Explore the Storefronts
of Stearns Wharf
Retailers, Restaurateurs, and Other Professionals Who Work Above the Water Every Day
By Matt Kettmann | October 6, 2022
Though millions visit each year, only a dozen establishments serve the crowds at Stearns Wharf. Here’s a brief introduction to them all, and an invitation to head out onto the planks to learn more about their shops, centers, and menus.
Deep Sea Winery
Deep Sea pours the Conway family’s lineup of wines in flights or by-the-glass and -bottle. “Our unique spot makes us the only tasting room in Santa Barbara that offers 360-degree views of the Pacific coastline, Channel Islands, Santa Barbara Harbor, and the Riviera,” said Gillian Conway, who opened her spot in 2011 (and recently expanded to the Ventura Harbor). “Going to work every day and looking out over the ocean never gets old. Every day, it’s slightly different, depending on the weather, but rain or shine, it’s always gorgeous.”
It’s a workout hauling cases of wine up to their second-story spot, but there’s a bonus to the location that many don’t realize. “If you are kayaking or paddle-boarding by, you can call us and order a bottle of wine to-go,” said Conway. “We will lower a bottle of wine down to your vessel using a rope from our deck!”
You may not be the only one trying to get close. “Last summer, a gray whale swam directly under the wharf and stayed to hang out for most of the day,” she said. “This was such an incredible sight. Everyone gathered around to watch him splashing in the water. We called it Wine and Whale Watching. I will never forget that!”
Anniversary Deal: Spend $150 on wines and get two flights for free. See conwayfamilywines.com.
Credit: Carl Perry
S.B. Sea Center
First opened in 1986, the Sea Center is “a highly interactive regional aquarium offering close encounters with marine animals from the Santa Barbara Channel,” explained Director Richard Smalldon, who likes the combination of being surrounded by the ocean and meeting new people from around the world every day. “It can take some effort to get out here, but the views are so worth it.”
Part of the Museum of Natural History, the Center is involved in all sorts of projects, including the White Abalone Recovery Consortium. “We are working to save and restore the population of critically endangered white abalone along the California coast,” said Smalldon.
Anniversary Fun: The Sea Center is hosting an informational scavenger hunt, and participants will earn a special marine-themed prize. See sbnature.org/visit/sea-center.
Nature’s Own Gallery
Judi and Neil Bruskin are the last original shop owners on Stearns Wharf since it was remodeled into a retail and restaurant destination in 1981. “We sell shells, coral, minerals, fossils, gifts, and jewelry from the inexpensive to the exquisite,” said Judi, who said the most challenging aspect is finding a place to park, since vendors aren’t supposed to do so on the wharf itself.
Her favorite memory after all these years? “Although I have seen countless beautiful sunsets and moonrises on the wharf, on this particular night, there were both on the same night,” she said. “It was almost comical how the people lucky enough to be there on that night were running back and forth to each side of the wharf trying not to miss the unbelievably stunning sight of both the sunset and the full moon rise. A truly remarkable moment.”
Anniversary Deal: 10 percent off tumbled stones. See stearnswharf.org/natures-own.
S.B. Shellfish Company
One of the most classic places to enjoy seafood on the planet, the Shellfish Company started as a fish market back in 1979 by the father-and-son team of Tom and Adam White. “We specialize in serving locally caught and sustainable shellfish,” said General Manager Sean Johnson, who’s enjoyed “dealing with the local fishermen over the years — a cast of colorful characters, for sure.” He’s also had plenty of fond rainy-day memories listening to Pink Floyd on the speakers, and he will never forget the time that waves crashed through the windows of Moby Dick next door during a storm.
“The salty air takes a toll on all of the restaurant equipment — it’s a lot like working on a boat,” said Johnson as a hassle of wharf life, but they persevere. “Our team moves faster than any other restaurant staff west of the Mississippi!”
Anniversary Deal: $1.50 cups of clam chowder. See shellfishco.com.
Moby Dick Restaurant
Moby Dick opened in 1980 as a joint venture between hometown investors.
“Without question, the best part of our business is its unique location on the wharf, with commanding views of the coastline, from the S.B. harbor to the city and the mountains behind it, and Montecito,” explained current General Manager Karl Hutterer, who once ran the Museum of Natural History. “After-hour drinks or a meal while looking out at the lights of the harbor and the city are a delight, and seafood seems to taste especially great when you are consuming it sitting over the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel.”
It’s not always easy for parking or during storms — especially when they crash through your windows — but it’s a perfect place to watch Fourth of July fireworks, the Parade of Lights around Christmas, and just general harbor traffic. They also claim to have the best clam chowder in town, as developed by the late, great Al Steinman.
Anniversary Deal: Free clam chowder tastings, with two-for-one prizes awarded to some commenters. See mobydicksb.com.
This company, which started in 2003, owns the Lil’ Toot harbor ferry, the 70-foot Azure Seas yacht, and Whisper, our city’s only all-electric private charter boat, while partnering with S.B. Parasail to offer everything from happy-hour cruises to whale-watching to memorials at sea.
“The wharf feels likes one of the few places left in Santa Barbara to have successfully retained its original charm,” said Director of Operations Rebecca Buel. “We love to be a part of what is many times a person’s first time on the water — or even seeing an ocean!”
She loves telling the tale of Lil’ Toot: Formerly known as Captain Red, she was discovered in Newbury Port, Massachusetts, by Captain Fred, who thought it would be perfect for S.B. He even custom-built her bubble machine.
Anniversary Deal: Free rides for kids on Lil’ Toot (with paid adult ticket) on October 8, 10:15 a.m.-4:15 p.m. Book online at celebrationsantabarbara.com.
Mother Stearns Candy
and Devil & the Deep Blue Sea
“It is a trip back in time to get an all-day sucker, Black Jack gum, and saltwater taffy,” said Barbara Jo Carr, who owns the shop with Jim Carr. Their shop features 72 bins of chewable candies and more than 500 items, including hand-dipped chocolates, fudge of various flavors, caramel apples, and popcorn.
They also own Devil & the Deep Blue Sea, a gift and souvenir shop that opened in 1988. “We have a wild selection of magnets and shot glasses but want to stress the work of our local artists,” said Barbara Jo, explaining that their work includes jewelry, notecards, books, Christmas ornaments, soap, purses, clothing, walking sticks, and wind chimes.
Stearns Wharf Bait & Tackle
Family-owned by Reggie Drew since 2005, this small shop rents and sells fishing gear and supplies, fueling the anglers who work the end planks of the pier — but they’re also pretty popular for their apparel. “The best part is meeting Santa Barbara visitors from all over the world,” said Drew, and, of course, “Being able to witness guests of all ages reel in their first catch!”
Anniversary Deal: “Check us out all weekend for daily deals!” said Drew. See stearnswharffishing.com.
Credit: Carl Perry
In 1951, Madame Rosinka began offering her palm-reading services to Santa Barbara, and her family’s spiritual consultancy is a mysterious icon of sorts for anyone who peers upon its door. (Or the one on East Canon Perdido Street.) Today, Madame Rosinka is the daughter of the original, but the services remain the same, focused on palm and psychic readings for both those who deeply believe and those who just want to be entertained.
“It’s a family business that’s been going through the generations,” said the Madame, who’s typically there from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, running sessions that run from 30 minutes to an hour. “People come in and we give readings that are based on helping people get some clarity.” See stearnswharf.org/Madame-Rosinka.
Old Wharf Trading Co. and Topside Clothing
While Old Wharf Trading Co. originally opened in 1978, Patrick Hartmann took over this “largest general merchandiser on the wharf” in 2006. “We carry a curated selection of merchandise that we make an effort to keep pricing affordable for families,” said Hartmann, who is “fiercely loyal” to his employees, some of whom have been there since before he took over. He’s regularly delighted to arrive at his shop at 3 a.m. to witness all the “hard-working and dedicated night-shift Waterfront workers taking care of the wharf and keeping businesses secure.” See stearnswharf.org/Old-Wharf-Trading.
Char West and Great Pacific Ice Cream Co.
Credit: Carl Perry
Francisco Aguilera’s eateries sell burgers, tacos, and “the yummiest fish and chips this side of the English Channel,” plus 32 flavors of ice cream and sherbets.
Anniversary Deal: Free chowder tasting noon-4 p.m. See stearnswharf.org/char-west.
The Harbor Restaurant and Longboards
Fish importer Eugenio “Gene” Sanchez and restaurateur Francisco Ibanez bought this iconic property earlier this year. The Los Angeles–based friends, who are both originally from Chile, are preparing big plans, including a nightlife-focused tapas lounge, coffee bar, and gelato shop while updating both The Harbor’s fine-dining scene and Longboards’ casual burgers-and-beers vibe.
“I import seafood from all over the world and sell from San Diego to San Francisco,” said Sanchez. “I am bringing all this expertise to have the best possible seafood at the restaurant.” Ibanez, meanwhile, has nearly 30 years of restaurant experience, with multiple locations in L.A. “The combination of both of our expertise is going to show very soon in what we are going to be doing with this building,” said Sanchez. “We will have a lot of different venues for everybody to enjoy.”
Anniversary Deal: Free chowder tasting noon-4 p.m. See harborsb.com.