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Festivals To Plan For

No matter the month, you can expect a flurry of fun for all ages when visiting Santa Barbara. From wine tasting, film debuts, and musical performances to outdoor adventures, food festivals and art exhibitions, Santa Barbara has an event or festival for every palate. Plan the perfect getaway to our seaside haven with the use of this helpful guide, and explore the thrill of festivals in Santa Barbara!

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Due to state and county restrictions regarding COVID-19, many annual festivals and large gatherings have been rescheduled or canceled for 2020. But don’t fret! We expect the return of your favorite gatherings and festivals in 2021. Before planning a trip around one of Santa Barbara’s signature festivals, please confirm all event details prior to arriving.

JULY

The Music Academy of the West has gone virtual for its 2020 annual summer program. July 14-15, 2020, home audiences around the world will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of classical music online with performances by fellows, faculty, and alumni via the Music Academy Concert Hall Online.

Next year, wineries large and small will show off their wares at the outdoor California Wine Festival, July 16-17, 2021. This two-day event kicks off on Friday evening with an educational seminar that compliments a reserve and rare wine tasting. On Saturday, the festivities move beach-side for a showcase of some 250 wines from 70 wineries, and the offerings of noted chefs, food purveyors, and wine-related vendors.

Say “Bonjour!” in 2021 to all things French at the Santa Barbara French Festival held at Oak Park each July. This French fête includes pop-up market and shopping stalls, mouth-watering food vendors, wine, beer, colorful performances, and thrilling fully-armored sword fights. Check back for more information regarding the 2021 festival.

AUGUST

Old Mission Santa Barbara is home to the opening night festivities of Old Spanish Days. Photo Credit: Fritz Olenberger

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. This year, the reimagined 5-day party, August 5-9, 2020, will take place mostly on television and online and will include adaptive events that the community can participate in from their homes or cars.

La Fiesta Pequeña, normally held on the steps of the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission, will be reimagined as a prime-time televised event airing on August 5 that will replay highlights from past La Fiesta Pequeña events. You can also expect a virtual summer concert series called “Fiesta Music & Dance Fridays” that will feature local bands and will highlight restaurants and non-profits typically seen at the Mercados. Culminating with grand performances on Friday, August 7 and Saturday, August 8, these virtual concerts will be streamed on multiple outlets and the community is encouraged to tune in and dance at home. Viva la Fiesta!

Don’t miss the start of Santa Barbara Polo Season in August 2020, where ladies don their finest hats and gentlemen dress to the nines to watch the thrilling equine sport. The Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club has hosted the likes of the royal family and celebrities, and with good reason! August through October, the pristine grass and stunning mountain views make an unforgettable backdrop to gaze at while sipping champagne and cheering on the players! Please note that entry to the polo fields is restricted to members only for the time being.

If your travels to Santa Barbara are later in the month of August 2021, make sure to plan ahead to attend the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival. Held at the New Vic Theatre, this annual film festival will include five days of exceptional films from around the world on themes of Jewish culture and identity, including a wide range of documentaries, dramas, comedies, and shorts by American, European, and Israeli filmmakers.

SEPTEMBER

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 genre of music — from rock, pop, and jazz to mariachi and classical — take the stage of the intimate amphitheater beginning in September with a performance by John Legend.

Santa Barbara is a haven for artisans, makers, designers, and those who are passionate about local craftsmanship, and what better than to celebrate the art that can be created using the natural gifts from the ocean? The Santa Barbara Sea Glass & Ocean Arts Festival, to be held in September 2021, is the perfect place to shop gorgeous sea glass jewelry for loved ones and explore ocean-themed art inspired by our seaside paradise. Artists from all over gather to display their oceanic wares, so don’t forget to mark your calendar next year for this incredible event!

At the end of September 2021, taste samples from 50+ breweries, cideries and wineries at the California Brew & BBQ Festival, September 25, 2021, at one of the most beautiful oceanfront venues Santa Barbara has to offer. Enjoy tri-tip from top Santa Barbara-based restaurants as local chefs compete for Best BBQ! As the cool ocean breeze wafts the sweet tang of barbeque through the beer tents, don’t miss your chance to meet World Champion Pitmaster Doug Scheiding and savor his award-winning dishes.

Celebrate fresh seafood straight from the Santa Barbara Channel during the Harbor and Seafood Festival. Photo Credit: J. Sinclair

OCTOBER

Santa Barbara’s waterfront is the ideal setting for the Harbor & Seafood Festival — a tribute to hardworking local fisheries — each October. On Saturday October 17, 2020, 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.

NOVEMBER

Although this year’s event has been rescheduled for 2021, you can still plan in advance to raise a glass with the Taste of Santa Ynez Valley. Over a four day period each Fall, visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves into events and experiences centered around the burgeoning food, wine and beer scene in the towns of Los Alamos, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Solvang, Ballard, and Buellton.

DECEMBER

Bring the whole family and ring in the holiday season at the Annual Downtown Holiday Parade held each December. Witness high-stepping marching bands, fabulous holiday-themed floats, spectacular performance groups, and more. The ceremonial lighting of the community Christmas Tree will also take place on this wonder-filled holiday night.

Celebrate the end of the year with holiday cheer at Santa Barbara’s annual Parade of Lights on December 13, 2020. Bring the entire family to the waterfront, 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.

FEBRUARY

Come hungry and leave satisfied after dining out during Santa Barbara Restaurant Week. For one delicious week, over 20+ area restaurants will be offering delectable 3-course menus, all for a prix fixe. Try one (or two) of Santa Barbara’s newest hot-spots or revisit a classic locale. Either way, you’ll get a chance to explore Santa Barbara’s tantalizing culinary landscape at a great price, either $25, $35 or $45 three-course dinner options.

March

If you love wine, this is one event you surely don’t want to miss. Join professional winemakers, renowned chefs, sommeliers and leading wine scholars at the World of Pinot Noir, March 2-6, 2021, at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara. Attend, celebrate and indulge in wine tastings, dinners, seminars and parties all dedicated to this delicious wine.

The Arlington Theater, one of the SBIFF’s many locales.

Get out on the town in glittering fashion with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, March 31 – April 10, 2021. For almost two weeks, 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.

Last but not least, each March Santa Barbara blooms with orchids in every imaginable shape, color, pattern and texture at the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. This three-day event, noted as one of the country’s largest and oldest celebrations of orchids, brings together more than 50 orchid exhibitors and vendors from around the world.

April

The modern environmental movement was born in Santa Barbara in 1970 — an occasion to celebrate each year 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. Mark your calendar, next year’s Earth Day festivities will be held April 22-25, 2021.

MAY

The plaza of the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara is the setting for the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival, May 29-31, 2021, that delights locals and visitors alike 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 annual Summer Solstice Parade along State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara.

June

The Summer Solstice Celebration kicks off in June with a brilliant explosion of creative energy, just following 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.