Santa Barbara is nationally known for its commitment to sustainability, its eclectic local culture, and its temperate coastal climate. With a community that places an emphasis on public support for art, the city is a prime location for celebrations of creativity and environmental mindfulness. It’s not surprising then to find out that Santa Barbara plays host to some of California’s most lively and entertaining yearly festivals.
For residents and visitors alike, the following events are worth a visit:
1. Old Spanish Days Fiesta
Although it was originally settled by the Chumash Indians thousands of years ago, Santa Barbara’s history is largely colored by the influence of Spanish, Mexican, and early American settlers, whose beliefs and customs blended to give the city its diverse, multicultural heritage. The Old Spanish Days Fiesta, a week-long celebration of Santa Barbara’s Spanish heritage, also provides spectators with many opportunities to learn about the individual groups that settled the area. Among the fiesta’s attractions are numerous flamenco dance performances, open-air Mexican markets, a professional rodeo, and a special exhibit hosted by the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
For more than 90 years, the highlight of the festival has been its Fiesta Historical Parade. The parade features local civic groups, antique carriages, more than 600 horses, and vibrantly-colored floats that depict scenes from history. The parade is also known for its promotion of “cascarones,” which are hollowed-out eggs filled with paper confetti that guests good-naturedly crack open over the heads of friends and family.
2. Summer Solstice Celebration
Held every June since 1974, the Summer Solstice Celebration, aims to bring people together to celebrate the arts. The event is reminiscent of a mild Mardi Gras celebration, though special areas are designed specifically with children in mind. Each year, more than 100,000 visitors from around the world come to enjoy the event’s live music, dance performances, and art exhibitions.
On the longest day of the year, more than 1,000 people don elaborate costumes to take part in the Summer Solstice Parade, in which dancers, costumed figures, and floats journey through the streets of downtown Santa Barbara. Local artists also submit art work to the event in order to compete for a chance to be featured on the festival’s yearly Summer Solstice Celebration shirt. The art work is centered on the festival’s theme, which changes each year. Themes from past years include “jungle,” “fantasy,” and “circus.”
3. Harbor and Seafood Festival
Santa Barbara’s proximity to the coast means ample access to fresh seafood. To support local fisherman while also drawing attention to the care and protection of marine life, the city presents a Harbor and Seafood Festival at the beginning of lobster season in October. In addition to hundreds of vendors selling a variety of fresh seafood, the festival also includes boating demonstrations, dockside tours of ships, live music performances, and many other nautical activities for the whole family, such as tours of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum’s Tall Ship and a sea creature petting zoo.
4. Santa Barbara International Film Festival
In the spring, nearly 100,000 film industry professionals and aficionados from across the globe flock to Santa Barbara in order to take part in the city’s International Film Festival. The 11-day event showcases more than 200 qualifying films from different categories, including full-length features, shorts, documentaries, fiction films, and local pieces. Each year, the festival begins with an Opening Night Gala—a public function where guests dance, eat, and enjoy live entertainment at the Spanish Paseo Nuevo, which is intricately decorated for the occasion.
In addition to film showings, guests can observe industry panels with renowned writers, directors, and producers. Parents and their children can attend the AppleBox presentation of family-oriented films, complete with complimentary popcorn and refreshments.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is also known for its prestigious award presentations, such as the David Attenborough Award for Excellence in Nature Filmmaking, the Montecito Award, and the Maltin Modern Master Award, which is the festival’s most prestigious honor. Past recipients of the Maltin Modern Master Award include Christopher Plummer, Clint Eastwood, Cate Blanchett, and James Cameron.
5. Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival
The city’s commitment to environmental responsibility is evident in its yearly Earth Day celebration. Held in the expansive Alameda Park, the two-day festival highlights the importance of green living through an eco-marketplace, filled with vendors that promote different forms of sustainability. Kids can join Snook, the giant sloth, as he leads the Children’s Climate March, which ends at the festival’s main stage. Activities and speakers help teach people of all ages the importance of caring for the planet.
Adults may be interested in attending the event’s green car show, or learning about the area’s local food movement, which seeks to help Santa Barbara residents incorporate farm-to-table practices into their own lives. Additionally, the festival presents its Environmental Hero Award to an environmental conservation innovator. Previous winners include Bill Nye and Elon Musk.