Recharging with Hugs and Canoes at Sunrise in Santa Barbara

Posted By Mike Padgett

June 4, 2011

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – I love walking or exercising at sunrise. It helps clear the adrenaline fumes or disappointments from the day before.

Shadows form, then fade with the rising sun marking the start of a grand new day. No traffic threatening pedestrians, yet.  The night’s silver moonlight segues into golden sunshine. Perfect for photos. With coffee.

My favorite places at sunrise are the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington State. The West Coast is where I can return to watch the sunset over the ocean. A child of the West and its open spaces, the mountains and the ocean are where I belong.

Stearns Wharf, in the distance, starts taking shape at dawn. It offers a few restaurants and shops out on the water – and a panoramic view of the city. Built in 1872, the 2,000-foot wharf was owned in the 1940s by actor Jimmy Cagney and his brothers. Be sure to watch for rowing enthusiasts cruising the harbor in their canoes. © Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

On this day, I head for the beach between Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Marina. Cabrillo Boulevard, the city’s usually-busy main drag along the beach, is deserted.

But I am not alone at dawn on the beach. A couple have a camera mounted on a tripod in the sand. They must have flashlights. The sun’s first rays are about to arrive. I see them catch a hug between checking and rechecking their camera’s settings. Hugs remind me of my Best Friend. She’s not with me on this walk.

The couple with the camera are anxious about capturing the dawn. I walk on in the twilight, toward the shore. The breakwater keeps the water calm here. Two curious creatures, probably seals, with only their eyes and the tops of their heads visible, swim in my direction. A minute later, they slip away.

Canoes with outriggers are stacked near the shore. In coming days, rowing teams will sync and strain their muscles, rowing back and forth in the harbor.

In the quiet marina, a man in a small motorboat ripples the mirror-smooth water.

The sun is up. Joggers begin pounding the sidewalk along the boulevard, adding more life to the dawn. Most are in good physical condition. A few wear headphones. Some run solo or with a dog on a leash. One woman pushes a three-wheeled baby buggy.

American Riviera

Santa Barbara, with sidewalk cafes downtown and moderate temperatures, is a photogenic city with a Riviera feel. It is dominated by historic Spanish Colonial architecture topped by red-tiled roofs.

This city’s magic – the ocean, the mild climate and the mountains – includes excellent restaurants. We enjoyed the Enterprise Fish Co., where those beautiful people should bottle their courtesy and energy. The website is

On our last day in Santa Barbara, we chose Emilio’s for dinner. Emilio’s, across Cabrillo from the marina, is an elegant restaurant where customers are greeted by proprietor Michael De Paola. Ask him about his De Paola wines. Our table wasn’t ready when we arrived, so Michael offered each of us a glass of wine while we waited. He prepared a table by the window for us. Emilio’s website is The vineyard’s is

We also enjoyed Andersen’s Danish Restaurant & Bakery on State Street. Twice, we treated ourselves to lunch on the sidewalk here. Try the crab salad sandwich on a croissant. Check their menu at Both days, we managed to maintain our diets and avoid the picture-perfect desserts in the bakery case.

Mission Santa Barbara, established in 1786, often is called the “queen of the missions” because of its architecture. © Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

We spent parts of two days wandering in and around Mission Santa Barbara. This hilltop mission, now surrounded by residential neighborhoods, was the 10th of the 21 California missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans.

One morning, I thought I arrived at the mission early enough to avoid crowds. I barely had time for a few photos when three charter buses pulled into the mission parking lot. Their passengers pulled out their cameras as they scurried to find the best spot for photos. They’re on a schedule.

Churches, especially those with long histories, offer many photo opportunities. The image of the Mission Santa Barbara is reflected in its fountain. © Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Another day, my Best Friend and I drove the 40 or so miles over the Santa Ynes Mountains to Solvang, which is surrounded by wine country. She’s the expert navigator, studying maps before we start a new adventure. She says we need a portable GPS system.

We stopped at Mission Santa Ines in Solvang. We enjoyed the drive but we were surprised at the increase in residential development in this area since our last visit about 20 summers ago. The mission appears to be in better condition today, probably because of the support of a larger congregation.

Serenity and beauty fill the courtyard of the Mission Santa Ines in Solvang. The hedge’s Celtic cross design reflects the heritage of the mission’s administration, beginning in the 1920s, by the Capuchin Franciscan Order of the Irish Province. © Copyright photo by Mike Padgett

Over the years, we’ve visited seven of the 21 California missions. The missionaries played a vital role in the opening of the American West, starting in the 1700s. I wonder if I could have survived at that time, without all of our conveniences of food, medicine, housing and technology.

We enjoy the rejuvenating atmosphere of the religious properties. And to make up (hopefully) for our absences in church.

Yes, some of the original Spanish missionaries abused Native Americans, and that violence is regrettable. I think about that abuse each time I enter a mission. Prayers of compensation for the abuse and violence against ancient cultures hundreds of years ago are all we can offer. I hope it helps.

By the way, Stearns Wharf makes an interesting photo backdrop from the beach, and a place from which to photograph Santa Barbara or watch boats enter and leave the marina. It has a few restaurants and gift shops, and even a fortuneteller.

The day I visited the wharf, a tanned entrepreneur in the sand at the entrance was using a magnifying glass to burn designs into wood plaques for sale. Business was slow.

On the wharf, a couple of fishermen ignored the sign, “Do Not Feed the Birds.” One tossed his minnow bait in the path of a seagull gliding overhead. The bird spied the flopping minnow, but it veered away to avoid nearby pedestrians.

Farther out on the wharf, a pelican stood motionless on the boardwalk, waiting for handouts from passersby. He turned and walked away from a woman who approached slowly, extending her empty hand.

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Jun 4th, 2011

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