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Santa Barbara Festivals: Best Bets

Italian street painting festival, I Madonnari, livens up the grounds of Old MIssion Santa Barbara over Memorial Day Weekend (Photo: I Madonnari Festival)

The colorful Italian street painting festival, I Madonnari, comes to Old Mission Santa Barbara Memorial Day Weekend (Photo: I Madonnari Festival)

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost here. And, Santa Barbara knows how to Summer! The city nicknamed the “American Riviera” is home to an array of uniquely dazzling festivals, year-round.

Memorial Day weekend is considered the ‘unofficial’ start of beach season, so why not celebrate at the colorful I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival?  The grounds of Old Mission Santa Barbara shape shift into an Italian city, where street painters using chalk sketch massive images.

Asphalt is an artist's canvas at the I Madonnari street painting festival at Old Mission Santa Barbara (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Asphalt is an artist’s canvas at the I Madonnari street painting festival at Old Mission Santa Barbara (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Asphalt is their canvas as they create (or recreate) colorful works. This festival benefits the Children’s Creative Project, a non-profit which brings art into Santa Barbara area schools. Admission is free and the colorful drawings will stick around for a few days following the Memorial Day Weekend.

Colorful dancers shimmy down State Street at Santa Barbara's Summer Solstice Parade (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

Colorful dancers shimmy down State Street at Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice Parade (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

The Summer Solstice Celebration is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular events, drawing 100,000+ visitors. Many line State Street to be dazzled by the colorful dancers, drummers and pageantry of the Solstice Parade. No commercial entries allowed, so this parade is 100% home-grown Santa Barbara. Along with the parade on Saturday (noon, June 20, 2015), there’s a three-day weekend festival in Alameda Park, featuring live bands, artisans selling clothing and crafts as well as an array of food and drinks.

Watch: Sights & Sounds of Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice Parade 2013!

July brings the French Festival, which ties in with France’s Bastille Day, and the Greek Festival, to Oak Park. Ooh La La! Or, should I say, Opah! You will delight in the native dishes and desserts being served.  I enjoy attending summer festivals in Oak Park because they are free, not too large, and it seems like there’s a different one every weekend. You can drop in a couple of hours or spend the day indulging in traditional foods or enjoying free entertainment.

Accordian clown at Solstice Parade (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Accordian clown at Solstice Parade (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

“Old Spanish Days of Santa Barbara,” aka “Fiesta,” takes over the downtown area on August 5-9, 2015.  This granddaddy of Santa Barbara events features horses with riders in traditional Spanish attire. A rodeo and other events mark the nearly week long celebration. Click this link for details on the rodeo and other events.

“Old Spanish Days Fiesta is about the heart of Santa Barbara’s residents and their passion for life,” said Cas Stimson, president of the 2015 Fiesta. This year’s theme is “Fiesta Romantica.” The first Fiesta was held in 1924 to pay tribute to the Spanish traditions  of Santa Barbara’s founding families.

The fun doesn’t end with summer.  The California Lemon Festival comes to Goleta in September; followed by the California Avocado Festival in Carpinteria and the Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival.

Kids of all ages enjoy Santa Barbara's unique mix of local events. (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

Kids of all ages enjoy Santa Barbara’s unique mix of local events. (Photo Ken Pfeiffer)

While we’re on the topic of Santa Barbara festivals, I have to mention the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). The main event takes place in Winter, just ahead of the Academy Awards. SBIFF has become an important stop on the road to Oscar, where nominees can schmooze with peers and try to drum up last minute Academy votes.  Building on its success, SBIFF has added a few mini-festivals called “Waves,” including a French Wave, featuring cinema of France, in July.

Click here to see a year-round list of Santa Barbara festivals and events.

Traffic411 Insider’s Tip: Highway 101 into Santa Barbara (especially northbound) is usually busy in summer, and it will be jammed over the Solstice weekend. If you’re planning to attend the Solstice parade, arrive several hours early. Or, get a room and spend the night.


Call to Curb Distracted Driving

(Photo courtesy of

Do you talk on the phone while driving? How about reading text messages? A recent AAA survey revealed 2 out of 5 drivers admitted to checking text messages while driving, in the past 30 days. Howard Drescher was riding his motorcycle on a busy … [Continue reading]

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Exotic orchids on display at Santa Barbara International Orchid Show (Ken Pfeiffer Photography)

Orchid enthusiasts from around the world will be in Santa Barbara this weekend for the 71st Annual Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. “This is the biggest show in the United States,” said George Hatfield, president of this year’s … [Continue reading]

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Melinda Gandara pours a Lieff red for a group from the Coral Casino (Ken Pfeiffer Photography)

Fine wine was flowing in Santa Barbara Saturday night at the California Wine Festival’s Fifth Annual Winter Wine Classic. Guests who gathered in the ballroom of the Fess Parker Resort were treated to tastes of reds and whites from up and down the … [Continue reading]

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Santa Barbara County adds another AVA with Los Olivos, bringing the total number of distinctive wine growing areas to six. (Photo Traffic411)

We're barely into 2016, and it's already been a good year for Santa Barbara wine industry. In January, the federal government awarded Los Olivos its own AVA (American Viticultural Area). The designation recognizes a wine-grape growing region as … [Continue reading]

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Snowy Egrets are a common sight in Santa Barbara-area waterways.  (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer)

A group of Santa Barbara bird enthusiasts had their eyes to the skies (and seas) over New Year's weekend.  Beginning at 12:01 AM on January 2nd, they spent 24 hours tallying up the many varieties of birds spotted in the area as part of the … [Continue reading]

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The church at Carmel Mission featured a life-sized nativity scene on Christmas Day (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

I visited several missions along California's Central Coast this year, and San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, better known as Carmel Mission, really stands out. Also read: Elephant Seals give birth on San Simeon-area beaches We visited … [Continue reading]

2015 Holiday Boat Parade Guide

The Getty Yacht docks at Burton Chace Park, giving guests a front row spot to see the Marina Del Rey Holiday Boat Parade (Photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

December is barely here, yet boaters in Santa Barbara and up and down the coast are already decking their bows with colorful Christmas lights! Attending a boat parade is a fun (and often free) way to celebrate the holidays in true California … [Continue reading]

Santa Barbara’s “Merry” Season

(Photo Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

The 2015 holiday season is upon us and Santa Barbara is wasting no time getting into the festive Spirit. Thousands of spectators are expected to line State Street on Friday, December 4th, for the 63rd Annual Downtown Holiday Parade. Starting at … [Continue reading]

Industry leaders converge in CA’s oil country

Texas oil wildcatter T. Boone Pickens chats with Greta Lydecker, VP of Chevron, at the 2015 West Kern Petroleum Summit (Photo: Traffic411)

What do a Texas oil tycoon, a California Congressman and a TV game show have in common? They were all in attendance at the recent West Kern Petroleum Summit (#WKPSummit2015) in Kern County. Hometown hero and Bakersfield native, Rep. Kevin McCarthy … [Continue reading]