In 1874 a 1,000-foot-long wharf was built on this site for Colonel William Hollister and the Dibblee brothers (who had also loaned money and influence for the construction of Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara). Their pier reached water that was 25 feet deep at the end of the wharf and it was considered one of the safest local shipping ports. Because of its safety record, the Gaviota Landing became a weekly destination for the coastal San Francisco steamers. The area around the wharf also became an important area with early records recording a considerable business, primarily in livestock, wool, farm produce and lumber. That wharf was destroyed by a storm in 1912. Of interest are early records (1883) that report, “a peculiarity of this wharf, or rather this location, is a strong off-shore wind, a cold blast always coming down the pass; consequently no vessel is thrown against the shore.” Yes, it was windy even then.
Apparently a second name for the original pier was Port Orford and it’s still listed on the populated place index for Santa Barbara County. According to Durham’s Place Names of California’s Central Coast: “Port Orford [Santa Barbara]: locality 0.5 mile west of Gaviota along the coast at the mouth of Cañada de la Gaviota 9lat.34-28-15 N. Long. 120-12-40 W). Site named on Gaviota (1953) 7.5’ quadrangle. Farmers shipped their products from Gaviota Wharf, a 1,000-foot-long pier at the place, from 1875 through the 1890’s (Rife, p.104).”
The current pier was originally built as a crash boat pier by the Navy in 1943. Records show that it was 420-foot-long but newspaper accounts, dated 1953, reported a proposal to lengthen it by 210 feet so that it would reach out into deeper water.
The pier was evidently remodeled in 1953 and repaired again in 1987. Damage to the pier and parking lot from the El Niño storms in the winter of 1998 necessitated closing the park for a period of time. When it finally was reopened, only the front half of the pier was available to anglers. The pier did not open to its full length until May of 2000.
Today the pier is owned and operated by the state and the listed length is 529 feet (although some sources say 570 feet).