9 Unique Santa Barbara Events to Experience in Your Lifetime

The Summer Solstice Celebration each June is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular festivals.
The Summer Solstice Celebration each June is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular festivals. Damian Gadal
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Situated along California’s central coast, Santa Barbara is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Santa Ynez mountains that rise steeply in the east. Commonly referred to as The American Riviera®, Santa Barbara has long since garnered a reputation as an idyllic vacation spot. When most people think the California coast, they imagine long summer days filled with sparkling surf and iconic sun-drenched beaches. However, Santa Barbara has become a year-round destination spot thanks, in part, to some world-class events. Pair one of these nine events, with the quaint Spanish-influenced downtown area, the plethora of outdoor activities, and its proximity to southern California’s wine scene, and you’ve got a recipe for an unforgettable weekend.


Parade of Lights - December

Santa Barbara does its Parade of Lights as no other city can do—on the water. Located on City Pier in the Santa Barbara Harbor, the city trucks in tons of real snow into Santa’s Village, locals go above and beyond in decorating their boats for the parade, and the whole night culminates in a fireworks show launched right over the Pacific Ocean. If you’ve ever thought that Southern California was too warm for a true winter experience, then you’ve never experienced winter in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival - February

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Started in 1986 the SBIFF is an 11-day festival that occurs each February and showcases hundreds of films from shorts to features. The festival attracts nearly 90,000 participants each year, and it has grown to become one of the of the most prominent film festivals in the United States. The town is filled with celebrities—both those being honored and attending the festival. You’ll find premier independent and international screenings, along with talks, symposiums, award shows, and educational events that are sure to entice everyone from the novice movie fan to the seasoned film buff. Between films, visitors can stroll the festival pavilion and take advantage of daily happy hours, parties, and mingle with other film enthusiasts. During the day be sure to visit downtown Santa Barbara and enjoy the Spanish colonial architecture unique to the area as well as the Riviera Theater, which in 2016 became the festival's new home.


AMGEN Tour of California - May

The AMGEN Tour of California runs more than 600 miles down the length of the state with stops in iconic cities both inland and along the coast. Santa Barbara has participated in the event for eight of the event’s 10-year history, typically around the midpoint of the race. (This year Stage 4 starts in Santa Barbara on May 17, 2017.) AMGEN Tour of California draws participation from some of the top American cycling teams and is considered one of the most important cycling events on the North American racing calendar. For cycling fans, the tour provides an excellent opportunity to glimpse world-class athletes in their element as many of them use the tour as a prep race for the Tour de France later in the summer. Take advantage of the start-line festivities, cheer on the riders, and sample wares from local and international vendors. Then, after the race has left departed, enjoy spring on the central coast with your own bicycle tour, making use of the dozens of miles of dedicated bike and pedestrian paths.

Earth Day Festival - April

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The Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival, which takes place every April, was started in 1970 and coincided with the first ever Earth Day. This event seeks to educate attendees on the latest environmental practices. The Earth Day Festival has more than enough to keep the whole family engaged all weekend. Featuring live musical, talks and educational events from Santa Barbara’s city council members, as well as green and renewable vendor demonstrations, there really is something for everyone. Leave the car at home and take advantage of the free bike valet and ease of getting around on Santa Barbara’s bike-friendly streets.


Summer Solstice Celebration - June

For one weekend each June, downtown Santa Barbara is transformed from a bustling tourist town, to a colorful explosion of dance, music, and family fun. At the center of the three day event is the Community Arts Workshop, where locals and visitors alike can help build and decorate the floats that make up the heart of the parade. All ages and artistic skill-levels are encouraged to come out and participate both in the building and in the parade itself. As the organizers say, "It’s not about talent, it’s about fun." This motto is truly taken to heart at the Summer Solstice Celebration, with dozens of family-friendly booths, massive art and performance spectacles, and live music, all which draws more than 100,000 visitors each year.

California Wine Festival - July

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Located in the heart of the southern california wine region and with a strong history of gourmet dining options, Santa Barbara is uniquely positioned to host the California Wine Festival each July. As one of the largest wine festivals in the state, this event combines elegant wine and food tasting with a music-filled beach atmosphere. Over two days the CWF offers visitors a chance to attend three distinct wine tastings. First the Old Spanish Nights tasting highlights the city’s Spanish roots with local latin music artists and live flamenco dancers accompanying the world-class wine. Next is the Sunset Reserve and Rare Wine Tasting, where patrons can sample some truly exquisite wines from around California. Cap off the weekend with CFW’s signature Beachside Wine Tasting event, where you can sample from hundreds of local wines, micro-breweries and food pairings from local chefs.

Santa Barbara 100 Mile Endurance Run - July

This isn’t your local fun run ladies and gentlemen. Held in the heat of July, the Santa Barbara 100 Mile Endurance Run prides itself on being a tough and gritty event for those runners seeking a real challenge. Racers will run along sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean, down narrow canyons, and climb through steep oak forests. Located in Los Padres National Forest on Santa Barbara's eastern border, this run starts at the Santa Barbara High School, winds past the historic downtown area, and quickly leaves the town behind as the course heads into the hills. While the terrain is sure to provide a challenge to even the most season runner, the event prides itself on providing a well marked and maintained course, as well as ample aid stations and safety measures to ensure that each runner has a memorable and ultimately safe experience. In recent years the event has expanded to include a 100K, marathon, and half-marathon distance for runners looking for a uniquely challenging race experience without having to tackle the 100-mile beast.


New Noise Music Festival - October

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Each fall, the New Noise Music Festival puts on a three-day event highlighting music, community, and the arts. Featuring dozens of musical acts and artists on various stages around the Santa Barbara area. Each year the festival kicks off on Friday night with a series of intimate concerts. However, as the weekend progresses patrons can see some of their favorite indie bands as well as some notable up-and-comers take the main stage in downtown. Situated amongst a two-block-long party, this small-city festival delivers a big-time feel. Purchasing a ticket to the New Noise Festival doesn’t just get you into the best block party of the year, it also helps the foundation to fulfill its charitable mission of supporting local nonprofits that aim to increase access to music and the arts.

Celebration of Harvest - October

This annual gathering of Santa Barbara vintners invites participants to celebrate the end of growing season and the start of the winemaking process. Situated in the heart of southern California's wine-country, Santa Barbara is surrounded by more than 100 vintners and wineries. One Columbus Day weekend each year, you’ll find local winemakers showcasing some of their best bottles. The weekend includes tastings from local vintners, discussions, and seminars, and it makes the perfect getaway for the California wine lover.

Originally written for Visit Santa Barbara.

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