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Santa Barbara Begins Plans for 150 Anniversary of Stearns Wharf

Stearns Wharf celebrates 150 years in 2022 with plans for weekly deals on the wharf and a larger celebration set for fall.

SANTA BARBARA—The Santa Barbara Harbor Commission heard a report from Waterfront Director Mike Wiltshire at their Jan. 20 meeting introducing the 150th anniversary of the construction of Stearns Wharf and plans for upcoming celebrations.

The wharf is considered the oldest working wood wharf in California. Originally built by John Peck Stearns, the wharf finished construction in 1872 for the purpose of transferring cargo and people from ship to shore.

“Stearns Wharf is an amazingly unique and important piece of infrastructure here in Santa Barbara, and it has just really played such a pivotal and huge role in Santa Barbara’s history,” said Wiltshire. “… The wharf really played just a giant role in shaping Santa Barbara and putting Santa Barbara on the map.”

Stearns built the 2,300-foot wharf with the financial backing of Colonel William Welles Hollister to provide a connection for Santa Barbara to the outside world.

The wharf has spent the majority of its lifespan in the hands of private businesses serving the lumber, oil, and fishing industry.

The wharf has undergone an intense history of fires and storms that have battered and destroyed parts of the wharf over the past 150 years.

Notably, the first tornado ever recorded in Santa Barbara hit the wharf in 1878; 1983 “100-year storm,” and several fires, most recently in 1998, which destroyed 420 feet of an outer segment, completely destroying three businesses.

The wharf was condemned and closed in 1973 and remained closed until 1981. The city took over the wharf in the 1980s and developed the wharf to serve as a tourist attraction and recreational center.

“Stearns Wharfs sees up to a million visitors a year. This makes it one of Santa Barbara’s really kind of most iconic and most visited destinations,” said Wiltshire.

There are 16 commercial tenants on the wharf, which, paired with tourism, create around $20 million in revenue for the city.

Tenants included restaurants, a shellfish market, a bait and tackle shop, tourist-oriented shops, a Channel Islands exhibit hall, and a marine museum.

The wharf is owned and maintained by the city and costs roughly $2 million a year to continue the upkeep.

The waterfront department and wharf merchants have been meeting regularly to plan and promote events for the anniversary.

So far, events for the anniversary are in the early stages, but one idea was Wharf Wednesdays. On the first Wednesday of every month, there will be special deals and specials throughout wharf businesses for guests.


Deals include:


Char West

Buy an entrée, and get any small fountain drink for $1.50


Deep-Sea Wine Tasting Room

Any five bottles of Deep-Sea wine for $150, Buy four and get one free.


Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Buy one Personalized License Plate, and get the second one for $1.50


The Great Pacific Ice Cream Company

Buy a single scoop cone or bowl, and get the second single scoop cone or bowl for $1.50


Moby Dick Restaurant

Buy one Breakfast, get one 50 percent off.

Certain restrictions apply.


Mother Stearns Candy Company

Salt Water Taffy, 15 pieces for $1.50


Nature’s Own Gallery

Buy a Pink Murex Shell for $1.50


Stearns Wharf Bait & Tackle

Rent one pole and get a second pole for $1.50, plus an extra cup of bait.


There is also a Wharf Fisherman’s market for fresh fish in the works, a potential farmer’s market, and a larger event in the fall targeted sometime in September or October with live music and fireworks to commemorate the completion of the wharf’s construction.


“We are just kind of getting going in the early stages, but we are hoping to draw a lot of attention to the wharf,” said Wiltshire.

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