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Santa Barbara Harbor Festival Celebrates All Things Water and Seafood

By S. Mathur

The Santa Barbara Harbor Festival is "a celebration all things Waterfront," says Harbor Operations Manager Mick Kronman, and there's plenty to celebrate. There's seafood, with fresh lobster, crab, paella, seafood tacos, bbq albacore, clam chowder, and oysters. There are tall ships with free tours and free 20-minute boat rides. There's music, with five bands on two stages. And there's plenty more: arts and crafts vendors, free entry to the Maritime Museum and lectures, and dockside tours of Harbor Patrol, Coast Guard and NOAA research vessels.

The festival is held in the Fall each year since 2001, and draws visitors from near and far. Kronman says that "Although the Festival draws people from as far away as Los Angeles and Bakersfield, it has a distinctly local flavor, pardon the pun. The seafood is local and many Santa Barbarans have made an annual sojourn to the festival for years."

What makes the Harbor worthy of celebration? The entry point to this wonderful City, as Kronman describes it, is also a working harbor, with great economic significance for the city and the region. There are around a hundred fishermen operating out of the harbor, and their catch contributes $30 million to the economy each year. The commercial fishing fleet brings in seabass, swordfish, sea urchins, shark, crab, and lobsters on a daily basis.

The Harbor Festival replaced an older annual Fishermen's Festival which included the Blessing of the Fleet and a parade of decorated fishing boats full of people and flowers. With its reinvention fifteen years ago, the Festival looks set for another long run. It was moved to the Fall in 2001, and tied to the ocean harvest season. Lobster and other fresh, local seafood from the Santa Barbara Channel are the highlights of the event. As is the celebration of sustainability, local fishermen and local recipes like barbecued albacore.

Arts and crafts vendors offer jewelry, surfboard art, clothing, face painting, marionettes, swim wear, and other such fascinating stuff. But for many regulars, it's all about the seafood. And the line for paella wraps around the building.

The Festival is held on the second Saturday in October each year and draws 14,000 to 15,000 visitors each year. Admission is free and the event is family-friendly. Experienced visitors know to arrive early, before 10a.m., to be sure of finding a parking spot. Parking is free for the first 90 minutes, but most people just move to a paid spot after that and continue to enjoy the Festival. Due to the huge crowds and the warm weather, festival organizers discourage visitors from bringing their pets. But we're sure that a doggy bag or a kitty bag will be appreciated.

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