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Towns near Monterey offer special treasures

Who can resist the charms of historic Monterey or the picturesque seasidecity of Santa Cruz? Nobody goes home disappointed, of course, but what many visitors may not take the time to do is visit the small towns and attractions between these two popular destinations.

Its just 42 miles between Monterey and Santa Cruz, a drive that most visitors will make quickly to get to the many attractions in either of those cities. But if you slow down and take a short detour off the beaten path, you'll find that Monterey Bay settlements and towns like Aptos, Capitola and Marina each offers its own perspective on the bay, each with visitor attractions and a feeling all its own.

Driving south from Santa Cruz on the Cabrillo Highway, it was just a few miles before we took a right on Bay Avenue and drove the short distance down to the charming beach community of Capitola. As luck would have it, we happened upon their annual Begonia Festival, an annual event featuring parades and floats and sandcastle-building and rowboat races.

Look up California Beach Community in the dictionary and Capitola has to be Exhibit A. The drive into town drops down in elevation as you wind your way through charming small-town streets just wide enough for one lane in each direction. With the Begonia festivities at hand, our drive took just a few minutes longer as traffic crept along, visitors looking for coveted parking spaces on what was obviously a very big day for Capitola.

But even without a festival, Capitola rates high with visitors. This is an artsy, scenic town located where the Soquel River meets a wide beach that is popular with local surfers. Boutiques, eateries and vacation rentals keep the town abuzz with visitors who may drive down from San Jose or even San Francisco for a day of people-watching from one of the restaurants that overlooks the river and the beach. People of all ages frolic here on what is considered one of the Central Coasts most colorful beaches.

If crowds and commerce are not your idea of a good beach, another five minutes down the coast and you come to New Brighton State Beach. This is one of the most popular state beaches in California and includes a 93-acre park offering spectacular views of Monterey Bay. A family-oriented campground sits on the bluff overlooking the Pacific.
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