HISTORY OF STEARNS WHARF

 


Stearns Wharf, the oldest working wood wharf in California, was built in 1872 by John Peck Stearns to facilitate the transfer of cargo and people from ships to shore. In 1925, the State of California, conveyed the Tidelands and the Harbor area to the City to be held in trust for certain priority uses and purposes. In 1926, Max Fleschmann offered the City of Santa Barbara $200,000 toward the construction of a harbor if the City would match the amount. A detached breakwater was completed in 1928 with an extension to shore constructed in 1930. Sand accretion began immediately with Leadbetter Beach and the current harbor commercial areas being created within seven years after the breakwater as completed.Up until the 1870s, Santa Barbara was virtually cut off from the outside world by its natural barriers of the ocean and the mountains. In 1867, John Peck Stearns moved to Santa Barbara and opened a lumberyard at the foot of State Street. Mr. Stearns noted that the town needed a long wharf so that Ocean ships could tie up at low tide. In 1872, with the financial backing of Colonel William Welles Hollister, Stearns completed the Wharf and Santa Barbara’s isolation from the outside world was over.

The Wharf has endured since 1872, making it the oldest working wooden wharf in California. It is 2,300 feet long and has an area of 3.8 acres supported by 2,307 pilings. There are currently seventeen businesses on the Wharf including three restaurants, a shellfish market, a bait and tackle shop, tourist oriented shops, a Channels Islands exhibit hall and a marine museum.

In 1878, A Chinese junk crashed into the Wharf during a severe storm, destroying 1,000 feet of decking. Before this damage could be repaired, the first tornado in the City’s history struck on New Year’s Eve, causing even more damage to the Wharf. In 1887, due to the heavy and regular tread of two hundred Civil War Veterans, the Wharf almost collapsed which would have thrown 3,000 people into the ocean. That same year marked the arrival of the railroad into Santa Barbara, signaling the decline of ship traffic.

In response to the arrival of the railroad, J.P. Stearns built a 1,450 foot wye onto the Wharf to carry a railroad spur so that lumber could be quickly transferred from ships onto flat cars. The wye proved too expensive to maintain and was abandoned, after being battered by more than a decade of storms. A small portion of the wye remains today, housing the Sea Center marine museum and the Nature Conservancy exhibit hall.


In 1921, the Wharf Narrowly escaped destruction by fire. The 600 room Potter Hotel burned down and a 50-mile-an hour gale sent sparks which ignited the pilings on the Wharf and palm trees along West Beach.

In 1973, the famed Harbor Restaurant was destroyed by a spectacular pre-dawn fire, closing the Wharf. The Wharf was reopened eight years later. The Wharf was rebuilt with approximately the same building area that had existed previously and the same number of parking spaces. There had been other proposals for considerable increases in commercial space on the Wharf, but they have been denied by the Coastal Commission during the 1970’s.

In February 1983, the Santa Barbara area was hit by a “100 year storm” which heavily damaged the Wharf and Harbor. Damage to the Wharf was estimated at over half a million dollars. In December 1987, another fierce storm struck and a derelict barge and fishing boat broke free from their moorings east of the Wharf and were hurled into the Wharf, along with their mooring balls. About 30 pilings were knocked out, causing the Wharf to sag near the beach and closing it for one week. Damages was estimated at $100,000 to the Wharf and several hundred thousands dollars in lost revenue to the Wharf merchants.

In June 1986, a fire occurred on the shoreward finger of the Wharf. A fire caused by a damaged water pump caused heavy damage to the recently opened Sea Center as well as damaging the Wharf underpinnings and the Nature Conservancy building. The two grey whale models exhibited in the Sea Center building were not damaged but the shoreward finger of the Wharf was closed for six months for repairs….

Santa Barbara’s Historic Stearns Wharf Reopens Following Tragic Fire; 80% of Beachfront Landmark Saved and Open for Business

Santa Barbara, California, November 23, 1998, A fire erupted in the vicinity of Moby Dick’s restaurant on Stearns Wharf Wednesday night, November 18, about 9:40 p.m. after the restaurant was closed for the evening. Fueled by the creosote preserved timbers of the wharf structure, the fire spread quickly. It consumed 420 feet of an outer segment of the 2,300 foot long wharf before being brought under control at 6:45 a.m., Thursday morning. Three businesses were totally destroyed by the fire: Moby Dick’s Restaurant, Mike’s Bait and Tackle Shop, and Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

 

Testimonials

Read about our costumers. They say great things.

