Two Santa Cruz County beach areas that suffered heavy winter storm damage have undergone initial repairs and are almost ready for summer visitors. 

President Joe Biden visited the waterfront restaurants at Capitola Village and toured Seacliff State Beach in Aptos on Jan. 19, after both suffered damage on Jan. 5. Capitola’s wharf also was sliced in half during the storm. 

On a recent weekday visit, both beach areas were full of beachgoers and sun lovers. The scenes appeared more idyllic than disastrous, although repair work continues. 

The biggest change to the landscape is at Seacliff, where the storm-damaged pier was removed in March and April. The pier was at one point connected to the Cement Ship, a beached ship from the 1920s. The Cement Ship, also known as the SS Palo Alto, remains offshore as a haven for marine life.   

The SS Palo Alto, also known as the Cement Ship (center background) off Seacliff State Beach in Aptos is no longer connected to the pier, which was removed following damage from the winter’s inclement weather. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)  

Only a few pilings to the pier still need to be removed, said Gabe McKenna, a public safety supervisor for California State Parks. 

Other damage is still evident at Seacliff. Pedestrians have been rerouted from a path next to a damaged seawall to a new path through a closed parking lot. Picnic areas with open air roofs, called ramadas, await repair.  All the damage is confined to the lower parking lot area near the beach. An upper parking lot at the park, with spectacular views from the nearby cliffs, is open. 

Picnic areas on Seacliff State Beach remain closed, awaiting repair. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)  

Despite the log and wood debris on the beach, pedestrians, cyclists and sunbathers continue to flock to Seacliff, which is awash in yellow, pink, white and purple from blooming flowers.  On a recent weekday afternoon, three sunbathers lolled in the sand directly in front of the Cement Ship. A woman strolled by with a dog on a leash, crossing paths with a woman in a wide-brimmed hat. A few seagulls flew by. 

Many of the visitors to Seacliff beach enter from nearby Rio del Mar, a small beach village to the south. Many waterfront businesses there, including Pixie Deli and Venus Pie Trap, are open. 

Four miles to the north in Capitola, most restaurants and bars on the beachfront esplanade are open, including Margaritaville, Paradise Beach Grille, Zelda’s on the Beach, and Tacos Moreno. On a recent late afternoon, all were busy with patrons dining on outside patios. But at least two other esplanade businesses were fenced off, and they appeared to be undergoing repairs. 

Diners on the patio at Tacos Moreno in Capitola can see the collapsed wharf, which is closed. The City Council is slated to vote on a reconstruction project this month. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)

In Capitola, the logs and wood debris on the city’s beach have been transformed into whimsical shelters and sculptures. 

The wood will be removed when the city begins grading Capitola Beach and closing the adjacent lagoon before Memorial Day, said City Manager Jamie Goldstein. The city is allowed to do the work under an array of permits from regulators. 

 “We can’t begin that work earlier based on our permit conditions,” he explained. 

While many restaurants and businesses on the esplanade in Capitola Village are open, the wharf is not. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)

Capitola’s wharf, which remains closed, is a noticeable reminder of the damage. The Capitola City Council is slated to vote on the wharf reconstruction project on May 11. 

 “That project will include fixes to the storm damage as well as a comprehensive rebuild to make the wharf more resilient to future storms,” Goldstein said.            

Work on the wharf could begin as early as September and take around six months to complete.