Santa Barbara Harbor lies on California's Pacific coast near the Santa Ynez Mountains some 90 nautical miles northwest of the Port of Los Angeles and about 145 kilometers southeast of Morro Bay Harbor. Protected by the Santa Barbara Islands and the mountains, Santa Barbara Harbor enjoys a mild climate all year, and there are many well-known wineries in the area. In 2000, almost 400 thousand people lived in the Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc metropolitan area.
Often called the "American Riviera," Santa Barbara Harbor is a popular tourism destination and resort. The city's economy includes a busy service sector as well as important health care, education, finance, technology, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors.
As long ago as 13 thousand years, ancestors of today's Chumash people inhabited the area around Santa Barbara Harbor. Clovis-like fluted points have been found in the western coastal area, and in the 1960s, the remains of Arlington Springs Man were found on Santa Rosa Island.
When Portuguese explorer Joao Cabrilho sailed into Santa Barbara Harbor in 1542, about ten thousand Chumash lived on the southern coast. Sebastian Vizcaino named the Santa Barbara Harbor and region when he survived a terrible storm in the channel on that saint's feast day. In 1769, explorer Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra visited the Santa Barbara Harbor area and then moved on.
The first European settlers came to the area in 1782 when Spanish soldiers and missionaries led by Felipe de Neve and Father Serra constructed the Presidio and Mission in Santa Barbara Harbor. They had been sent there to protect the region from English and Russian encroachment and to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity.
In 1786, the feast day of Saint Barbara, the Mission Santa Barbara was formally dedicated. A village grew up around the mission as the Father worked to convert the Chumash; however, many of the natives fell prey to the diseases like smallpox that the Europeans brought with them.
In 1812, a powerful earthquake and tsunami destroyed the mission and the town, carrying a ship almost a kilometer inland. After the destruction, the fathers at the mission began a reconstruction to create a much more impressive building that survives today as one of California's best preserved missions.
When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1822, that country governed Santa Barbara Harbor for the next 24 years. In 1833, vast lands once owned by the Church were doled out to influential families, beginning Santa Barbara Harbor's Rancho Period. During this time, author Richard Henry Dana, Jr. visited Santa Barbara, writing about it in his popular book Two Years Before the Mast.
During the Mexican-American War, Santa Barbara Harbor surrendered quickly to American soldiers under the command of John C. Fremont. When California became part of the United States, Santa Barbara Harbor began to grow quickly. American settlers began to move into the area, and the population doubled in the decade of the 1850s.
During the California Gold Rush years, Santa Barbara Harbor was a place of refuge for gamblers and bandits, and it was a dangerous place. Outlaw Jack Powers controlled the town in the early 1850s until a posse from San Luis Obispo drove him out of Santa Barbara Harbor. The American Civil War was not felt in Santa Barbara Harbor, but the drought of 1863 ended the Rancho Period. Cattle died off, and the ranchos were sold.
In 1872, Stearns Wharf was built, bringing new commercial and tourist traffic to Santa Barbara Harbor since passengers and goods did not have to be moved to share by rowboats anymore. The city worked to develop a reputation as a health and luxury resort, and writer Charles Nordhoff (co-writer of The Munity on the Bounty) promoted Santa Barbara Harbor. The Arlington Hotel was built, and the railroad arrived in 1887. In 1901, the railroad was extended to San Francisco, and growth in Santa Barbara Harbor increased due to the easy access by both land and sea.
At the end of the 19th Century, oil was discovered in the Summerland Oil Field in Santa Barbara Harbor. Oil derricks and piers supporting the offshore drilling in the world blossomed throughout the area. The controversy surrounding offshore drilling continues in Santa Barbara Harbor today.
During the silent movie era, Santa Barbara Harbor was home to the world's biggest movie studio, the Flying A Studios. Some 1200 films were made in Santa Barbara Harbor during that period. As the movie industry grew, it moved to Hollywood to access the greater resources available in Los Angeles.
In the early 20th Century, the precursor of Lockheed, Loughhead Aircraft Company, was established in Santa Barbara Harbor. Seaplanes were tested frequently off Santa Barbara Harbor's East Beach.
In 1925, the biggest California earthquake since 1906 struck Santa Barbara Harbor, destroying much of the city and killing several people. Despite the hardship it caused, the quake brought opportunities to rebuild with a unified architectural style. The Santa Barbara Courthouse that was built in this period was called by some the "most beautiful public building in the United States."
A Marine base was established in Santa Barbara Harbor during World War II near today's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The base had a hospital for soldiers that had been wounded in the Pacific. In 1942, a Japanese submarine fired shells at the Ellwood Oil Field near Santa Barbara. The shelling caused little damage, but the people ran away in fear, and land values fell to all-time lows.
Many of the service people who had been to Santa Barbara Harbor during the war settled there when the war ended. Between the war's end and 1950, ten thousand new residents moved to the city, creating demand for expanded and modernized infrastructure. A new highway was built, and Lake Cachuma was used to supply water by a new tunnel through the mountains.
By the mid-20th Century, the oil industry was declining in importance in the Santa Barbara Harbor area. The Summerland oil field was no longer producing, and Ellwood was in the process of closing. Local fishermen claimed that explosions used to explore the channel for oil were decreasing their catches. In 1969, there was a blow-out in the Dos Cuadras Field, creating a huge oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel and fouling the coastline from Ventura to Goleta. This event led to the passage of the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Local citizens formed Get Oil Out (GOO).
Until public concerns about growth became vocal in the 1970s, Santa Barbara Harbor's businesses tried to attract development to the city. In the 1950s and 1960s, several "clean" industries moved to town, including aerospace and electronics firms. The University of California at Santa Barbara became an important local employer. In 1975, a city zoning ordinance restricted growth to 85 thousand residents. Growth slowed, and prices rose dramatically.
In 1991, voters approved connections to the State's water supplies. Growth of Santa Barbara Harbor slowly resumed, preserving the quality of life and discouraging urban sprawl. With housing supplies low, prices climbed dramatically. Few families could afford homes in the city, and commuting resulted in seriously clogged traffic that is being addressed by long-term planning.