 

Review of Stearns Wharf, from Tripadvisor

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    Ranked #24 of 69 attractions in Santa Barbara. No visit to Santa Barbara would be complete wtihout a stroll down this beautiful wharf. Also a great place for that Kodak moment while visitng Santa Barbara.

    Amy K. Los Angeles


    Review of Stearns Wharf, from Yelp

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    Why is Stearn’s wharf rated so low? It’s pretty much free parking (if you patronize one store) and there are gorgeous views. This place holds a very special place in my heart since my bf and now fiance had our first date and sealed the engagement deal years later.


    Review of Stearns Wharf, from Gogobot Reviews

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    Relax by enjoying a meal outdoors on the patio of the Harbor Restaurant, then walk around the wharf breathing in the fresh ocean air. Christine M

Stearns Wharf Pet Policy

Dogs are allowed Stearns Wharf and there are rules/laws/regulations that govern animals and/or dogs. Most of the laws are common among municipalities. For example, dogs must be on a leash, less than 6′ in length, the dog must always be under the immediate control of the owner, you must clean up after your dog, and for Santa Barbara dogs are not permitted on the beach in city limits and dogs left in vehicles when the weather is hot is not advised. There are a couple of restaurants that have outdoor seating that may allow you to have your dog sit nearby while you enjoy a burger (Char West-805-962-5631) or a lobster taco (SB Shellfish 805-966-6676). For complete details on our animal regulations, please visit our website, http://www.santabarbaraca.gov (Municipal code, section 6) , or feel free to contact the Waterfront Department’s Property Management Specialist, Patrick Henry at 805-897-1961 or phenry@SantaBarbaraCA.gov.

Travel Directions to Stearns Wharf

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Parking Fees on Stearns Wharf:

  • First 90-minutes Free for Single vehicle 20-feet and under: $2.50 per additional hour or part of an hour, $20 maximum per day. Vehicles over 20 feet are prohibited on the Wharf. There is limited oversized vehicle parking available in the Palm Park parking lot and the Garden St. parking lot. Please contact our Parking division at 805-564-5534 with any additional parking questions.
  • ADA (Disabled) Parking first 2 1/2 Hours $2.50 per additional hour or part of an hour, $20 maximum per day
  • Valet parking is available courtesy of the Harbor Restaurant.
  • Exceptions are during special events such as the 4th of July when access to the wharf is limited to pedestrians only.

About Stearns Wharf

Stearns Wharf from East Beach side
 

In 1872 construction was completed on what had just become the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Named for its builder, local lumberman John P. Stearns, the wharf served the passenger and freight shipping needs of California’s South Coast for over a quarter century.

When the railroad finally reached Santa Barbara in 1877, Stearns added an additional spur to the wharf, providing a necessary transport link to his lumberyard and the nearby Southern Pacific Depot. The spur was damaged by severe storms in the early 1900’s and was ultimately abandoned in 1923. A raiload logging car remains on the spur as a legacy of the times.

The Harbor Restaurant was built on the wharf in 1941, marking an end to the shipping and transportation era of the 1800’s. The restaurant proved to be the economic backbone of the wharf.

Since its beginning, Stearns Wharf has had its share of natural and economic disasters, from the big earthquake in 1925 to a fire in 1973 which caused its closing. The wharf stayed closed for six years until restorations began, and in the fall of 1981 it finally reopened. Yet another fire in the winter of 1998 devastated the last hundred and fifty feet of the wharf, including Moby Dick Restaurant. Though the rest of the wharf remained open during this period, the rebuilding took over two years. The new Stearns Wharf stands today as Santa Barbara’s most visited landmark.

Press Releases

Stearns Wharf is Open!

Stearns Wharf is Open!

