Juvenile Sablefish (a deepwater fish) — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle
History Note. The name Capitola is Spanish for capital and was apparently first used by F.H. Hihn of Santa Cruz when he laid out a new resort in the area in 1869. The good residents of Soquel had offered to let the State of California establish its capital in the upstairs rooms of Ned Porter’s local store but California politicians (wisely) declined the offer. Hihn used that information when he named the site; it had been called La Playa de Soquel, the beach of Soquel, during Mexican rule, and Soquel Landing under American rule.
Apparently Soquel Landing had a small pier prior to 1857 but Hihn and the Pacific Coast Steamship Company started a new wharf that year. In 1860, it was lengthened to 1,100 feet (some reports say it was lengthened to 1,200 feet in 1863) but a storm in November of 1865 destroyed the outer 500 feet of the wharf and made the inshore part of the pier unsafe. The steamship company soon rebuilt the pier. The beach itself became a favorite of vacationers from San Francisco, brought initially by horse-drawn vehicles, and then, after 1876, by the Santa Cruz-Watsonville narrow gauge railroad whose depot sat on Soquel Landing road, a short distance up the road from the wharf. However, the railroads began to take business away from the shipping line and the wharf was abandoned in 1879.
Soquel—Located on the bank of Arroyo Soquel, four miles east of Santa Cruz and one mile north of Capitola. It is therefore one mile from the bay or Soquel Cove. The name is that of an Indian village. The area about the mouth of Soquel Creek (where Capitola now is located) was formerly known as Soquel… A surveyor’s map of the place in 1858 shows a wharf on the bay, a dam in the stream and a millsite, which became in succession a flour mill, a sawmill, a paper mill and a tannery… By 1888 there were 10 fishing boats operating out of this place which ranked second as a fishing port of Santa Cruz County. By this time the Southern Pacific railroad had been built and Soquel was a favorite spot for rail shipments of fish. Modern maps show the railroad passing through Capitola, not through Soquel.
—W. L. Scofield, Fish Bulletin No. 96, California Fishing Ports, State of California Department of Fish and Game, 1954
As mentioned, the pier has been damaged many times. In fact, I have a picture, dated 1913, which shows the wharf split in half (as a result of a 1912 storm); the picture is remarkably similar to one I took in the mid-’80s following the storm of 1983. In 1998 the wharf was closed for about a month following winter storms. The next year saw more than $1 million in renovations and a closure that lasted several months; it officially reopened for the July 4, 1999 weekend. However, the wharf was closed again for repairs in February-March of 2000.
Capitola Wharf Facts
Hours: Open from sunrise to 10:30 P.M.
Facilities: Fish cleaning stations, restrooms, benches, lights, the Wharf House Restaurant and the Capitola Boat and Bait Shop are located on the pier. Parking can be found just up the hill on East Cliff Drive (it’s where I usually park), on Prospect Drive (above the railroad tracks and stairs), and on side streets north of Capitola Road (near the Shadowbrook Restaurant). Limited metered parking is available on the streets in Capitola Village, at a cost of 50 cents an hour but with a two-hour maximum visit. There are two motels near the entrance of the pier and several additional establishments nearby in Capitola Village.
Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and restrooms are available. The surface of the pier is wooden planks and the height of railings is approximately 38 inches. Not posted for handicapped.
How To Get There: From Highway 1 take the Bay Avenue exit west until it hits Capitola Avenue where you turn right; stay on this to Cliff Drive, turn right and park wherever you can find a spot.
Management: City of Capitola.