Heading to Santa Barbara for the holidays? Lucky you! This coastal California beach town gets extra festive during the winter season with parades, live performances and much, much more.
If you’re looking for lights, you can book a ride on the Santa Barbara Trolley of Lights to scope out the best houses around town. Or you can plan a DIY tour and drive yourself. Don’t miss The Miracle on East Quinientos Street. This private residence is so bright that you might want to bring sunglasses!
Are you a theater fan? You can catch the Nutcracker Ballet at either the Granada Theatre or the Arlington Theatre. Both of these historic venues are stunning, and there are dozens of mouthwatering restaurants nearby. Rather go shopping? Check out the dozens of pop-up markets featuring local makers that appear on the weekends.
For family fun, look no further than the ice rink in Goleta. Ice in Paradise is an indoor rink with a casual restaurant onsite. It’s a good place to take a lesson, catch a hockey game or even see a holiday ice show.
This list of the 10 best holiday attractions in Santa Barbara can help you get any Scrooge in the Christmas spirit. So get out those jingle bells and get going!
Architecture enthusiasts should visit the Casa when it’s all dressed up for the festive season. Visitors are invited to enjoy a cup of hot spiced cider as they tour the gardens and have a glimpse of how a Montecito Christmas in the 1930’s might have looked. Painstakingly conceived, built and furnished, the estate was designed by George Washington Smith. It is a stunning Moorish and Mediterranean unification of art, gardens and space. Boasting European treasures, intricate tilework and one-of-a-kind metalwork, Casa del Herrero (“house of the blacksmith”) pays tribute to its owners’ machinery industry. A small number of December dates are allotted for visitors wishing to see the home decked out in its holiday splendor. Reservations must be made in advance.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Visit this historic home for a glimpse of how a Montecito Christmas in the 1930’s might have looked.
Geneva’s expert tip: This is a great holiday destination for visitors interested in interior or landscape design. Reservations recommended, especially during December.
Don’t miss the annual La Arcada Christmas Walk! Enjoy strolling carolers, freshly popped popcorn and a visit from Santa at this quaint, character-filled shopping venue that’s as good for relaxing as it is for shopping. Marked by a multi-faced, chiming clock, the entrance leads to a variety of shops, restaurants and art galleries. If the folks accompanying you don’t want to browse the shops, they can admire La Arcada’s landscaping, fountains and many statues. Plus there are plenty of benches where you (and they) can catch your breath before moving on. And did we mention the turtle pond? Yes, there’s a turtle pond. Located in the heart of downtown, this is one Christmas shopping destination you don’t want to miss.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This fun night of caroling and snacks is a Santa Barbara tradition. Plan to do a little Christmas shopping while you’re enjoying the festivities.
Geneva’s expert tip: The date of the La Arcada Christmas Walk changes every year, so be sure to look it up before you go. It is currently scheduled for December 4, 2019.
Nothing says Santa Barbara like, surf, sun and… ice skating?!? Yep, after years of waiting, Santa Barbara has it’s very own ice rink for sport and leisure. And wouldn’t you know it â” they put on an awesome holiday ice skating show every December. Head out to Goleta with the whole family for a little winter fun. It’s also a great place to learn to skate or catch a hockey game. There is a restaurant onsite, so you don’t have to worry if your time on the ice causes you to work up a powerful thirst or ravenous appetite. Lots of free parking right out front. Follow their Facebook page to stay in the know about upcoming events.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Ice skating is a holiday tradition isn’t it? Santa Barbara isn’t much for snow, but we do have our own indoor ice rink!
Geneva’s expert tip: Visit their website to check out the schedule for upcoming hockey games and ice skating shows.
If you want to say hello to Santa and catch a nightly flurry of snowflakes, Paseo Nuevo is your destination this season. Santa’s taken up residence in a charming cottage right in the heart of this outdoor shopping mall. Want your picture taken but hate lines? Visit their website to schedule an appointment. There’s also a giant Christmas tree, weekly live acts and nightly snowfall at 6 and 7 p.m. (Spoiler alert: it’s very magical, but it’s not actual snow.) While you’re there, satisfy your gift-giving needs for the whole family. You can find shoes for Mom, gadgets for Dad, toys for the kids and pick up a little something for yourself while you’re at it.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For holiday retail therapy, nothing tops the festive atmosphere of Paseo Nuevo. There’s even a nightly “snowfall” at 6 and 7 p.m.
Geneva’s expert tip: Don’t miss the family friendly silent disco party on Dec. 5, 2019, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Headphones will be provided, and ugly sweaters are encouraged.
