We were on our way to Vandenberg Air Force Base, when we decided to stop for the
night in Santa Barbara.
Never having been in the area before, we were a little concerned about where to stay and what we would do.
Unlike the roadways I am accustomed to, there are not a lot of advertising signs on California interstates,
and so if you do not know where the hotels are, you better find out before it is too late. Needless to say,
we found a fantastic "mom and pops" local hotel. The folks were friendly and we had a wonderful time exploring
the area. We are looking forward to returning to the area as soon as we can.
One of the most interest places we explored while we were in Santa Barbara, other than downtown, was the Santa Barbara pier called Stearns Wharf. Now I have been on a few long piers/wharfs, but nothing so fascinating.
Stearns Wharf, the oldest working wood wharf in California, was built in 1872 by John Peck Stearns to serve the passenger and freight shipping needs of California's South Coast for over a quarter century. When completed, it became the longest deep-water pier (2,300 feet) between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Before the wharf, passengers and cargo had to be rowed ashore through the breakers and kelp. Despite the great convenience offered by the wharf, Santa Barbara remained a fair-weather harbor with an acute need for a breakwater. During December 1878, storms destroyed and washed away more than 1,000 feet of the wharf. Despite these losses, it would be another 52 years before Santa Barbara got its needed breakwater.
When the railroad reached Santa Barbara in 1877, Stearns added another 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 20th century and was finally abandoned in 1923.
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.
The Harbor Restaurant was built on the wharf in 1941, marking an end to the shipping and transportation era of the 19th century. The restaurant proved to be the economic backbone of the wharf.
Since its beginning, Stearns Wharf has had several natural and economic disasters, from the big earthquake in 1925 to a spectacular pre-dawn fire in 1973 that destroyed the famed Harbor Restaurant which caused its closing. The wharf stayed closed for six years until restorations were completed in 1981. 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. Stearns Wharf stands today as Santa Barbara's most visited landmark.