California_Sept-Oct-2016 travel blog

The empty beach near Stearns Wharf belies the bustle of activity on...

Historic Stearns Wharf is the oldest working pier on the West Coast,...

The history of the wharf and fishing industry is summarized on interesting...

Due to tectonic plate movement the Santa Barbara coast faces south towards...

The Sea Center and Nature Conservancy Entrance is marked by international flags

Boats as old as this 1929 Water Taxi to modern yachts can...

A harbour breakwater was built (1927-1930) to protect Fleischman's yacht "Haida" and...

After restoration in 2008 the Granada Theatre became the home of the...

A theatre with another version of the Mediterranean-style sundial

Descendants of the 5th Commandant of the Presidio lived in the whitewashed...

The Spanish Presidio, or fortified base, was also used Mexico after their...

The ornate Courthouse replaced a smaller Greek Revival style building destroyed in...

The Courthouse hosts many events, especially in the Sunken Gardens

The city block of the Courthouse grounds displays plant species from 25...


Escape to Santa Barbara


Saturday, September 17th:
Fremont Campground to Santa Barbara and back

Weather: mid-60s morning, mid-80s afternoon on the coast but 100s in the Santa Ynez Valley behind the Santa Ynez Mountain Range

Route: Paradise Road to CA-154 to US-101 to the Downtown Santa Barbara exit

Our plan to escape the afternoon heat of the Santa Ynez Valley was to drive the 12 miles back through San Marco Pass (gas mileage be damned!) to the cooler coastal Santa Barbara. After a leisurely breakfast and re-organizing the gear we had backpacked to Santa Cruz island the temperature was almost hitting 80F -- time to head for the shore.

Santa Barbara has some lovely redeeming qualities:

- beautiful sandy beaches and separate walkways for bicycles and pedestrians. On this lovely Saturday locals were out taking advantage of the biking, beaches and water sports while tourists gawked at the sights, ate and shopped.

- many free outdoor informational placards describing the history of Santa Barbara. During the 2-hour walk in the wharf area we learned about the history of the Wharf and the history of the still-active commercial fishing fleets. We walked out on the breakwater and walked up to the 4th floor Visitor Center for a view of the harbour and a chat with the docent. We skipped all the touristy shops and restaurants, even resisting the tempting ice cream parlors and were glad we did. The Public Market had choices and prices we liked better.

- a short easy-to-follow walking tour of Historic Santa Barbara town. For the historic walking tour we moved the car to a city lot near the library and a few blocks from the Public Market. The walking tour highlighted original adobe and other historic buildings, mostly from the time of the Spanish occupation. The final stop was a tour of the grandiose Courthouse, built in 1929. It was decked out with ornate tile, large wall murals depicting the city's history from 1786 to 1929, and a clock which has been keeping accurate time (they claim) since it was installed. Up many stairs at the top of the tower we had a 360-degree view of the ocean, the mountains and the town, even the bunya-bunya tree in the garden below. The building itself and Santa Barbara history in general was impressive but hardly gave any acknowledgement of the native Americans or their way of life and glossed over exactly how the Spanish "acquired" this land.

- a colourful Public Market (a collection of several eateries all housed in one building) where we ate a fabulous make-your-own "poke" (pok-ay) bowl at I'A Fish Company (poke is a Hawaiian raw fish dish). We chose a base of red quinoa with Ahi, edamame, pickled ginger, bean sprouts and cucumber toppings with a dash of Sesame Oil dressing -- all for $12.00. What a treat! Oh yes....there was free wi-fi in the building too so we checked our mail.

We didn't like:

- $2.00/hr parking everywhere along Shoreline Drive - the road paralleling the beach (our fault for not researching parking in advance). To walk along Shoreline Drive and visit Stearns Wharf we opted to park in a Shoreline lot rather than risk a ticket parking on the street.

- most people chose to ignore logical safety rules (like not biking on the pedestrian walkway)

- The Paseo Nuevo, full of high-end boutiques and restaurants did not hold our attention for more than a brief walk-through.

- returning to a still-hot campsite at 16:00

What we learned:

- Stearns Wharf offers 90-minute free parking (although spaces are limited). Built in 1875, it was linked to the Southern Pacific Railway in 1888 when tracks were laid onto the wharf. The tracks were removed in 1905. James Cagney and his partners owned Stearns Wharf from 1945 to 1947 but found it would be too costly to repurpose it as a tourist and recreation area. A 1973 fire closed the wharf until the city restored and reopened it in 1981. The current wharf is 2250ft long and has about 2230 pilings, some of which are steel coated in polyethelene but most of which are Douglas fir.

- city parking lots offer 75-minute free parking and 90-minute free on-street parking

- Santa Barbara's coast is disorienting because it faces South rather than West so the wave action carries sand from west to east, towards Ventura.

- only Leadbetter Beach, off Shoreline Drive west of the Maritime Museum, appears to have free outdoor showers

- From 1782-1821 the Spanish maintained a Presidio, or fortified base of operations, in Santa Barbara. After the Mexican War of Independence it was used for the same purpose by the Mexicans and then taken by the USA in 1846 at the beginning of the Mexican War. In 1848 the Presidio was turned over to the city. It is currently an active archaeological site and a museum.

- Casa de la Guerra was the residence of the 5th commandant of the Presidio, Jose de la Guerra y Noriega, from 1828 to 1858. His descendants lived in and updated the whitewashed Adobe residence until 1943. It is currently being restored to its original architecture and serves as a historic house museum. It's sprawling 13-room footprint dwarfed the 1-room adobe homes around it.

- The Granada Theatre was Santa Barbara's first 8-storey building in 1924. As the first steel high-rise Charles Urton had attempted, he used a series of "how-to" books to guide him. After the theatre survived the 1925 earthquake with very little damage, Urton hung a banner on it proclaiming himself as the builder. The Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts completed restoration of its new home and opened in 2008.

- Murals, making a revival in Santa Barbara, have had a long history here. Their function morphed from story-telling to religious teachings to social statements to acts of rebellion. Some artists worry that the new murals in the city are only decorative and not thought-provoking enough. The romanticization of Santa Barbara's history via the Courthouse murals is exactly what disturbed us about them. Only one mural mentioned the Canalino (aka Chumash) Tribe - the "most enlightened" of the California Indians. It showed the Canalino toiling to build the Spanish Mission in 1786. In its day the murals showed the mindset of the Europeans who settled here, therefore are a part of history, but we were disappointed that there was at the same time not a "more enlightened" public acknowledgement of those native Peoples who had successfully lived in this area for millenia before the arrival of the Spanish, Argentines and Russians.

Finally tired of the excesses of luxury made possible by damming the Santa Ynez river and robbing the steelhead salmon of their water, we drove back over the San Marco Pass to our hot desert campsite. We stopped on CA-154 at the Vista Point Lookout for a view of the Santa Ynez and San Raphael mountain ranges, strangely traversing each other because of the Santa Ynez Mountains being twisted by plate tectonics to run east-west instead of north-south like the San Raphael and other Coastal Ranges.

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