Catch the Nutcracker Ballet at the Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara’s most splendid and impressive performing arts venue, boasting over 1,500 seats, multiple patron lounges and a custom orchestra shell. Originally built in 1924, the theater underwent a dramatic restoration and re-opened in 2008. A vibrant mural decorates the proscenium arch, seats have been refreshed with improved sightlines, and the original chandelier is sparkling once again in its place of honor. Nationally recognized ballet troupes perform here regularly, as well as famous comedians, legendary musicians and inspiring lecturers. Visit their website for a list of upcoming shows and holiday events. Located near many of Santa Barbara’s best restaurants, so plan on dinner and a show!
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This holiday family favorite performed by the State Street Ballet is set to the music of Tchaikovsky and staged against opulent sets.
Geneva’s expert tip: Pop into the cozy cocktail bar right next door for a festive cocktail before or after the show.
LOS OLIVOS OLDE FASHIONED CHRISTMAS
Enjoy a festive day in this charming wine community just north of Santa Barbara. A short drive brings you to a busy main street lined with shops, wine tasting rooms and restaurants. Los Olivos celebrates on Olde Fashioned Christmas every year, often on the first Saturday of December. This year, it falls on December 7, 2019. Enjoy an artisan boutique and open houses as well as crafts and train rides for the kids. Holiday treats and carolers make the afternoon extra cheery and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Santa is the special guest. The event is capped off by the official tree lighting by the flagpole at the center of town with live music in the park nearby.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This event makes for a fun day trip for the whole family, with shopping, treats and activities for the kiddos.
Geneva’s expert tip: Go early to find parking or you might have to walk a couple of blocks.
SANTA BARBARA TROLLEY
Explore the best Christmas light displays in Santa Barbara during this jolly, open-aired trolley tour. A caravan of lighted trolleys take groups around town after dark for a 90-minute ride. Hot cider is sipped, carols are sung, neighbors come out and say hello… it’s all very magical. The open sides of the trolleys allow you to easily capture your favorite moments on camera. The one drawback is that this tour always sells out â” usually in October. So book early if you think you even kind of, might possibly want to go. Santa Barbara Trolley cars also operate during the days for classic town tours and can be chartered for private parties, weddings and wine tasting tours.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This open-aired trolley tour (complete with hot cider) is the best way to see local Christmas light displays.
Geneva’s expert tip: Book early! This 90-minute tour takes you to see the best Christmas light displays, but it sells out quickly every year.
THE MIRACLE ON EAST QUINIENTOS STREET
For the best Christmas lights in Santa Barbara, look no further than this house on the East Side. Local man Peter Estrada layers on the twinkles at this private residence that draws a crowd from far and wide. We feel sorry for the other homes in the neighborhood; even if they put forth a solid effort, it’s pretty much impossible to compete with this fantasy display that you may be able to see from space (slight exaggeration). There are lots of tasty Mexican restaurants in the area, so plan on a dinner outing and consider bringing some cash for La Super-Rica, a legendary local taqueria.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This private home has the biggest and best display of lights in Santa Barbara.
Geneva’s expert tip: Go around dinner time and bring cash so you can visit the legendary La Super-Rica after you get your fill of lights.
What could be more magical than a twinkling, sparkling holiday parade just a few blocks from the beach? Head to downtown Santa Barbara during the week after Thanksgiving to catch this festive parade on Friday night. Beautifully lit floats and graceful dancers stroll the blocks after dark in the only evening street parade of the year. For more than 65 years, this parade has welcomed the Christmas season in Santa Barbara. As the floats glide toward the downtown Christmas tree, Santa Claus himself brings up the rear. Get ready to cheer on a colossal contingent of high-stepping marching bands, fabulous holiday floats, spectacular performance groups and local personalities.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Don’t miss this Christmas parade! It’s the perfect amount of Friday evening fun for the whole family.
Geneva’s expert tip: Plan ahead and make dinner reservations at a State Street restaurant with a patio for the best view of the parade.
SANTA BARBARA PARADE OF LIGHTS
What’s better than a parade? A boat parade! And what’s better than a boat parade? A boat parade with lights and fireworks! The annual Santa Barbara Parade of Lights happens December 8, 2019. It boasts all of this and more. Join the locals for this Santa Barbara holiday tradition along the coastline. The boat parade is preceded by Santa’s Village activity on the City Pier in the Harbor, starting around 3 p.m. At 5:30 p.m., the annual boat parade begins as dozens of boats motor, sail and paddle along the Santa Barbara coastline and compete to win prizes. Admission is free. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars on both the pier and the harbor where you can relax and enjoy the view.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: How many places have a Christmas boat parade? It’s so lovely seeing all the festive lights reflected in the water.
Geneva’s expert tip: Bring a blanket, pack a picnic and hit the beach for a romantic date night that doesn’t cost a fortune.
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