fisherman's memorial, Ventura harbor

Fisherman’s Memorial in Ventura Harbor. Ceramist Michel Petersen cast molds of four local fishermen — all alive at the time.

Sea Urchin divers are a unique bunch. Anyone choosing this way of life is constantly dancing between the water, wind, regulations and markets. American fishermen navigate between their passion for the sea and the rigors of making a living in a world that’s constantly changing. Once a year, on the west coast, the Sea Urchin divers, their friends and families relax as they gather for an afternoon Paella feast. There’s not an urchin to be seen – except on a few t-shirts.

It’s one culinary adventure I wouldn’t dream of missing. Each summer I trek to Santa Barbara for the weekend with my partner. While he’s in meetings I explore, but every endeavor demands fuel. We always dine extremely well with the divers and their friends.

Urchin Divers PicnicThe star of the afternoon party is a giant traditional Paella but preparation begins days before. Shrimp and scallops are brought up from San Diego. They need to be cleaned and trimmed. Chicken, spices and rice are purchased in town. The pan is scrubbed, oiled and wood is gathered. All has to be delivered early on a Saturday morning to a park deep in the hills of Santa Barbara. How buckets of chicken broth survive the ride up the twisty, narrow lane and are carried over to the Toro Canyon picnic site is a skill in itself. But every year the magic happens and the Paella is bubbling away before guest’s trucks start filling the little parking lot.

Paella PanPlateful of Paella

Just to make sure no one goes hungry, there’s usually a giant BBQ rack with steak and chicken breasts grilling. Sides of potato salad, grilled garlic bread and baked beans are spread on a long buffet line.

Steak grilledSome of the spontaneous entertainment.

Urchin diver guitaristsOther pals enjoy the pickings.

Urchin diver dog

Don’t despair if your invitation doesn’t make it in the mail. In the Ventura Harbor there’s a local seafood spot, Brophy Brothers Restaurant, that hosts divers, fishermen and savvy vistors year round. I recommend reservations and wrangling a table on the upstairs deck. You can watch the boat lights come on as the dusk fades. A Paella feast isn’t guaranteed but portions are generous. You won’t leave hungry.

Curious about Sea Urchins?

Sea urchin roe is a delicacy that’s usually found in Sushi bars around the world. Here’s a glimpse inside one that’s just been cracked open.

sea urchin plate baci

sea urchin plate baci


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paella feast