Top 10 Signature Events

Santa Barbara might be known as "The American Riviera" but the nicknames "Celebration Capital" and "Festival Central" would also suit us quite well. Santa Barbarans specialize in celebrations, festivals and all things fun. Give us a cause-Earth Day, local bounty, cultural heritage-and we'll throw a memorable party. Here's a top 10 list of our community's most iconic signature events, all well-worth planning a trip around.

1. Witness Santa Barbara revert back to its Spanish roots for five consecutive, action-packed and food-filled days during Old Spanish Days Fiesta-Santa Barbara's version of Mardi Gras held every August. Thousands of revelers pack the plazas, parks and streets to celebrate. Generations of Santa Barbarans set out blankets on the courthouse lawn, proudly watching ancestors (whose pedigrees often date back to the historic Spanish and Mexican eras) dance on the moonlit steps during Noches de Ronda. This legendary fiesta also draws thousands of celebrators to the streets to observe El Desfile Historico, one of the world's largest equestrian parades.

2. Experience the magical spectacle of more than a thousand costumed participants dance, drum and twirl up State Street to Alameda Park during the wacky, whimsical Summer Solstice Parade. The mid-June parade is the largest, single-day arts event in Santa Barbara, drawing crowds of over 100,000 spectators from around the world.

3. Remember drawing on the sidewalk with chalk during your childhood? Multiply that by more than 400 artists and you've got the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival held Memorial Day Weekend. Hundreds of youth and adult artists transform the Old Mission plaza into a beautiful patchwork of 200 chalk paintings.

4. If you fancy cinema and love to party, walk the red carpet at the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival held in late January/early February. Spanning 11 days and screening hundreds of films, this world-renowned festival has attracted Hollywood superstars such as Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and Will Smith.

5. Sip and savor world-class pinot noirs and chardonnays in a simple, down home atmosphere at the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival. This much anticipated event attracts wine lovers from near and far for an opportunity to meet local vintners, taste their wines and enjoy great food and music over a long spring weekend in April.

6. Often considered the birthplace of the modern environmental movement, Santa Barbara's green roots run deep, especially at the city's nationally acclaimed Earth Day Festival hosted by the Community Environmental Council. From a cutting-edge green car show to over 200 exhibitors, Santa Barbara's Earth Day Festival draws thousands of eco-minded greenies from across the South Coast every April.

7. Feast on scrumptious crepes while Can Can dancers kick up their heels at the wildly popular French Festival each July, which attracts more than 20,000 Francophiles to Oak Park the weekend closest to Bastille Day. It's the largest French fest west of the Mississippi.

8. Join downtown denizens and celebrate the arts on each month's 1st Thursday, when galleries stay open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the streets turn into outdoor stages for various performing groups.

9. Revel in Santa Barbara's abundant and diverse cuisine and libation offerings during, a 31-day, community-wide culinary extravaganza that features food and drink festivals, cooking classes, winemaker dinners, seasonal menus, book signings and epicurean-inspired art exhibits. This lively celebration offers a profusion of tasty opportunities to enjoy the region's delicacies, including the California Avocado Festival, Harbor & Seafood Festival, Beer Festival and California Lemon Festival.

10. Just in time for spring, Santa Barbara International Orchid Show & Festival displays hundreds of gorgeous flowers and blooming orchid plants from all over the world. Building a reputation over 65 years, this event is now considered the premier orchid show in the country.

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