When I was growing up and said that I would like to live by the beach someday I had a very specific picture in my head. A small town, where everything you want is in walking distance. Lots of small shops selling bathing suits, loose linens and brightly colored candies. One story, pastel houses just across the street from the Pacific Ocean, so you can always hear the waves crashing. Waterfront restaurants serving fresh seafood and pizza. Mountains always visible, except in the morning when the fog is too thick.
That description seems like it should fit Santa Cruz. It almost does, maybe it used to. But Santa Cruz is too big. It’s too much the place that everyone who isn’t from around here hears about and goes to. It was too much the quintessential Northern California beach town for too long, I think, to get to stay that way. But just a tiny little step further south is tiny little Capitola, which I have just described to a T. Over the years, while Santa Cruz got bigger and dirtier and Aptos got fancier and smugger, Capitola has managed to stay tranquil and humble. It’s still a little funky, though not the hippie kind of funky that brings ideas of dirty tie-dyes, body odor and patchouli. More like the kind of place where you can be served in a restaurant without shoes, should you happen to have left yours on the beach.
On a more serious note, though, one noticeable change to Capitola in the years since it impressed me as the ideal place to spend eternity, once I’m ready for eternity, is that it’s coastline has receded. The wide, luxurious stretch of beach from my childhood memories has withered into a little fingernail of sand. Still enough to spread a towel and relax in the sun, but not quite enough to keep believing that Capitola will get to exist forever. Not that you have to run to catch it, it’ll certainly last all of our lifetimes. More like just a reminder not to count on eternity.