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Santa Barbara Announces Festival Line-Up: Celebrate Culture, Cuisine, Art & Wine on the Central Coast

October 29, 2013 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

For a modest-sized city, it may come as a surprise how many events Santa Barbara has to offer year-round. Given the beautiful surroundings, perfect weather, and friendly population however, it makes sense.

Santa Barbara County is home to many annual festivals that range from celebrating Renaissance street art to honoring the history and heritage of Santa Barbara. Don a crazy costume for the Summer Solstice parade, or venture to nearby Solvang to participate in a cultural celebration of a quaint Danish village conveniently located in the middle of Santa Barbara County. Marvel at the world’s largest vat of guacamole, or mingle with filmmakers at private film screenings. In short, there is something for everyone, providing a tempting excuse to drop the usual daily routine and join in on the fun.gI_121745_SBIFF_IMG_2243

Cultural Connection

People from all over the world migrate to Santa Barbara, either for a relaxing vacation or to live here more permanently. In order to pay tribute to these cultures that make Santa Barbara such a unique and welcoming place, several festivities are held each year that celebrate and encourage long-standing cultural traditions. Summer is prime time to head over for the French, Greek, Old Spanish Days, and Danish Days festivals.

Celebrate French culture without leaving the country by heading to the American Riviera® for Santa Barbara’s annual French Festival. It may not be the French Riviera, but it’s not far off. The festival appropriately takes place the weekend of Bastille Day each summer. A popular event is the Poodle Parade, which features costumed poodles strutting their stuff as their proud owners cheer them on. Regional and Nouvelle French cuisine is served to the beat of French music on multiple stages. With free admission, it’s the cheapest trip to France possible.

Opa! Santa Barbara’s Annual Greek Festival has taken place every summer since 1973, celebrating all things Greek with live music, dancing, and plenty of Grecian cuisine. Trade in the Mediterranean for the more easily accessible Pacific and immerse yourself in traditional Greek culture. Browse the Grecian marketplace, enjoy the tunes of authentic Greek musicians, and marvel over elaborate costumes as performers share original dances. Do this all while nibbling on a gyro or baklava—not a bad way to spend the weekend.

Perhaps the most well-known and iconic cultural event in Santa Barbara each year is Old Spanish Days. Every summer, Santa Barbarans are reminded of the city’s history as this five day celebration is impossible to miss. Imagine a festival celebrating the historical influence of the Spanish and Mexican heritage in Santa Barbara dating back to the 1700s. Now throw in a blend of cultural traditions including confetti eggs, equestrian parades, mariachi music, and flamenco dancing and it’s Fiesta (as locals are proud to call it). Originating in 1924, Old Spanish Days has become a much anticipated and lively event, attracting tourists from near and far. During Fiesta, De la Guerra Plaza downtown is transformed into a bustling Mercado where people can munch on Mexican and Spanish foods while shopping for crafts and souvenirs. The scenery matches the merriment, as brightly colored confetti from crushed cascarones litters the streets of downtown Santa Barbara for an entire week. Join in and stand on the sidelines of El Desfile Historico—or the historical parade—one of the largest equestrian parades in North America and a signature event of Fiesta. The horses stomp on for nearly 2 miles, starting along the beach and heading up State Street into the heart of Santa Barbara, ridden by men, women, and children dressed in traditional Spanish and vaquero garb. This is not a celebration to be missed, so plan accordingly.

Tucked into the heart of Santa Barbara wine country lies Solvang, a Danish town with a population of nearly 5,300. Nicknamed “The Danish Capital of America”, Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish teachers. Today, Solvang holds onto its roots with Danish Days, one of the oldest and biggest celebrations in this picturesque town. The festival started in 1936 and takes place over three days every summer, celebrating the Scandinavian heritage of Solvang with traditional dress, cuisine, and festivities. Indulge in the annual aebleskiver eating contest, or simply stroll along the cobblestone walkways, past windmills and horse-drawn carriages, and imagine you are actually in Europe. Viking re-enactment groups, folk dancing, parades, and wood carving demonstrations are sure to create an unforgettable weekend.

Artsy Ambition

For an art fix, consider visiting Santa Barbara during Memorial Day weekend, when the I Madonnari Festival takes place each year. Invited artists travel to Santa Barbara from around the world to show off their skills, participating in the rendering of 200 large-scale images on the Old Mission plaza’s pavement. The Santa Barbara shindig actually mimics the original street art festival held each year in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy—as street art is an ancient Italian tradition. Enjoy free evening concerts, authentic Italian cuisine, and beautiful art. An estimated 25,000 people admire the artists’ work as they continue to draw throughout the three day festival, until their paintings are finished and the streets are transported back to the Renaissance Period.

With its close proximity to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara serves as an escape for Hollywood types in the film industry. However, the hype of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival reaches far—to industry professionals, students, celebrities, and fans from all over the world. These film fanatics flock to Santa Barbara each winter with one passion in common. Taking place during an ideal time slot between Sundance and the Academy Awards, the eleven day festival utilizes all Santa Barbara cinema has to offer with events and film screenings held in the historic and beautiful theaters up and down State Street. Downtown becomes a mecca for the creative minds of the film industry, drawing in 75,000 eager cinephiles to attend the festival.

