January – FEBRUARY
Begin the year in glittering fashion with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. For 11 days in January & February, there’s a morning-to-night cinematic feast: films from around the globe, new releases, classics, avant-garde entries, documentaries, and both animated and live shorts. Panels of directors, writers, and producers offer behind-the-scenes stories and industry information, while evening tributes to actors and filmmakers highlight the stellar, often Oscar-worthy work of veteran and emerging artists. Alongside the glamour of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, is Film Feast, where excellent film combines with exceptional food and perfect pairings take center stage.
The modern environmental movement was born in Santa Barbara in 1971 — an occasion to celebrate every April at the Earth Day Festival, held in Alameda Park. Live music, organic food booths, an eco-marketplace, green car show, and sports events bring the community together with visitors, to honor our planet and explore ways to sustainably live on it.
APRIL – OCTOBER
Tucked against a hillside within walking distance of downtown, the 5,000-seat Santa Barbara Bowl is a stunning and historic open-air venue for musical performances. Headliners of every kind of music — from rock, pop, and jazz to mariachi and classical — take the stage of the intimate amphitheater from April into October.
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The plaza of the Old Mission Santa Barbara is the setting for I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival every year during Memorial Day Weekend. Hundreds of artists show off their talents by producing colorful chalk paintings — some trompe l’oeil and larger than life — in squares marked off on the pavement. Named for the Italian street painters who traditionally depicted the Madonna, the festival raises funds for the Children’s Creative Project, a nonprofit arts education program, and includes food booths and live music.
The Summer Solstice Celebration kicks off the season with a brilliant explosion of creative energy on the Saturday in June nearest the longest day of the year. Exuberantly decorated non-motorized floats, 1,000 imaginatively costumed participants, bands, dance, and drum ensembles parade up State Street from the waterfront to Alameda Park, where the party continues with more music, food, and arts-and-crafts booths. The largest arts event in Santa Barbara County, drawing 100,000 spectators, the Solstice Parade is an over-the-top funfest.
JUNE – AUGUST
From mid-June to mid-August, the Music Academy of the West is home to its Summer Festival — eight glorious weeks of classical music by young artists, distinguished faculty, and guest performers. Chamber ensembles, orchestra performances, master classes, and opera take place at Miraflores, an early 20th-century Montecito estate — where pre-concert picnics amid the lush gardens are a favorite local tradition — as well as at theaters in downtown Santa Barbara.
Wineries large and small show off their wares at the outdoor California Wine Festival, a three-day celebration in mid-July. The event kicks off on Thursday evening with wine, food, and flamenco at the De La Guerra Adobe in the heart of downtown. On Friday an educational seminar compliments a reserve and rare wine tasting. Sunday the festivities move beachside for a showcase of some 250 wines from 70 wineries, and the offerings of noted chefs, food purveyors, and wine-related vendors.
Santa Barbara’s rich heritage comes alive during the first week in August with the music, dance, and pageantry of Old Spanish Days Fiesta, the granddaddy of city celebrations, reaching back to 1925. The 5-day party opens with La Fiesta Pequeña — the little festival — on the steps of the Old Mission Santa Barbara, with traditional flamenco and folklorico dance performances. On Friday, at noon, El Desfile Historico —the historical parade that also happens to be one of the world’s largest equestrian parades — brings out colorful floats, marching bands, traditional horse-drawn carriages, and dozens of carefully coordinated equestrian groups with their ornately caparisoned steeds, as the lithe Spirit of Fiesta dancer leads the cavalcade up State Street. All during Fiesta, live bands are on stage at the mercados, where community groups serve up tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and more; flamenco, classical Spanish, and folk dancers perform at the evening Noches de Ronda on the County Courthouse lawn; and aficionados of horsemanship can watch modern-day vaqueros roping and riding at the nightly rodeo at Earl Warren Showgrounds. Viva la Fiesta!
The California Lemon Festival in Goleta pays tribute to the groves of golden citrus that once blanketed this area. Held in Girsh Park at the end of September, this is a fun family event, with rides and games for kids of all ages, a classic auto show, music and dance performances… even a pie-eating contest. Lemon meringue anyone?
Santa Barbara’s waterfront is the ideal setting for the Harbor & Seafood Festival — a tribute to hardworking local fisheries — on the second Saturday in October. Fresh seafood is on the menu (of course!), while the roster of activities focuses on all things marine, including boat tours, rides, and dockside demonstrations, as well as live music and arts and crafts vendors.
Listen, learn, and connect with other musicians and fans at the New Noise Music Conference and Festival in mid-October. Indy rockers, hip-hop artists, and pop bands represent a sampling of the musicians who get things moving at clubs, concerts, and showcases throughout downtown Santa Barbara and the Funk Zone. Workshops, lectures, and panels aim to build a sense of musical community; then it all comes together at the Block Party, an irresistible high-energy scene.
Raise a glass with the Santa Barbara Vintners at their annual Celebration of Harvest in mid-October. There’s a grand tasting of the products of more than 100 wineries at the Old Mission Santa Ines, while other venues throughout the Santa Ynez Valley offer visits to tasting rooms, vineyards, and wineries; special winemaker dinners; and a Saturday wine seminar/and tasting. Downtown Santa Barbara shares the spotlight with one-of-a-kind food, wine, and photo tours.
Celebrate the end of the year, with holiday cheer at Santa Barbara’s annual Parade of Lights, which just marked its 30th anniversary in 2015. Bring the entire family, as more than 30 boats adorned with thousands (and we mean THOUSANDS) of lights and festive decorations will illuminate the waterfront as they navigate through the Santa Barbara Harbor and around Stearns Wharf.