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Oct. 27 2009 - 11:50 am | 188 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Santa Barbara beaches: Don’t go barefootin’

Butterfly Beach in Santa Barbara. Sue Frause photo.

My room at the Four Seasons Biltmore is lovely, to say the least. The 1927 Spanish Colonial style resort is a throwback to a gentler time, with lush landscaping, impeccable service and four-star amenities. But in addition to L’Occitane bath products, there were some strange towelettes in the bath: Tar-Off Towelettes (“Removes Tar, Grease & Oil / Pleasantly Scented Tar Remover”). Huh?

I even tweeted about it: Why does my hotel have Tar-Off Towelettes (Pleasantly Scented Tar Remover: Removes Tar, Grease & Oil)? Is there something I should know?

But it wasn’t until I was doing research on Butterfly Beach, located across the street from the Four Seasons Biltmore, that I solved the mystery. Here’s what About.com has to say:

Because of the offshore oil wells (which you can see on a clear day), all Santa Barbara area beaches are likely to have balls of tar washing up on shore. Once the gooey stuff gets on your shoes or feet, it’s almost impossible to get off. We recommend that you do not go barefoot, and you may want to take an old pair of shoes or buy some inexpensive ones that you won’t mind throwing away.


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  1. collapse expand

    Some friends and I experienced this for the first time on another beach in a small cluster of Bahamian outer islands.

    We wandered up to a little bar on the hill, now with tar on both our feet and hands.

    A woman who worked there noticed us, walked quietly into the kitchen and came back with little paper cups of mayonnaise.

    Seems the oil in the mayo is the key factor. Worked like a charm!

  2. collapse expand

    I know I’ve used mayonnaise as a hair conditioner due to the eggs/oil. And also in a cake once when I didn’t have any vegetable oil. But who knew about mayo as tar remover? Thanks for the tip!

  3. collapse expand

    Actually, the Butterfly Beach tar seep is NOT the result of the oil platforms visible off shore. There are many naturally occurring oil, tar, and gas seepages along several California coastal areas. The Santa Barbara Channel tar seep is said to be the 2nd largest natural tar seep in the world. Also, UCSB is built up one of the largest natural deposits of pure asphalt. Asphalt and tar mining were once big industry in S.B. Early California settlers even used the oil from natural seeps to grease their wagon wheels and ranchers, used seeped oil for lubricating farm machinery, for tarring roofs, and for illumination.

    It is though that the offshore drilling in S.B has actually HELPED the situation by reducing pressure on the oil and gas seeps allowing the natural seeps to slow down. Local oil operator Venoco, event ‘tents’ some of the offshore seeps to collect the seeping oil bubbling up from the ocean floor and then pipe it to their onshore facility. It seems oil companies get a bad rap from a lot of folks, but in this case they should be thanked for collecting all of that junk that would have ended up on the beach.

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    I'm a professional freelance writer and photographer who has been in the journalism 'biz since 1988. I live on a small farm on an island in Puget Sound with my husband, chickens, turkeys and our very own field of dreams. When I'm not packing and unpacking from exploring the seven continents (yup, I've done 'em all), I enjoy theater, movies, jazz, fine food, heavenly spas and long dinner parties with my family and friends. Oh, I grew up in the '60s and I sort of remember it through the haze.

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