The Santa Barbara Harbor has long drawn a mix of locals and tourists. In the morning, fishers unload their catch onto the wooden piers for local buyers and restaurants. Just a few hours later, groups of kayakers, jet skiers and stand-up paddleboarders crowd the water.
One of the oldest businesses on the harbor is the Santa Barbara Fish Market, a mainstay for chefs and home cooks since it opened in 1999. But while my family has bought fish there for years, I was still surprised to see more than two dozen people lined up at the door during lunchtime on a recent holiday weekend. The line dragged on, and I estimated that most customers waited for at least 30 minutes. When they emerged, they weren’t carrying the wrapped slabs of fish or tubs of salmon poke I’m used to seeing at the market.
Instead, they were laden with large aluminum containers full of raw sea urchins that had been cracked open and nestled into a bed of ice, their golden meat still attached to the sides of the shell and their purple spines waving in the air.