Who:       Stearns Wharf businesses What:     Stearns Wharf is Open! When:     Now Where:   Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA   The Shops, Restaurants, Cruises, and Winery are all up and running. And now the Se...
Stearns Wharf 148th Anniversary

Stearns Wharf 148th Anniversary

Come join as we celebrate Stearns Wharf 148th Anniversary Join us on Stearns Wharf to celebrate the 148th Anniversary during the Month of October. Come out and support the merchants in celebration of the Wharf’s Anniversary. Stearns Wharf is t...
The businesses on Stearns Wharf are reopening - Phase three

The businesses on Stearns Wharf are reopening - Phase three

Who:       Stearns Wharf businesses What:     The businesses on Stearns Wharf are Reopening When:     Now Where:   Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA Why:       Covid-19 Phase 3 implementation   Stearns Wharf has been open ...
Businesses on Stearns Wharf are reopening

Businesses on Stearns Wharf are reopening

Who:       Stearns Wharf businesses What:     The businesses on Stearns Wharf are Reopening When:     Now Where:   Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA Why:       Covid-19 Phase 2 implementation Stearns Wharf has been open during the Pandemic ...
Sea Center "Lights It Blue"

Sea Center "Lights It Blue"

On Thursday, May 14, several Santa Barbara buildings will become beacons of blue light in visual support of COVID-19 frontline workers. “#LightItBlue,” as the movement is called, began in the U.K. on March 26 with the illumination of landmarks and...
Julia Child’s Guide to Santa Barbara County – Santa Barbara Culinary Experience

Julia Child’s Guide to Santa Barbara County – Santa Barbara Culinary Experience

Stearns Wharf is featured as one of Julia Child's favorite destinations in Santa Barbara County on SBCE Events - Julia Child's Guide to Santa Barbara County . Photo Credit: Photo Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University ...
Stearns Wharf 147th Anniversary

Stearns Wharf 147th Anniversary

Come join as we celebrate Stearns Wharf 147th Anniversary Join us on Stearns Wharf to celebrate the 147th  Anniversary during the Month of October.  Visit the merchants and see what specials they have in celebration of the Wharf’s Anniversary. S...

Features

Video including Stearns Wharf by Lilli Montes
Fourth of July on Stearns Wharf

Fourth of July on Stearns Wharf

PRESS RELEASE & CALENDAR LISTING Fourth of July on Stearns Wharf Who:     Stearns Wharf Merchants Association What:      Fourth  of July celebration and fireworks show from Stearns Wharf When:     Thursday, July 4, 2019           Live music...
Nature’s Own Gallery features new rare Fossil Specimens and Jewelry lines on Stearns Wharf

Nature’s Own Gallery features new rare Fossil Specimens and Jewelry lines on Stearns Wharf

Family-owned and – operated on Stearns Wharf since 1981, Nature’s Own Gallery is featuring a Crinoid fossil plate this month.  After almost 38 years on Stearns Wharf, Nature’s Own features shells, fossils, minerals, jewelry and gifts from around the wo...
Must Sea Landmark

Must Sea Landmark

Click on picture for more...

View more Stearns Wharf Press Releases

Merchants


Celebration Cruises

Celebration Cruises
Celebration Cruises Santa Barbara located at Stearns Wharf is a luxury 42-Passenger yacht. Running daily, our schedule offers a variety of fun and romantic cruises to fit everyone’s needs including, sunset cruises, brunch and dinner cruises, whale watching, seasonal tours.

237 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805)465-6676

Hours
Sunday through Saturday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm


Char West

Char West
Charburgers, cheeseburgers and the yummiest fish and chips this side of the English Channel.
221 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 962-5631

Hours
Sunday through Saturday 9:00 am – 7:00 pm


Deep Sea Tasting Room

Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room
217 G Stearns Wharf
Wine Tasting and Views

Hours
Mondays 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Tuesdays 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Wednesdays 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Thursdays 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Fridays 11:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Saturdays 11:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Sundays 11:00 pm – 8:00 pm


Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
219 C Stearns Wharf
Opened in 1988, Devil & Deep Blue Sea specializes in toys and gifts guaranteed to bring out the kid in everyone.

Hours
Seasonal


The Great Pacific Ice Cream Company

The Great Pacific Ice Cream Company
219 A Stearns Wharf
32 flavors of fine ice creams and sherberts, handmade locally.