Coinciding with the Film Festival each year, Film Feast ensures there will be plenty of good eats for all in between film festival happenings. Local restaurants offer prix fixe menus that are guaranteed to please an array of palates over eleven days of festival fun.

Food & Wine Events

The secret’s been out for a while—Santa Barbara is a foodie’s paradise, and there is no shortage of fun and delicious events to prove it. Each October, celebrates the culture, cuisine, and libations of Santa Barbara with an entire month of offerings by local businesses. Collaboration among businesses is key to offer something unique and special—for example, a kayak tour and lobster dinner combo. Foodie events, craft cocktails, and tastings are just a few of the events to expect when rolls around.

Speaking of celebrating cuisine, two legendary Santa Barbara County fruits, the lemon and the avocado, have their own festival each fall. Due to the agreeable year-round climate of the Central Coast, vegetation is able to thrive and deserves some recognition. Coinciding with, these fruitful festivities and other appetizing festivals are sure to delight.

The California Lemon Festival has been taking place in Goleta since 1991. The festival is family fun at its finest, with arts and crafts vendors, lemon-related treats, a classic car show, and amusement park rides. These are just a few of the many activities planned to pay tribute to the iconic Goleta lemon—which became popular in Goleta Valley in the 1890s when lemon orchards started to flourish there.

Shortly after the Lemon Festival it’s time for the California Avocado Festival. The Avo Fest has been lining the streets of downtown Carpinteria each fall since 1986 with live music, family fun, and plenty of avocados as over 100,000 festival goers attend. As Santa Barbara County is the third largest avocado producer in North America, it’s only natural that Carpinteria hosts a festival in its honor. Local vendors and avocado farmers set up booths with their products for three days of peace, love and guacamole. The competition heats up, however, for the annual contests, when last year’s winners strive to maintain their throne for the best guacamole and the biggest avocados around. Some of the more exotic vendor offerings at the festival include avocado ice cream, avocado beer, and avocado bath products, sold alongside expected items like the classic chips and guacamole.

If seafood is your forte, check out the Santa Barbara Harbor in the fall. The Santa Barbara Harbor and Seafood Festival features only the freshest local catch from commercial fisherman of the Santa Barbara Channel. What started out as the Annual Fishermen’s Festival with a simple boat parade has now shifted into a more complex and signature Santa Barbara event. Ocean-related businesses share their knowledge on local ocean resources, touch tanks give the opportunity to embrace the creatures of the ocean (literally), and seafood and arts and crafts vendors ensure there is plenty to eat and do. As the event always coincides with lobster season, expect an ample lobster supply—but come early, before the crowds swoop up the good stuff! Taste some renowned Santa Barbara Uni, fresh crab, or barbequed albacore, before hopping on a free boat ride around the Harbor. As one of the most unique yet fitting festivals of Santa Barbara, the Harbor and Seafood Festival does not disappoint.

Celebration of Harvest is an event put on by the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association (SBCVA) in the fall. Quite literally, the four day celebration pays tribute to the harvest of the year’s bounty. Winemakers share their harvest season experiences and pour their wines for tastings over four days of merriment in the Santa Ynez Valley. Throughout the weekend wineries hold their own events—ranging from winemaker dinners to barrel tastings. The Celebration of Harvest Festival is the highlight of the weekend, featuring all of the SBCVA winery members in one spot for an all-inclusive wine country tasting experience.

Each spring, the SBCVA throws a three day bash that is unrivaled in wine country—appropriately named theVintners’ Festival. With over one hundred winery members, the diversity of wines poured during the event (often by the winemakers themselves) is almost overwhelming. Combine limitless wine tasting options and live music with delicious food from local restaurants, gourmet caterers, and independent chefs, and it has all of the components needed to be fantastic spring weekend set in the beautiful scenery that is Santa Barbara wine country.

Earth Conscious Commemorations

Many people are unaware that Earth Day as we know it started following the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, the largest oil spill at that time in US history. The tragic images of the spill caught the nation’s attention and propelled Senator Gaylord Nelson to visit Santa Barbara shortly after. In 1970, he founded the first Earth Day. Celebrated over two days in Santa Barbara each April, Earth Day is aimed at recognizing environmentally-friendly lifestyle choices. It features an eco-marketplace filled with green products, a green car show, local organic food vendors, and encourages fitness-related activities. Carpooling, walking, or biking to the festival is advised as this is a carbon-free event. In fact, the electricity used to power the event comes from the sun and biodiesel.

The summer solstice is a natural phenomenon that occurs each year when the tilt of the
Earth’s axis is most inclined toward the sun, marking the onset of summer with the longest day of the year. The Summer Solstice Celebration in Santa Barbara recognizes this start to summer with one of the biggest and most colorful parades and festivals. The streets of Santa Barbara are transformed into a kaleidoscopic playground for three days of celebrating the bizarre, the eccentric, and the outlandish. Glitter, feathers, and face paint are guaranteed to make an appearance. Giant animal floats, tribal attire, and puppets are also a safe bet. To gather inspiration, a workshop is opened each summer prior to the event to encourage people to work together to make creative floats, exotic costumes, and choreograph performances for the parade. Imagination and team work is encouraged—and the end result is nothing short of mesmerizing.

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