Margarita at the Margaritaville, these are some of the simple pleasures Capitola has to offer. You will not have any trouble convincing your family members to join you for this trip.

Do not forget to pack your camera! Between family entertainment and surfers, there are plenty of good pictures waiting.

How to get there

Capitola is located near Highway 1, east of Santa Cruz and north of Watsonville. From Santa Cruz take Highway 1 south, and then take the Bay Avenue exit. Follow Bay Avenue south toward Capitola. After about 0.4 miles turn right at Capitola Avenue and follow it into the heart of the city. Parking is notoriously hard around downtown. On your way into the city center, you will pass the police station and administrative center. Just north of it (the direction you came from), you will find a road leading up a steep hill. It will take you to a large metered parking lot with very reasonable rates.

The city center also has public restrooms.

GPS position

How to photograph Capitola

Capitola Beach Volleyball

Capitola Beach Volleyball

Take your time and smell the roses! Capitola does not reveal itself right away. Start at the beach before venturing on Cliff Drive and to the Wharf.

Try not to offend anyone photographing at the beach. Although it is legal to photograph people in a public place like the Capitola Beach, you should use common sense to avoid conflict.

Find a unique angle. Walk out into the water and take a wide-angle lens to photograph the beach while standing up to your waist in the ocean. Rent a boat and go out even further to photograph the beach with a telephoto lens. Stepping back and zooming in closer compresses the distance between two objects (lifeguard tower and boats below). Walking on the wharf gives you yet another perspective (see above).

Capitola Lifeguard Tower

Capitola Lifeguard Tower

Make sure your photographs have a clear subject that is the center of attention and vary your point of view to create more interest. Get low on the ground and use the pattern the waves and the sand generate as your foreground element or stand on the wall to gain a higher perspective.

Use a polarizing filter to bring out color and cut the glare from the water!

Always put the lens cap on the lens when you are not taking pictures! I often see people who do not mind giving their lens a sandblasting during a day at the beach.



Look for detail when you are photographing the colorful façade of the Venetian Hotel, the Capitola Mercantile, or explore the pier. You will find many interesting compositions within the clutter of activity. Separating them can be a challenge. Use a zoom lens and move around until you find a good perspective.

Capitola Margaritaville

Capitola Margaritaville

Capitola looks even better at night when the lights reflect on the water. My favorite subjects at night are the Wharf (image at the start of the article), the Margaritaville (above) from the Venetian Hotel, and the Venetian Hotel from the bridge.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

Capitola beach faces south, which makes it a great location for late afternoon and morning photography.

Time required

Plan to spend some time here to soak up the relaxed beach atmosphere. I took the pictures on this page together with others within two hours.


  • Wide-angle lens
  • Polarizing and UV filters
  • Zoom Lens
  • swimming gear (to walk out into the water) and towels
  • Ziploc bag (to protect your camera from the sand and water)

Close Locations

Useful Resources

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  1. Posted 2010/08/04 at 05:10 | Permalink

    Interesting, I’ve never heard of Capitola (although I”m hardly a California expert). The composition of the red boats is very unique.

  2. Posted 2010/08/04 at 15:11 | Permalink

    Great job capturing the essence of this small town, Andre. Well done.

  3. Posted 2010/08/04 at 20:41 | Permalink

    Thanks guys. Funny that you liked the boats. I could have sworn I took a better one a couple of years ago, I looked and looked and couldn’t find it.
    Glad the substitude did its job.

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