Hours
Sunday through Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm


Harbor Restaurant

The Harbor Restaurant
Excellent Dining and Santa Barbara’s Most Beautiful View
210 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Hours
Mondays 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Tuesdays 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Wednesdays 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Thursdays 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Fridays 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Saturdays 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sundays 10:00 am – 10:00 pm


Longboards

Longboard’s Beach Bar and Grill
Casual Dining with an Ocean View
210 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 963-3311

Hours
Mondays 11:30 apm – 11:00 pm
Tuesdays 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Wednesdays 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Thursdays 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Fridays 11:30 am – 12:00 am
Saturdays 11:00 am – 12:00 am
Sundays 11:00 am – 10:30 pm


Madame Rosinka
221 B Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Madame Rosinka
Offering Palm, Tarot Card, and Psychic readings. Confidentiality is guaranteed, and readings are also available by phone.
Call for an appointment today at (805) 215-3540 or drop by her parlor in the little tower on Stearns Wharf.

Hours
Sunday through Saturday 11:00 am – 7:00 pm


Moby Dick Restaurant

Moby Dick
An Excellent Breakfast Venue.
220 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805)965-0549

Hours
Friday to Tuesday: 11am to 4pm
Wednesday and Thursday: Closed


Mother Stearns Candy Company

Mother Stearns Candy Company
219 B Stearns Wharf
We carry hundreds of different varieties of candy, from old fashioned hard candies to gummy bears.

Hours
Sunday through Saturday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm


Natures Own

Natures Own Gallery
217 Stearns Wharf
Nature’s Own Gallery offers a wonderful selection of shells, fine jewelry, candles and interior design items.

Hours
Seasonal


Old Wharf Trading Company

Old Wharf Trading Company
217 A Stearns Wharf
The Old Wharf Trading Company is the largest general merchandise store on the wharf.

Hours
Seasonal


Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Sea Center

211 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805)962-2526

Hours
Wednesday through Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day


Santa Barbara Shellfish Company

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
That great little crab place near the end of the Wharf.
230 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93109
(805) 966-6676

Hours
Sunday through Saturday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm


Santa Barbara Water Taxi

Santa Barbara Water Taxi
With a smile on its bow and bubbles rising from its smokestack, the Lil’ Toot is a Santa Barbara tradition that has delighted over 250,000 since 2003. Running from noon until sunset every half hour, Santa Barbara’s original waterfront taxi shuttles both visitors and locals continuously between the Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf.

237 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(888)316-9363

Hours
Mondays 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Tuesdays 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Wednesdays Closed
Thursdays 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Fridays 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturdays 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sundays 9:00 am – 6:00 pm


Stearns Wharf Bait & Tackle

Stearns Wharf Bait & Tackle
230 B Stearns Wharf
Experienced Employees Ready to Satisfy the Needs of the Salt-Water Angler.
Call 805 965.1333 for the latest information for fishing on Stearns Wharf.

Hours
Sunday through Saturday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm


Topside Resort Wear

Topside Resort Wear
217 Stearns Wharf
Topside is the largest clothing store on the wharf.

Hours
Seasonal

Welcome

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Santa Barbara’s number 1 attraction

Stearns Wharf is Open!

Stearns Wharf has fun recreation, great restaurants, and amazing creatures at the Sea Center.

Recreation and Education

Take a ride on the Water Taxi. Spend some time with marine life at the Sea Center. See what your future holds at Madame Rosinkas. Visit the Stearns Wharf Bait & Tackle and cast your line to fish at the edge of the wharf. Click here for information about the Stearns Wharf Sea Center event rentals

Restaurants

Come for the best food and the best views in all of Santa Barbara. You will find char-burgers and fish and chips at Char West; casual dining at Longboards Grill; fresh fish, steaks, prime rib, cocktails, and fine wines at the Harbor Restaurant; casual dining and the catch of the day at Moby Dicks Restaurant; and local crustaceans, shrimp, and other seafood specialties at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. They all have the best views of Santa Barbara.

Specialty Shops

There are many specialty shops at Stearns Wharf. You will find souvenirs, delicious candy at Mother Stearns Candy Shop, Ice Cream at the Great Pacific Ice Cream Company, and unique shells at Nature’s Own Gift Shop.