Turf and Surf on the Land Shark Tour

I’m pretty sure that I’ll look back on my life and wish I spent more time on the water, so when I decided to launch a series of posts about the area’s tourist attractions, Land Shark Tours seemed an ideal place to start. Just look at that amphibious vehicle. Who hasn’t wondered what riding it is like?

As much as I love booking in advance, however, I flinched when I saw that the company adds a $10 “convenience fee” to the transaction, raising the $45 price for a solo adult by 22 percent. (Kids age 2-10 pay $30.) The fee reserves you a spot, but not necessarily on the trip you booked; the company will reschedule the outing or refund your money if not enough people show up—as I learned when I hustled to make a noon departure, only to be told that we needed two more passengers to make the minimum (eight or ten, depending on who was speaking). I briefly considered adopting a pair of invisible children, but I couldn’t justify it, having already cheaped out on the $10 fee.

I’m sure there are days when the tour sells out, but at 2 p.m. last Monday, the vehicle was maybe half full. People who book online get to board first, which is only fair because the company says that if they don’t show up at least 10 minutes prior, it can sell their tickets to walk-ups. And there’s nowhere shady to wait on the Cabrillo Boulevard sidewalk.

I was grateful for the empty seat next to me, because the leg room is akin to that on a regional jet. (I’m not sure anyone would’ve joined me except as a last resort, as I was wearing my Biscuits N’ Porn T-shirt.) Here’s what the website has to say about the vehicle:

The Santa Barbara “Land Sharks” are Hydra Terras. Manufactured in New York State, these vehicles are not old military “DUCKS” used in World War II. They are new 2003 & 2015 state-of-the-art amphibians and are both DMV and U.S. Coast Guard certified, inspected and approved. There are about 80 Hydra Terras worldwide. The Hydra Terras are designed specifically for the tourist industry, and are built to today’s standards of technology. These are the only “T” vessels to have revolutionary positive buoyancy foam filled compartments. Therefore, the vessel will remain afloat even with the drain plugs removed and full engine room flooding, making the vessels virtually unsinkable! The Hydra-Terra has proven in actual tests verified by the U.S. Coast Guard to be more stable in the water than any other amphibious vehicle in the world.

The tour is 45 minutes on land and then 45 minutes on water. The land route does a nice job of hitting the highlights: the Funk Zone, MOXI, Jeff Shelton’s El Andaluz building, the site of the Saturday farmers’ market, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, the Presidio, the County Courthouse, the train station, and so on.

Unless there’s singing involved, I have a hard time coping when someone gets a microphone and I don’t. So I was the worst possible audience for the running commentary about whatever we were passing by, which included plenty of groaners. (“Why don’t seagulls fly over the bay? Because then they’d be bagels.”) The guide put the material over with enthusiasm, and at least one woman onboard enjoyed it, cackling along with her at every joke.

“Anybody onboard from Santa Barbara?” asked the guide at the start. No one raised a hand, including the loner in an off-color shirt. “Good! I can make up whatever I want!” I wouldn’t say that’s what happened, exactly, but amid the recitation of historical tidbits were claims that seemed dubious: the Funk Zone got its name from the smell of seafood warehouses; the Carrillo Recreation Center is home to one of the largest Zumba classes in the nation; the county courthouse is among of the world’s most photographed buildings; a thousand people can fit under the famous Moreton Bay fig on W. Montecito Street…. Assuming that some of the info was accurate, I did learn a few things—such as the courthouse’s sunken garden is where the foundation once was for the old courthouse destroyed in the big 1925 earthquake, and the Moreton Bay fig inspired the Tree of Life in Avatar.

Being high off the ground allows for unobstructed views. I never realized that Sol Wave Water has a coppery solar (?) panel on its roof.

According to its website, parent company Land and Sea Tours “does not accept paid endorsements to mention specific attractions, shops or restaurants, which means we are not forced to […] recommend shops and restaurants that are not truly the best of Santa Barbara.” On one hand, the guide acknowledged so many businesses I could believe it; on the other hand, tourist traps got equal play with local favorites, and one hopes the out-of-towners took it all with a grain of salt. (Later, I checked in with a restaurateur on the route, who said she has never been solicited by the company or guides.)

The best part of the land tour is the people who stare, wave, and honk, even if I was a little afraid of being recognized by a friend.

And the best part of the whole outing was when, as we descended the boat launch, the young kid behind me yelled, “Wait, we’re actually going in the water?! Cool!” The big moment isn’t all that dramatic (if you know it’s coming), but the vehicle sits much lower on the water, which makes for an interesting shift in perspective.

We poked around the harbor and then out past the breakwater, stopping for a few minutes so each side of the boat could see the sea lions and harbor seals. I can’t imagine seasickness is ever a concern, as the vessel barely budges when it hits a big wake.

The views of Santa Barbara are lovely, as expected.

I will admit to feeling a bit uncool when less clunky boats passed by. That went double for the guy on the motorized paddleboard.

The farthest we got was Fools Anchorage, on the eastern side of Stearns Wharf. The guide described that time in 2014 when a rogue wave crashed through a window at Moby Dick restaurant. I was familiar with the video, but I doubt any other passengers were, and I wished the boat had a TV.

By 3:10 p.m., the breeze had turned a little chilly, so the return to land was welcome. The guide celebrated by cueing up Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”

The tour ended with a litany of celebrities who purportedly live here—although some have since moved on—and one last group of wavers. The vacation spirit must have finally gotten to me: I waved back!


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Great article…I’ve lived here 40+ years and never have been on the Land Shark. I learned many new things about our little slice of paradise.
Thank you for sharing.


Oh boy we have to find something for you to cover. We’ve hit rock bottom!


We rarely do touristy things like this, but on our first trip to SB (pre-pandemic), we took this tour. Similar experience as described. And despite some kitschy moments, the overall experience was quite fun, and a quick sketch of SB (orientation). We particularly loved the water tour – and our guide played the Jaws theme song as we entered the Harbor. ????


Was kind of expecting a Land Snark review but enjoyed the armchair tour with you on the bus/ boat.