A full calendar of events, complemented by the temperate climate, attracts visitors all year long. In Santa Barbara, the challenge isn’t finding something to do; it’s choosing from a dazzling array of activities.
On New Year’s Day, enjoy the color and freedom of the hang-gliding festival at Mesa Flight Park, and on January 2 join other bird-watchers at the annual bird-count, one of the biggest in the nation. While sitting indoors in the dark sounds antithetical to everything about Santa Barbara, there’s one time each year when it’s de rigueur—in late January/early February, when Hollywood’s elite, movie-lovers and star-watchers gather for the famed Santa Barbara International Film Festival that attracts more A-List celebrities every year—and has become a preview showcase of Academy Award nominees.
Springtime blooms in Santa Barbara with the arrival of the annual Earth Day celebration in the place where the environmental movement was born. Following the disastrous 1969 oil spill in local waters, Santa Barbara’s collective consciousness about protecting the earth led the nation—and continues to work toward creating a sustainable community.
Photos from 2010 IMadonnari
Coverage of 2010 Wine Festival
Memorial Day brings I Madonnari, an inspired chalk-painting festival held on the grounds of the Old Mission. Summer fun kicks off with the inspired creativity of the Solstice Parade and weekend celebration of life when all of Santa Barbara dresses to a different era and dances to a different drummer.
The long-running ethnic festivals at Oak Park bring out the Francophile in everyone during the French Festival, and all the flavor and festivities of the Mediterranean to Pacific shores for the Greek Festival. The color and excitement of Old Spanish Days, also known as Fiesta, stretches for four days and nights, and all over town to the delight of visitors and (most) residents alike. It’s probably the only place in the U.S. where distinguished citizens are expected to overindulge in an amazing array of traditional Mexican foods, show up in costumes throughout the week, and everyone has a bit of confetti in their hair—from a crushed cascarone, a colorful, confetti-filled egg, traditionally made and sold by children.
Loath to let go of summer, visitors and locals alike continue to delight in outdoor festivities. They catch hot licks at Mission Canyon’s Santa Barbara Bowl, an outdoors venue that remains pleasant into autumn. In October, festivals celebrate the avocado in Carpinteria, the lemon in Goleta. Art-lovers stroll along lovely Mission Creek for the annual Art Walk on the grounds of the Museum of Natural History.
Home for the holidays—Santa Barbara style—means a flurry of unique activities: an ocean-going parade of lights, the traditional Una Pastorela re-enactment of the Christmas story at the Presidio, the State Street and Milpas Street Christmas parades, the crèche with live animals at the Mission, and even a winter solstice observation.