A page a day

Life on California's beautiful Central Coast

Stearns Wharf

When we journeyed to Stearns Wharf on a recent overcast summer day to check out another of Santa Barbara’s favorite tourism destinations, we overheard one tourist say to another: “It’s just like Fisherman’s Wharf!”

Our reply, had that exclamation been pronounced in our direction, would have been: “No! It’s not! And that’s why we love it!”

Rather than be a tourist-only haven and Mecca for schlock (though to be fair, you can purchase kitsch on Stearns Wharf … but you can’t watch a cheesy movie that reenacts its past), local residents visit the wharf regularly to fish, dine out, take the kids for an ice cream or run to the end.

Here are some of our favorite reasons to head out on the wharf. Just don’t call it a pier.

To fish or watch people fish. You can only fish from the very end of the wharf, but there is almost always someone out there trying their luck with a pole. One enterprising resident pelican knows this, and will nip the fishermen on the ankles if he isn’t rewarded with a treat If you don’t have a fishing pole in your suitcase, you can rent one at Stearns Wharf Bait and Tackle, the last building at the end of the wharf. Read about what it’s like to fish at the wharf.

To admire Bud Bottom’s famous dolphin fountain. You can’t get onto or off of the wharf without passing the local sculptor’s piece, celebrating local marine life. (Unless you take the Lil Toot water taxi over from the harbor, which drops you off near the end of the wharf. $4 adults, $1 kids.) The fountain has been there since 1982, and is Santa Barbara’s signature artwork. It’s not appropriate to jump in it on a hot summer day, although we have seen people try, but tossing in a penny for good luck is certainly OK as you head out to the wharf.

To count the planks. What!? Yes, to count the planks. The very same planks that make it dangerous to wear high heels on the wharf, or no shoes at all, and create the very satisfying clank, clank, clunk sound when you drive your car onto the wharf (which you can do, but be prepared to have your parking pass validated at a local business or spend a few bucks for the privilege of parking on redwood.) Back in 2004 the dedicated staff of Edhat counted the planks on the wharf, and you can see the story about the experience, which also explains why the wharf is not a pier. Another fun thing to count on the wharf is the birds. Here’s a story about that.

To go to the Sea Center. The Ty Warner Sea Center, part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, includes exhibits about marine life, including seawater touch tanks that are great fun for kids. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for teens, and $5 for kids. If you don’t manage to see a whale during your Santa Barbara visit, the Sea Center is a great place to learn about the big creatures that live in the Channel beyond the wharf. The History Museum staff is responsible for the educational placards placed around the wharf railings, which have great information about local tides, seawater-growing plants, the sand shifts in the harbor that change with the seasons, and more.

To snack or dine out. There are a lot of dining options on the wharf, from the casual (Char West or the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company), to the popular patio at Longboard’s (an especially great spot to sip a beer on a hot summer day) to the pricier Harbor Restaurant, or the historic Moby Dick’s. Burned in a fire in 1998, the best thing about Moby Dick’s is arguably the view from its giant windows onto the harbor. A local summertime tradition is to get ice cream on the wharf, and the smell of baking waffle cones from The Great Pacific Ice Cream Company on a foggy morning is especially enticing. Of course, you can also bring your own picnic and eat it on one of the red-umbrella adorned picnic tables that are across from Moby Dick’s. Just watch out for those hungry seagulls!

It is a local institution dating back 138 years. Stearns Wharf is the oldest and longest working (wooden) wharf in all of California, according to an article we wrote about the wharf (with much subscriber help) in 2005. J.P. Stearns, Santa Barbara shipping magnate, built it in 1872. It was built to bring lumber ashore for Santa Barbara’s rapid growth as settlers arrived in the early days of our little blue town by the sea, long before it became the worldwide tourist destination we know today.

# # # #

Note: This content was created by me for use by www.edhat.com. For reprint permission contact leah@edhat.com.


No comments yet»

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: