Special thanks to our Shanghai’d cuties. Nicole Richardson (blonde), Tahnie Benitez
I recently had the honor of six days of motorcycling in China with the Shanghai Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.). It was an amazing ride (see part one of that ride in Feb. Baggers and two in this issue). A few weeks after my return the Shanghai HOGs motorcycled into my turf. Alan, H.O.G. Chapter President and nefarious ringleader demanded I drop everything and ride with them up the coast of California. We Shanghai’d some cuties and headed to Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara.
Whether heading south from San Francisco or north from San Diego, Santa Barbara is the perfect place to stop and catch your breath. State Street downtown is usually full of 20-something college types or the well-heeled locals. There are missions, museums, wineries, restaurants, and shopping galore—staying overnight makes sense.
I saddled up a 2012 Electra Glide Ultra Classic and it’s easy to see why this is the ultimate touring Harley. They got everything right and set the standard for convenient, cross-country touring. Replacing the Twin Cam 96 with the more powerful 103ci as a standard feature is brilliant. Fuel Injection and Electronic Throttle Control and an engine that produces 100 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm make molehills out of mountains.
Stearns Wharf was built in 1872 to serve cargo and passenger ships and in the ’30s, gamblers boarded floating casinos at the pier. Classified a wharf because multiple fingers jut out from the main pier, Stearns Wharf has numerous shops and restaurants accommodating millions of visitors a year, making it Santa Barbara’s number-one tourist attraction. There are only a few California piers you can actually drive onto and here it’s two dollars for cars but motorcycles are free, plus we have our own designated parking area. Because there is so much traffic on the main pier section maintenance crews are busy year round. Over 300 deck boards (the wooden planks that make up the pier’s surface) need replacing yearly.
It is one of the last of California’s original large working wharfs. Only a few of these big old wharfs remain: Redondo Beach, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Santa Barbara. They still provide essential facilities that serve not only as ports but also as focal points for entire towns. Eventually, pleasure piers replaced some of the old wharfs, and still later fishing piers succeeded many. The morning marine layer usually breaks by noon and silhouettes of Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and San Miguel islands appear as do the rolling hills of Santa Barbara.
The Ty Warner Sea Center is the large gray building on one of the wharf’s fingers. Visitors of all ages can enjoy interactive exhibits, a theater showcasing the wonders of the Santa Barbara Channel, hands-on close encounters with sea creatures, and a live shark touch pool. Children can crawl through a 1,500-gallon tide pool tank to see ocean life from a different perspective. If you want to learn about the maritime heritage of the California coast the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is inside the Waterfront Center overlooking the harbor.
The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is a tiny place at the very end of the pier and is always packed. Self-seating outside is available; service is great and the food excellent. Dining options on the wharf range from Moby Dick that specializes in seafood, Long Boards offers more of a burgers and fries approach, whereas The Harbor Restaurant downstairs is refined steak and lobster.
Do not miss a visit to Deep Sea Central Coast Wines. It’s hidden in back of a second floor shop called Coastal Treasures (with the Seaman and Shark on the second floor). It’s newly opened and Manager Haley explained they are owned by the Conway Family of Wines. Get a taste or get a glass of and enjoy the spectacular view. You’re welcome to order food to go and dine up there while enjoying a glass of their chardonnay.
We lunched at Long Boards; the second story outdoor patio offers the best view of the wharf and ocean. The same great clam chowder is offered in both Long Boards and The Harbor below. That evening the Shanghai H.O.G.s commandeered the pier for dinner at The Harbor Restaurant. We reminisced about our antics in China and planned next day’s trip north towards San Francisco.
My favorite hotel is the Harbor View Inn. It overlooks the harbor and wharf and the accommodations are exceptional. It’s a full-on ritzy resort with all the amenities including a spa but has extremely reasonable rates. Go to the website and sign up for their special promotions and coupons. I don’t know how they afford to do it. Eladio’s restaurant is on the Inn’s premises and offers a full bar and a special sunset happy hour menu. Offering secure covered parking, Harbor View Inn is amazingly quiet and serene with an adjacent stream and park-like setting. Keep that in mind if you’re heading out early, no need to show off the new thunder blaster exhaust pipes.
My favorite place for breakfast is Sambos, a block away on Cabrillo Blvd. This location was the very first Sambos and now the only remaining restaurant in the chain. It opened in 1957 and by 1970, there were 1,200 outlets but controversy over the name (associated with the Story of Little Black Sambo) was ultimately its demise. This first location is the only one left and owned by the founder’s grandson. I used to eat at Sambos regularly and the food was always great. My breakfast included blueberry mini-muffins, two eggs any style, fresh fruit or hash browns, and pancakes for only $5.95.
And my favorite touring motorcycle is the Harley Electra Glide Ultra Classic. The four-speaker, 80-watt Harmon/Kardon Advanced Audio System sounds great at speed. The one-piece, two-up Electra Glide seat with passenger backrest is plush and comfy for both riders. Adjustable fairing-mounted air deflectors are amazing; it’s astounding what a difference they make in the cockpit aerodynamics. As do the vents in the fairing lowers with integral glove boxes. The Tour-Pak carrier and injection-molded hard saddlebags hold ample gear for a long haul and there’s even an available trunk rack for more gear. Electronic cruise control is standard and you’ll use it. Alan’s mount was a 2011 Road Glide. Its short windscreen and lowered stance is a much more aggressive look than my Ultra but that suited Alan and his passenger just fine.
There are only three piers you can ride onto and its great fun to hear the wooden planks creak and groan as they rumble beneath you. Santa Barbara’s idyllic riding location, adjacent amenities, and free motorcycle parking earns Stearns Wharf the number-one spot on the list of motorcycle friendly wharfs/piers in California.
Pull Over & Stay
Harbor View Inn Santa Barbara
28 West Cabrillo Boulevard
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Ty Warner Sea Center
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum