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Santa Barbara’s Rum-Running Past

Maritime Museum Exhibit and Fundraiser Celebrate Bootlegging Legends

Photo: Courtesy Scenes from the Maritime Museum’s rum-running exhibit.

If you include the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara County boasts 125 miles of coastline, the longest of any county in the country and loaded with coves, caves, and covert spots to hide conspicuous cargo. So when Prohibition ended legal sale of liquor, the illegal stuff that arrived by boat flowed onto Santa Barbara beaches and then was moved onto the highways via multiple vehicles, making it quite difficult for the authorities to crack down. It’s the exact same formula followed by the occasional panga boats delivering marijuana and cocaine from Mexico today. 

Photo: CourtesyScenes from the Maritime Museum’s rum-running exhibit.

Those rum-running ways gave rise to a speakeasy culture in Santa Barbara. Sneaky sips could be obtained at places like Casa de Sevilla (that sandstone brick building on lower Chapala Street), in a bar beneath the Balboa Building, for members at the Santa Barbara Club, and, during the last years of Prohibition, at El Club Chico, a private club atop the Arlington Theater. 

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is toasting those days with an ongoing exhibit called Rum Running, Sailors, and Prohibition, which is on display until October 20. To bring life to the exhibit, the museum is hosting a “Rum-Raiser” on Sunday, August 11, 4-6 p.m., featuring tastings of Real McCoy Rum, Black Bart Navy Rum, and Goleta Red Distilling Company, which makes numerous rums. There will also be pours of Captain Greg’s Grog and Diver Don’s Daiquiri, a rum shot upon exiting in a commemorative glass, plenty of Caribbean-inspired food and ice cream, and live music by Ross Harper of Island Time Steel Drums. 


Tickets to the Maritime Museum’s Rum-Raiser on Sun., Aug. 11, 4-6 p.m., are $40 for museum members, $50 otherwise. See sbmm.org or call (805) 456-8747.

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