1. Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Santa Barbara International Film Festival (or SBIFF) is an educational, non-profit arts organization that features 200+ of the best international and independent films of the year. Stretched over a lengthy 11 days in late January/early February, SBIFF transforms Santa Barbara into a sea of film-lovers and curious travelers for one of our favorite yearly Santa Barbara events.
Each year, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival begins with the Opening Night Film and Gala at the historic Arlington Theatre. This stunningly beautiful film-themed gala revolves around extravagant food, drinks, dancing and live entertainment.
Celebrity Tributes are also a part of the SBIFF festivities, allowing fans to gather in the streets to watch celebrity honorees walk the red carpet. Over 2000 guests are privy to an hour and a half of discussion, featuring clips and montages of the honoree’s work. Awards range from the “Virtuosos Award,” given to up-and-coming actors, to the “Outstanding Performance of the Year Award.”
Traveling on a budget? On the Friday, Saturday and Sunday following the SBIFF, a number of the most popular films are screened for the public, free of charge at the Riviera Theater.
2. Summer Solstice Festival
The Summer Solstice Festival is the most fabulous of Santa Barbara events. It is an extravagant three-day festival in mid June, equipped with multiple live performers and a dazzlingly colorful parade. A theme is chosen for the parade every year (this year it’s Sci-Fi), and it can draw crowds of over 100,000 on any given year.
The sheer spectacle of the Summer Solstice Festival makes this series of Santa Barbara events worth attending, as the participants of the festival are equipped with hula hoops, fire batons, and a variety of other unconventional accessories. Whether you’re in the mood to observe or perform, this eclectic grouping will inevitably provide you with a memorable experience.
3. Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Festival
Taking place at the end of April, this highly anticipated festival showcases over 120 Santa Barbara County wineries as well as an abundance of gourmet food and catering companies. Music, art, and other types of performances are featured in a variety of different settings, and “Vintners’ Visas” may be purchased and used to take part in wine tastings at 12 different wineries.
Vineyard hikes, wine-maker dinners and lunches, a silent auction and winery open houses are available to all festival goers, and the entire area is flooded with guests from all over the world enjoying one the classiest of Santa Barbara events. The sheer scale of the Vintners’ Festival ensures that both the sommelier and the wine novice will enjoy themselves.
4. Old Spanish Days Fiesta
This 90-year-old organization hosts an eight-day festival (or fiesta) in the beginning of August that is known as Santa Barbara’s most historic festival. Built around the desire to preserve Santa Barbara’s history, culture, spirit, traditions and heritage, this fiesta encourages the remembrance of Santa Barbara’s truly unique roots.
The Old Spanish Days Fiesta draws thousands of visitors, both nationally and internationally, and many of the fiesta performers travel from Mexico in order to participate in the festivities. The fiesta is packed with daily activities and events, including La Fiesta del Museo by the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, which treats its guests to dinner and dancing under the night sky.
This legendary fiesta also features one of the world’s largest equestrian parades, El Desfile Historico, drawing thousands of Santa Barbara residents onto the street to celebrate. This year, the theme is “Fiesta Romantica,” which promises to bring a great deal of color, passion, and (quite obviously) romance to the forefront of the Santa Barbara community.
5. French Festival
Celebrating Bastille Day and all things French, The French Festival is a smaller of Santa Barbara events that prides itself on providing phenomenal food, wine, music and dance. Although classic cuisine, such as crepes, sausage and escargot are the typical crowd favorites, the fusion of Cajun, French and Moroccan food at the French Festival makes one feel as though they have suddenly traveled to France.
All entertainment and entry for the French Festival is free, including admission to the Poodle & Pals Parade, featuring poodles (and regular pups) dressed up in costume and/or decorated. Invite your friends, bring your camera, and vive la France!
6. Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival
This breathtaking festival showcases some of the most talented street artists (or Madonnari) in the world, turning the Mission plaza into an endless tapestry of pastel artwork. Taking place at the end of May, the Street Painting Festival is one of the most charitable Santa Barbara events, benefiting a nonprofit arts education program called the Children’s Creative Project.
The festival is free, although for $150-$700 you can “Sponsor a Square,” and sponsor your favorite street painter in crafting their masterpiece. There is also a live Italian market that is held adjacent to the street painting, providing guests with music, authentic Italian cuisine and specialty items.
7. Earth Day Festival
Santa Barbara conserves more water than any other place in southern California, so it isn’t surprising that they take great pride in their Earth Day Festival. Located in Alameda Park in mid April, this eco-friendly festival provides attendees with a Bike Valet, Eco-Marketplace, Green Car Show, Kids Corner, and EcoHeroes Photo Exhibit, to name a few.
Booth exhibits play a key role in many Santa Barbara events – educating the public, promoting green business and earth-friendly products – while food vendors serve up organic bites and fresh-caught seafood. Over 200 exhibitors are placed alongside music, lectures, demonstrations and other events, making the Earth Day Festival as educational as it is entertaining.
8. Santa Barbara International Orchid Show & Festival
Santa Barbara’s International Orchid Show, held in early March, is a staple of Santa Barbara events, taking place for 71 consecutive years. Extraordinary gardeners flock to the massive orchid show, hosting over 50 vendors and exhibitors from the U.S., South America and Asia. Placing emphasis on cultivation, potting practices, hybrids and an orchid themed art show, the Orchid Show & Festival is truly the dream of any plant enthusiast.