Attention seafood enthusiasts: prepare to work up an appetite and set your alarm clocks! If you're in Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Fisherman's Market is your can't-miss destination on Saturday mornings.
Huge Santa Barbara spot prawns, offered at the Santa Barbara Fisherman's Market, are a local delicacy — Photo courtesy of Ruocaled
You have to wake up early to get the freshest catches at this weekly dock-side meetup of local fisherman; it's like a farmers market for fish at the Santa Barbara Harbor.
From roughly 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. every Saturday (weather permitting), area fishing crews set up tables and sell their most recent catches, either recently killed or still alive.
Catches range from scaly to spiky to spiny at the Fisherman's Market, depending on the time of year. You can usually find lingcod and rockfish. Seasonal specialties include spiny lobster and giant Santa Barbara spot prawns: they're at least twice the size of the largest prawn you've ever eaten.
And then, if you're really, really early, you might luck on to a pile of Santa Barbara sea urchin. These spiky purple sea creatures are prized for their roe. It's called uni and pops up on the fanciest menus around the world.
Santa Barbara has some of the most famous urchin, much of which is shipped off to Japan and other countries. But here at the market, you can buy a live urchin for just $5, crack it open and eat it on the spot.
Take your pick from tubs of spiny lobster — Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives
If you miss the Fisherman's Market (but still have a hankering for some halibut), head to the similarly named Santa Barbara Fish Market, also located in the harbor area. The Santa Barbara Fish Market is open seven days a week and sells tons of freshly caught fish and shellfish from its small, unassuming storefront.
They offer everything from raw tuna and smoked salmon to oysters and seaweed salad.
Keep in mind that both the Santa Barbara Fisherman's Market and the Santa Barbara Fish Market are seafood purveyors, not restaurants (although the Fish Market will shuck oysters and crack uni for you if they have the time).
For a meal you don't have to prepare yourself, walk over to Brophy Bros., an eatery well known for delicious, garlicky baked clams, refreshing ceviche and perfect Bloody Marys.
There's some free parking in the area, but it's limited to 75 minutes or less. For longer stays, park in the convenient city lot for a small hourly fee.
Or ride your bike from a nearby hotel! The Eagle Inn is a cute bed and breakfast that offers complimentary cruisers for guest use.