Monday, December 19, 2016

Returning to Stearns Wharf

Exploring Santa Barbara

I woke up early, eager to get out and explore this city on California's South Coast, this city I had lived in for nearly 30 years; this city I had left behind.

Returning as a tourist is something I had been looking forward to so while my travel buddy was still sound asleep in our hotel room, I set out through the fog to Stearns Wharf.  This is a Santa Barbara landmark and a place I had only brought visiting family and friends to.  We would go to the Sea Center and then grab some lobster bisque or calamari and chips and watch the seabirds (or more like them watching us, hoping for a hand out).
I love these early morning forays along popular, well-trodden paths.  To have such places all to myself is a bit self-indulgent, but always magical.  At this hour, there are no tourists.  The shops and restaurants are closed.

But a new day is dawning.  And I am a witness to its singularity. Men (probably homeless) are building sand sculptures on the beach.  There are kayakers out rowing in the water and fishermen catching mackerel at the end of the pier.  This is life.  Idiosyncratic life.  This is what I missed when I lived here--too busy getting ready for work, taking kids to school, buying groceries, paying bills, cleaning house and making dinner, blah, blah, blah.

This is why I wanted to return.

Stearns Wharf has been around since 1872.  At that time it was the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Franicsco and provided much needed passenger and freight shipping services.  Before it was built, cargo had to be rowed ashore through kelp and very rough breakers.  At one time there was even a spur for the railroad, but it was abandoned in 1923.

The Harbor Restaurant was opened in 1941 and thus began a new chapter in the pier's life--that of tourism.  Today the Harbor is still there, as well as many other popular seafood restaurants like Moby Dicks and Longboards Grill.  Perhaps I was a bit hasty in saying I never came here unless accompanied by out-of-town visitors.  I do remember bringing the boys down here for ice cream on hot summer days or to see the occasional gray whale who lost its way and floundered next to the pier for days on end.

I grow a bit melancholy thinking of the past.  That is the danger of returning to such places.  You know that saying:  You can never go home again.  Well, it's true.  The past is the past.   Plus, those days are beginning to blur. 

And so I walk to the end of Stearns Wharf. 

 Through the fog. 

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