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2. Tuesday Whale Watching Tour

 Santa Barbara Car Free Travelogue

Whale Watching Tour

March 8 - 10, 2004

Carl Morrison,

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Santa Barbara, California,USA--We slept very well on excellent beds in our quiet 4th floor room.  With continental breakfast served from 7 to 10 a.m. and our whale watching tour scheduled for Noon, we were able to arise slowly and peacefully.

The Continental breakfast was excellent in every way with fresh pastries, fruit, oatmeal, cereals, coffee, juice, and a friendly and helpful attendant.  Tables for two lined the long entryway between the front door and the hotel desk making for a pleasant setting for breakfast.

Since Monday was in the high 70s, and today was sunny already, I concluded that I'd better buy some sun protection for my 'solar panel.'  Assuming it would be cool on the water, I also took a light windbreaker jacket and headed down State Street, walking, so I could find a hat before the noon cruise.  I left the hotel about 9:30 a.m., finding the stores not open yet, but window shopping as I went, I saw nothing in the way of headgear for which to return.


While walking through the underpass under Hwy. 101, I noticed this cityscape with a Washingtonian palm rising between the two bridges of the highway.


The Enterprise Fish Company sits next to the underpass on the south side of Hwy. 101.


My plan worked, as I arrived at the last store before Cabrillo Blvd. and the wharf, I found some good candidates for a hat purchase.  Before making my purchase, I backtracked to the next-door store, Mountain Air Sports, 14 State Street, (805) 962-0040, which was now open, and found just the thing I wanted.  It was 'The Adventure Hat,' lightweight (3 0z.),  broad 4" brimmed hat, with "7.5 inch veil for neck and ears" that could be packed flat in a suitcase without damage, for future outings like t his.  My thoughts that this might be a ladies hat were soon dispelled when I observed on the label, what my wife later referred to as a 'male hunk' wearing the same hat.  It was made by Sun Day Afternoons, 280 E. Hersey St., Suite 14, Ashland, Oregon (888) 874-2642.  (That is enough verbiage about my hat don't you think!)

The whale watching tour was to board at "Sea Landing" dock, 301 West Cabrillo Blvd. in the Marina, but I did not know how far that would be so I casually walked on to the Sea Landing dock.  Since it is the first dock across the open sand from the wharf, I arrived by 10:30.  I communicated with the desk staff, got my ticket, and had time left for lunch before the noon departure.  Directly across the street is the original Sambos Restaurant ,216 W. Cabrillo Blvd. (805) 965-3269.  It is open for breakfast and lunch until 2:30 in the afternoon.  I chose to sit inside, which turned out to be a mistake since the hostess was training a replacement and speaking of customers she had seated, both regular and occasional, about which she had derogatory remarks.  Other than that, the waitress was pleasant enough, though slow to take my order, and the food was good...a chicken quesadilla.  The bus boy quickly delivered water and 3 mini-muffins upon my being seated.  Sam and Bo, Sam Battistone and Newell Bohnette, opened Sambos here in 1957 with the name idea from the book, "Little Black Sambo" by Helen Bannerman written in 1899.  A grandson now runs this restaurant as well as Chad's on Chapala.


Convenient electric trolleys run along Cabrillo Blvd. and State Street about every 10 minutes.

This vintage car in front of Sambos gave it a yesteryear look.

Back at Sea Landing, I noticed quite a nice crowd had gathered for the noon trip and I was early enough to photograph the Condor Express as it returned from an earlier voyage with upper elementary grade school children.  They had not seen any whales, they reported, but they had seen many dolphins and sea lions, so they did not seem disappointed.  I felt this was an omen that we might not see a whale either.



What we might see on this March tour.

The two-year old Condor Express, with great maneuverability, started out to sea.  The knowledgeable Captain informed us the Grey Whales were essentially shallow water animals and we should keep a lookout for them since they are seen many times near the harbor.  Our first wildlife sighting, other than pelicans and seagulls, were California Sea Lions resting on a buoy.  The flat surface of the buoy was a few feet above water level and required the sea lions to jump quite high, then actually climb to an open space, a feat not possible by other species of seals/sea lions.  The California sea lion can actually walk on all 4 flippers if need be.


We powered on out to sea, past the 4 oil platforms in sight from the coastline.  They are aligned along a fault line parallel to the coastline.  Earlier we had seen quick response oil spill handling boats that have been required of the oil companies since the oil spill here some years ago.  We continued hoping to see some of the 35 to 45 foot long grey whales of the 26 to 28,000 whales in the California grey whale herd.  According to the information in the tour's brochure, this is the time of year the grey whales migrate back northward toward Alaska after birthing and breeding in the warm Mexican waters.


Be sure, no matter how warm it is onshore, to take a jacket, no one on the tour was hot!  We crossed a natural seepage area where you could smell petroleum and see natural gas bubbling up through the water.  Wildlife did not seem harmed by this age-old process and the Captain said he had seen whales lounging in this gaseous area, perhaps enjoying the buoyancy.  We soon spotted a lone whale, surfacing, exhaling, and showing his back and rolling into another dive.  These whales usually travel in groups of three, two males and a female.  This would not be the traveling arrangement this day.  His cell phone rang and we immediately made a "U" turn and headed down the coast.  He explained that you cannot use sonar, nor any other electronic devices to find whales, the best way to find them is cell phone calls from other boats!  We moved then sat and waited for three adults to reach us, then we followed them for a while.  Finally we turned for the harbor and another three 'youngsters' came by.  All tour participants were more than satisfied with the trip and the sightings.


Heading west we hit some good waves.

A movie ran of previous sightings on a screen in the cafe.


Natural gas seepage from below.

Yes, there is/were a whales there, click to see the enlargement.


I walked back to State Street and took the electric trolley north to our hotel.  Once there, I found that State Street had been transformed into a Farmer's Market with beautiful displays of flowers, vegetables, fruits, and seafood.  To add 'flavor' to the market, there were musicians, magicians, and other performers every quarter block.  A very colorful and enjoyable experience in the afternoon and early evening.  We purchased a beautiful coral and white, local potted orchid for our hostess.


Tuesday Farmer's Market on State Street until 6 p.m.




We asked the friendly Hotel Santa Barbara staff for restaurant suggestions for dinner:  Holden's Steak and Seafood, Chad's on Chapala, and an Italian Restaurant on State and Haley, all within walking distance.  We made our way past market booths and ended up at Uncle Rocco's Famous N. Y. Pizza, 437 State Street, (805) 884-0994, for tasty salads, drinks, and calzone for $20.28 for the two of us.  Flamenco music played over the speaker system, and the red neon lighted interior illuminated the varnished wood tables and long bar.  One wall had a very large photo of the Rat Pack playing pool, and an even larger photo of New York City, pre 9/11.


We returned to our hotel, which felt like home by now with the pleasant staff greeting us each time we entered and left, asking how we were enjoying our stay and if we needed anything.  We borrowed a laptop, and used the one we brought, and sat in the lobby using the wireless Internet connection they have for guests.  With the excellent connection we were both able to process online work eliminating the need to deal with it when we returned home, an excellent feature of the Hotel Santa Barbara, the convenience and value of which we hadn't anticipated.


Another relaxing night's sleep followed.

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