This is our most comprehensive tour giving you a broad understanding of Santa Barbara’s rich history, colorful characters, and events that shaped the city’s rise to becoming the “American Riviera”. The public tour – approximately 105 minutes – starts at 11am at the harbor (Maritime Museum) and ends near the Amtrak train station (steps away from the Funk Zone) making 11 stops of interest along the way.* The Waterfront tour covers, for example, the construction of our harbor, history of the Channel Islands, how Santa Barbara became a resort city, the Potter hotel, Sambos (now Chad’s) Restaurants, Chumash Indians, the 1969 Oil Spill and more. Hand-picked 11 x 17 old photographs add to the experience. An optional wine tasting voucher – good for a 5 taste flight at Santa Barbara Winery, Santa Barbara’s oldest winery, can be purchased for a substantially discounted price. Cash or Venmo accepted.
The tour is led by John Ummel, a retired, long-time resident of Santa Barbara, or David Babbott, who moved back to Santa Barbara in 2019. John launched the Waterfront tour in June of 2017 and, in 2019, added the Funk Zone Tour.
*A private tour can be arranged on a day and time convenient for you. Subject to tour guides’ availability. Contact John for more information and pricing.
What You Will Learn
The Waterfront Tour will give you a broad understanding of Santa Barbara’s rich history
- The Channel Islands and How Santa Barbara Got its Name
- The Engineering Folly of Constructing our Harbor
- Operational Aspects of Today’s Harbor
- How Santa Barbara Became a Resort City
- 1969 Oil Spill
- The History of Sambos Restaurants
- The Chumash Indians and Life Under the Missions
- The Potter Hotel
- Stearns Wharf and the Dolphin Fountain
- 1925 Earthquake and Spanish Colonial Architecture
- Moreton Bay Fig Tree
- Santa Barbara Train Station
The tour begins at the Harbor on the steps of the Maritime Museum and ends at the Amtrak train station.
Start point: Maritime Museum (A)
End point: Amtrak Station (B)
Things to Know
- The tour is free, though tips are very much appreciated (Cash or Venmo).
- Reservations are not necessary but highly recommended. Use the reservation system to see available dates and secure a spot.
- The tour takes a little under 2 hours and makes 11 stops. We do walk across train tracks. Seating is available at half the stops though one must be prepared to stand 5-8 minutes at other stops.
- Group size limited to 15. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Two (2) person minimum needed for the tour to run.
- See the Frequently Asked Questions for additional information.
There are several options:
- Park at the Harbor. Paid-parking is available at the Harbor entrance from either self-pay kiosks (pay ahead of time with cash or credit card; put your receipt on your dash) or barcoded ticket dispenser (pay when you leave). Parking is $2 per hour. Short walk (2 minutes) to tour starting point BUT you will have to walk back to the Harbor when the tour is over, about a 25 minute walk. Don’t be tempted to park in the Harbor’s free 90 minute spaces; you risk not getting back in time to avoid a ticket. (Note: at this time the harbor shuttle along Cabrillo Blvd is not running.)
- Park for free in the parking lot next to the baseball field off Castillo Street, opposite Avania Inn. Short 5-7 minute walk to tour starting point BUT 20 minute walk back when the tour is over.
- Park in the lot behind the Visitor Center (1 Garden St) or directly across the street and walk to the Maritime Museum, about a 25 minute walk. That way, when the tour concludes you will be very near your car. Look for the self-serve parking kiosks. $2 per hour.
- Park at the Amtrak Station at the corner of Yanonali and State St. First 75 minutes are free, $1.50 per hour thereafter. 20 minute walk to tour starting point but short 5 minute walk back to your car at the end of the tour.