Photo Credit: Justin Kase Conder
If your idea of the perfect night out on the town pairs a transcendent culinary experience with an entertaining and inspiring show, then Santa Barbara’s Historic Theatre District is the zone for you. Anchored by three premier performing arts venues—the Granada Theatre, the Lobero Theatre and Ensemble Theatre Company at the New Vic—the Historic Theatre District is packed with many of Santa Barbara’s top dining destinations and cocktail bars as well as shops, galleries and museums.
There’s pretty much always something on the calendar here, from touring theatrical productions, insightful lectures and gigs by legendary and up-and-coming musical talents to performances by the city’s very own symphony orchestra, theatre, opera and ballet companies. Whether you’re a planner looking to catch one of your favorite bands in an intimate venue or you’re more likely to act on a whim and hit the box office for last minute tickets day-of, cultural and culinary adventures abound in Santa Barbara’s Historic Theatre District.
California’s oldest, continuously operating theatre founded in 1873 and rebuilt in 1924, the Lobero Theatre is a historic architectural landmark. DownBeat Magazine has called the Lobero “a gem of a jazz room,” recognizing it as one of the world’s best venues for jazz. In addition to the Jazz at the Lobero series, the annual Lobero LIVE series presents blues and folk music, plus comedy, magic, ballet and the month-long DANCEworks residency. The Sings Like Hell series showcases incredible singer songwriters and major touring musical acts play here regularly, too.
Before your Lobero show, wander through El Paseo (across the street) and stop in for a tasting at one of the many wine tasting rooms within the Wine Collection of El Paseo. Settle in for dinner at the elegant Wine Cask or its adjacent sister restaurant, the more casual Intermezzo Bar & Cafe. If you’re craving something spicier, hit Mexican charmer La Playa Azul Café or Middle Eastern Zaytoon, both located a block away on Santa Barbara Street across from the photogenic El Presidio de Santa Barbara. Local favorite Paradise Café is another classic option, an easy walk away from the Lobero.
The Granada Theatre has been an integral part of Santa Barbara’s arts and entertainment landscape for nearly 90 years. The city’s oldest former movie palace towers above State Street and, at eight-stories high, is the tallest building in Santa Barbara. Re-opened in 2008 as the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts, today The Granada is home to the Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, Opera Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Choral Society and CAMA. It’s also the stage for notable touring acts presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures, a Broadway Series and a variety of one-night-only performances.
Choices are plentiful when it comes to your pre-show feast within a one-block radius of the theatre. Consider newcomer Somerset for fine dining; Sama Sama Kitchen for a contemporary Californian twist on Indonesian fare; or Arigato for sublime sushi. Plus, comfort food is on the menu at the southern-inflected Tupelo Junction Café. After your show, be sure to pop into the speakeasy-style The Good Lion right next door for a proper nightcap.
Ensemble Theatre Company
Santa Barbara’s award-winning professional theatre company, Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) recently moved to its completely transformed, state-of-the-art home base, The New Vic Theater on Victoria Street. The contemporary, 300-seat theater also serves other area performing arts groups between ETC’s five annual productions, which often include American and West Coast premieres and range in genres from comedy and classics to drama and romance.
Sitting in the heart of a decadent “Restaurant Row,” making your New Vic performance restaurant selection will be a serious challenge! Just a couple doors down, the dreamy Bouchon Santa Barbara serves wine country cuisine and Olio e Limone Ristorante offers enticing Italian. Around the corner on State Street heading towards the Arlington Theatre, you’ve got Downey’s, Jane, Opal Restaurant & Bar and Carlitos Café & Cantina presenting even more inviting and eclectic options. And if you only have time for a quick bite, the buzzing Santa Barbara Public Market directly across from the New Vic is filled with vendors dishing out tacos, noodles, seafood and pub grub. Better yet, stop in after the show for a sweet treat like wine-infused cupcakes and small batch, locally made ice cream.