December in Santa Barbara? We’re like the rest of the country, but with fewer layers and more beach days. This is how we winter in Santa Barbara.

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We’re festival-goers

Festival season is year-round in The American Riviera®. And like the quintessential coastal town we are, we can’t let the holiday season pass without cheer, merriment and a Parade of Lights along the waterfront. Held December 10, this annual event is by far one of the season’s stand-outs, drawing hundreds of families to watch as 20-30 brightly decorated boats parade around the Santa Barbara harbor to the theme of Hollywood Holidays. During the festivities, make a visit to Santa’s Village, where the kids play in 10 tons of snow and take photos with Santa.

Holiday Parade in downtown Santa Barbara. Photo Credit: Downtown Santa Barbara

Up from the waterfront, and a short walk along the main thoroughfare, Santa Barbara’s State Street is home to another not-to-be-missed holiday extravaganza, the Annual Downtown Santa Barbara Holiday Parade (December 1). Whether you grab a window seat at one of downtown Santa Barbara’s restaurants, or post up along State Street, you’re guaranteed to leave feeling the excitement of the season.

If you want to completely surround yourself with that holiday-time feeling, there’s no better place than Solvang during Julefest, a month long celebration of holiday spirited events. Named by Time Magazine’s as one of the “Most Christmassy Towns in America”, Julefest is the pinicle event to attend for anyone who’s looking to get that last minute holiday fix. Top events include, Julefest Parade (December 2), Shop, Mingle & Jingle (Decmber 1-3, 8-10, and 15 – 17) and the 2-day passport Julefest Wine & Beer Walk (December 9-10)—all in Solvang, the historic Danish town famous as “California’s Little Denmark.”

We spend nights at the theatre

arts and culture santa barbaraAs night falls on Santa Barbara, the lights of the theatre shine bright. During December, theatres across town offer can’t-miss world-class performances. Spend your night in Santa Barbara’s Historic Theater District, starting with dinner and drinks before heading to the theatre. Here are a few upcoming events exclusively in December: Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (November 30 – December 17), Rudolph (December 2) An Irish Christmas (December 7), Chris Isaak: Holiday Tour 2017 (December 8), The Nutcracker (December 9-10), Hallelujah Project 5 (December 9-10), Under The Streetlamp: Hip Hop to the Holidays (December 9), The Christmas Revels (December 15-17), The Blind Boys of Alabama Holiday Show (December 16), and Brian Setzer Orchestra’s 14th Annual Christmas Rocks! Tour  (December 18).

We play in the snow

Yes, you read that correctly! No need to sacrifice your dreams of a winter wonderland for a beach vacation getaway. Miss missing out and have the best of both worlds. Whistle the tune “Let It Snow” as you experience traditional winter activities with a twist in Santa Barbara.

Each year the Santa Barbara Zoo invites you and your kiddos to the Snow Leopard Festival. This year’s festival takes place on December 4 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and includes sledding down the Zoo’s “mini-Himalayan” mountains. Celebrate the beautiful and endangered Snow Leopard while you romp in the snow.

We have beach days

surfing at rincon in santa barbara
Wait for the perfect set, or watch the waves, at one of the area’s best scenic surfing locations. Rincon Point. Photo Credit: Instagram Fan @montecrofts

A little “winter” weather doesn’t slow us down, and beach days are still in full effect in The American Riviera®. In fact, surfers rejoice over winter in Santa Barbara, as waves ramp up and allow for a longer, more powerful surfing session. Here are some popular surf breaks that offer up a swell time. Ten-time world champion Kelly Slater frequents and surf legend Pat Curren would approve.

If you prefer low-key beach-time, we’d recommend these 7 not-to-be-miss beaches that were made for spending some good ole quality time on your best beach throw, with a good book and plenty of rays. Just be sure to bring your sunscreen and a companion for company. If you stay long enough, you’re in for a treat as winter welcomes some of the year’s most stunning sunsets.

We head for the vineyards

Whether you’re in downtown Santa Barbara or Santa Ynez Valley, Sanford Winery has a location that’s closest to you.

Nothing will warm your spirit more than a day of wine tasting in Santa Ynez Valley. From Santa Barbara, you’re only a 45-minute drive from vineyards and tasting your way through some of the world’s tastiest varietals. During December, make merry with winemakers after a harvest well-done and explore countless tasting rooms, all decked out for the holidays. Choose to spend the day on a pre-planned wine tour, or plan your own adventure; just be sure to bring a designated driver.

If you’re short on time, taste the very best of Santa Barbara’s wine country in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Follow the Urban Wine Trail for numerous spots to stop and sip in between holiday shopping.

Lastly, we miss nothing

Picture yourself, glass in hand, soaking up an extra day of sun-drenched relaxation. This winter, let The American Riviera® treat you to an extra day in paradise. From now – March 31, 2018. Book two nights and get the third night free or 20% off your reservation at various participating Santa Barbara hotels — from oceanfront resorts to boutique urban retreats. With the chance to stay an extra day, you’ll return home more revived than ever.

To make the deal even sweeter, upon check-in, you’ll receive The American Riviera® Experience Kit to help maximize every moment of your escape. Experience Kit’s will grant you and a guest access to exclusive discounts, upgrades and perks at several participating wineries, restaurants, retailers, and attractions. Take advantage of the boundless experiences Santa Barbara has to offer, savoring a longer stay and a delightfully fuller schedule.


Featured December Events

Los Olivos Olde Fashioned Christmas


Los Olivos invites you to start the holiday season by experiencing the warm & friendly small-town fun of an Olde Fashioned Christmas! A fun-filled day of exciting and enjoyable activities has been planned to celebrate Christmas in Los…

The Okee Dokee Brothers

Time: Location: UCSB Campbell Hall

Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander have been exploring the outdoors together since they were kids. Now they're a Grammy Award-winning folk and roots music duo that puts the natural world at the heart of their Americana music, with songs written under…

Kronos Quartet

Time: Location: UCSB Campbell Hall

For more than 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet has embodied a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually reimagine the string quartet experience. A response to the 2017 executive orders limiting travel to the…

Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen

Time: Location: UCSB Campbell Hall

Texas greats Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen join forces in an up-close-and-personal evening you won’t want to miss. Since their days as college buddies swapping songs on the front porch, Lovett has evolved into one of music’s most…

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