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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.


Opa! VC Greek Festival comes to Camarillo

Members of the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church are cooking up a storm, preparing for this weekend’s Ventura County Greek Festival.  If you love all things Greek, there are several reasons you’ll want to hop on the 101 and head to Camarillo.

The 34th annual Ventura County Greek Festival comes to Camarillo June 22-24. It’s worth the drive from Los Angeles! (source:

For starters, the food is delicious! Authentic dishes, prepared with love in the church’s kitchen.  Gyros, pastichio (Greek lasagna), roast lamb and chicken, spinakopita, dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves) and, my favorite, saganaki (flaming cheese), are just some of the yummy dishes on the menu.  The desserts are just as tasty, baklava, pastries and cookies, packaged to take home while they last.

There’s live music featuring the Olympians, Greek dancers, and everyone’s invited to get out on the dance floor.  Dancers from The Greek at the Harbor perform, and the gorgeous Aris Mikelatos’ will perform his famous table dance (ladies, you won’t want to miss this!).

Related: Take the Scenic Route to the VC Greek Festival – Malibu Drive

Another great feature of this festival is that it’s intimate, there’s plenty of free parking and it’s easy to stop by to enjoy a delicious meal, music, perhaps a little dancing, and be on your way.  The weather in Camarillo is perfect year round, it’s cooler than Los Angeles, and sunnier than Ventura. Admission is $3, or print free admission tickets on their website.  The Ventura County Greek Festival kicks off Friday night and runs through the weekend (June 22-24). Click here for festival hours and the event schedule.

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Camarillo is located off the 101 (Ventura) freeway,  30 minutes north of the San Fernando Valley and 20 minutes south of Ventura.  So, if you’re heading up from Los Angeles, you could stop by the VC Greek Festival, then head up to the Ventura Harbor or Ventura Pier to enjoy the rest of your day.

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Related: Along the way, stop by Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks