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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!

FEBRUARY

Begin the year in glittering fashion with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. For 11 straight days, January 30 – February 9, 2019, 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.

FEBRUARY – MARCH

Come hungry and leave satisfied after dining out during Santa Barbara Restaurant Week, February 22 – March 3, 2019. 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, $25 two-course lunch and $40 three-course dinner.

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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 March 1-2, 2019 at the 19th Annual World of Pinot Noir at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara. Attend, celebrate and indulge in wine tastings, dinners, seminars and parties all dedicated to this delicious wine.  

If your travels to Santa Barbara are later in the month of March, make sure to plan ahead to attend the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival, March 6-10, 2019. 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. That same weekend, March 8-9, 2019, get ready for The Race of Gentlemen (TROG) as authentic, vintage motorcycles and bikes are brought in from all over the country for an epic weekend of drag racing alongside East Beach. Check out the pre- and early post-war built machines as well as learn about their origins, all the while soaking up the Santa Barbara sun.

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. Held March 15 – 17, 2019, 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.

A sunny Santa Barbara day celebrating Mother Earth at Earth Day.
A sunny Santa Barbara day celebrating Mother Earth at Earth Day. Photo Credit: J. Sinclair

APRIL

The modern environmental movement was born in Santa Barbara in 1970 — 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. Mark your calendar, this year’s Earth Day festivities will be held April 27-28, 2019.

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 genre of music — from rock, pop, and jazz to mariachi and classical — take the stage of the intimate amphitheater from April into October.

Don’t miss the start of Santa Barbara Polo Season in late April, 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! April through October, the pristine grass and stunning mountain views make an unforgettable backdrop to gaze at while sipping champagne and cheering on the players!

MAY

The plaza of the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara is the setting for I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival 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 Summer Solstice Parade begins with an annual Parade through State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.
The Summer Solstice Parade begins with an annual Parade through State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

JUNE

The Summer Solstice Celebration kicks off the season with a brilliant explosion of creative energy, on June 21-23, 2019, 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.

Indulge in the best libations and treats our town has to offer at the Santa Barbara Wine & Food Festival, June 29, 2019. Hosted by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, this foodie favorite is sure to have your taste buds tingling! Vendors offer bites and nibbles of their most popular dishes, and the wine is sure to be flowing all afternoon. Sample Santa Barbara the right way, and one hundred percent of the net proceeds supports the Museum and Sea Center’s nature and science education for adults and children.

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.

JULY

Say “Bonjour!” to all things French at the Santa Barbara French Festival, July 13-14, 2019. This French fête includes pop-up market and shopping stalls, mouth-watering food vendors, wine, beer, colorful performances, and thrilling fully-armored sword fights. And if you haven’t had your fill of wine, don’t fret! Wineries large and small show off their wares at the outdoor California Wine Festival, July 18-20, 2019. This three-day 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. 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.

AUGUST

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, July 31 – August 4, 2019, 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 El 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!

SEPTEMBER

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, September 14 -15, 2019 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 stop by this unique festivity! At the end of September, taste samples from 50+ breweries, cideries and wineries at the California Brew & BBQ Festival on Saturday, September 28, 2019 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.

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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 — 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.

Raise a glass with the Santa Barbara Vintners at their annual Celebration of Harvest in mid-October. Over a three day period, 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.

DECEMBER

Bring the whole family and ring in the holiday season at the Annual Downtown Holiday Parade. Over 65,000 spectators will converge to 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, 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.