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Piers of Santa Barbara County

State Parks

Stearns Wharf

Overview: This is one of the most satisfying piers for a walk. The first two-thirds of its 1,950-foot length — the final third was rebuilt after a 1998 fire destroyed it — is made of decades-old Douglas fir, which gives it a bounce that most plank-board piers lack. It's worth walking too, to check out the more than dozen indie shops and restaurants, as well as the destination-worthy Ty Warner Sea Center ($8 adults; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily).

Background: The wharf has been the focus of Santa Barbara since its construction in 1872. It draws more than 1.5-million tourists annually.

Notable views: For the best views of the bay and the Channel Islands, walk to the far end of the pier, where you can also take in the view of Santa Barbara.

Parking: There are spaces for more than 100 cars, at $2.50 an hour.

Directions: Take Highway 101 to the Garden Street exit, turn toward the ocean. Turn right on Cabrillo Boulevard, then left at State Street and drive onto Stearns Wharf.

More: http://www.stearnswharf.org

Goleta Pier

Overview: Sea life seems to flourish near this 1,450-foot pier. Online postings by fishermen happily describe catches off the sandy beds near the shore.

Notable views: Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands are visible beyond the bay inlet.

Parking: The lot at the foot of the pier is free.

Directions: Take the 101 to the 217/Airport exit. Follow it to Sandspit Road and the Goleta Beach Park turnoff. You can see the pier as you head to the beach.¿

Gaviota Pier

Overview: Visiting this wind-swept pier in Gaviota State Park (day-use fee $10) is as close to experiencing sea, sky and land — minus the human beings — as you can find along the California coast, especially on a non-summer weekday.

Background: The original commercial wharf was built in 1874 and became a destination for steamers taking passengers on weekend excursions. The Navy built the current pier in 1943; it's been rebuilt over the years.

Notable views: The beach to the south, striated rocks to the north and the headland cliffs, which drop to the shore, are atmospheric, as is the 300-yard railroad trestle bridge next to the pier.

Parking: A paved parking lot is a short walk to the pier.

Directions: From the 101, take the Gaviota State Park exit.

-- Christopher Smith

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