A lot of things come to mind when thinking of Santa Barbara. Beautiful beaches. Historic buildings. Amazing landscapes. Landmarks are Santa Barbara’s cup of tea and none is more representative than Stearns Wharf. Over its long history the Wharf has become Santa Barbara’s leading tourist attraction. It has a little bit of everything for everyone.
John P. Stearns built the 2,000-foot structure at a time when cargo and people needed to be rowed into shore. That and the fact Santa Barbara is also surrounded by mountains made it difficult to do business in the city. This dilemma ended in 1872 when the Wharf was finished. From that point on Santa Barbara was on the map for more than Hispanic architecture.
The shipping and cargo era of Stearns Wharf came to an end when the Harbor Restaurant opened in 1941. Since then it has turned into a commercial hot spot. So much that it is the leading tourist attraction nowadays. There are currently eighteen business establishments. You’ll find restaurants, shops, a museum and recreational facilities. If that doesn’t attract you to the Wharf the sunset and the view will. Visitors are treated to some of the most spectacular sights when dusk comes around.
Disaster strikes once and again
Natural disasters and California are like peanut butter and jelly. Stearns Wharf has not been the exception. Storms and earthquakes have been responsible for the majority of the Wharf’s suffering. Six years after it was built, a tremendous storm caused a Chinese junk ship to crash into the Wharf. The toll was 1,000 feet of the decking being ruined. To make things worse, a New Year’s tornado added to the damage. The march of a couple of hundred Civil War Veterans almost made the structure come falling down. A storm of biblical proportions in 1983 and a tremendous one in 1987 caused over a million dollars’ worth of damage and yet the Wharf resisted. Despite its best efforts, Mother Nature has not been able to destroy Stearns Wharf.
Nature’s forces could not bring the Wharf down, but fires throughout its history have caused it to close for short periods. Three of them more than others. Gale winds caused sparks from a nearby fire at a hotel to ignite the pilings and palm trees in 1921. The other great fire came a little over 50 years later when the Harbor Restaurant burned to the ground and leading to the closure of the Wharf for eight years. Finally, a fault water pump at the Sea Center caused a fire to close a part of Stearns Wharf for half a year. And still, the sturdy resilient structure remained standing.
Visiting Stearns Wharf
The Wharf offers its visitors a wide range of activities and each one has top-notch service to make the visit all the more pleasant.
Dining at this iconic landmark is an unforgettable experience. Are you in the mood for some casual cuisine? Maybe a good old fashioned cheeseburgers or some delicious fish and chips? If the answer is yes, definitely visit Longboards’ Beach and Grill or Char West Fish and Chips. Head on down to the Moby Dick Restaurant for a wonderful family dining experience. And finally, if you are looking to celebrate that special occasion with a loved one then the renowned Harbor Restaurant at dusk is the perfect place. Whatever your palette has a craving for, the Wharf will not disappoint.
Shopping at the Wharf is also a pleasant experience. The shops along the way give tourists and locals the chance to pick up memorable souvenirs. Toys. Jewelry. Hats. Local arts and crafts. The options are unlimited and for all ages. The friendly shop owners and many family owned businesses will surely make people want to return for another visit.
Another mandatory stop along the Wharf is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Whether you are a young child or an adult, everyone will get a deep understanding and appreciation for marine life. Its unique 1,500-gallon tide pool shows visitors what it’s like to live under the sea.
Friendly people. Great food. Shopping. Learning. Sea-side cruises. And did we mention the view. You will be hard pressed to find a place anywhere in the world with the beauty and magnificence of Stearns Wharf. It’s a treasure of Santa Barbara’s history. If it were not for John P. Stearns vision of satisfying the transportation needs of the time such a jewel might not exist. It will forever have a place in Santa Barbara lore and will always be an example of resilience and strength. It has been through the worst storms Mother Nature has to offer. The Wharf has been burned by devastating flames. Despite those tragic disasters Stearns Wharf has and will remain standing. It awaits visitors with open arms and hospitality to show them the best of Santa Barbara.