Santa Cruz might have name recognition, but Capitola, its tiny neighbor (population 10,000) just down the highway on Monterey Bay, was an ideal summer getaway for my wife and me and our young daughter. The village was a lumber port in the 1800s, but when the bloom was off that rose, it reinvented itself as a resort. It remains a prime vacation spot, with shopping, restaurants and family-friendly Capitola Beach. The tab: We spent $250 for a night at the Inn at Depot Hill, and $50 for dinner at the Wharf House.
The Inn at Depot Hill (250 Monterey Ave.,  462-3376, www.innatdepothill.com) is an upscale bed-and-breakfast inside a former train depot. Our room, called the Library, had a queen-size feather bed in front of a marble fireplace. What made the room so special was a separate upstairs loft with a twin-size bed that was ideal for our 8-year-old daughter. The loft was designed to resemble an Orient Express sleeping car with golden drapes surrounding the bed. There were artistic flourishes throughout the room (a mural of a mouse hole) that added a touch of whimsy.
At the inn, wine and appetizers were served in the afternoon, while port and chocolate truffles were put out in the evening. A breakfast included in the price — croissants, fresh fruit bowls and eggs baked with herbs and Asiago cheese — was delivered to our room along with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. The day before, we walked to the end of Capitola Wharf and ate at the Wharf House (1400 Wharf Road;  476-3534, www.wharfhouse.com). Our daughter was fascinated by the vintage fishing gear the restaurant used as decorations. My wife ordered Boston-style clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl, and I had fish and chips with a cup of the homemade chowder.
Along with free activities, such as swimming at the beach and taking a moonlight walk above nearby cliffs, we had fun checking out the shops and art galleries along Capitola Avenue. My wife and I were impressed by the stylish Lumen Gallery (112 Capitola Ave.,  295-6647, www.lumengal.com), while our mermaid-loving daughter couldn't get enough of all the gift shops with under-the-sea décor. She and my wife have yet to take off the silver rings and seashell bracelets they bought at Super Silver (214 Capitola Ave.,  462-9696, www.supersilversantacruz.com).
The lesson learned
The inn is only a five-minute walk to Capitola Beach, which is a great spot for relaxing. Next time, for some added fun and exercise, we'll either bring our own stand-up paddleboard or rent one at the beach.
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