Santa Barbara Christmas Parade: The Parade of Light

The Santa Barbara Parade of Light, Santa Barbara’s Christmas Parade

Ninety miles north of Los Angeles  along US Hwy 101 is a Spanish styled jewel often referred to as The American Riviera. Santa Barbara is old enough to have been have been a major settlement of the Chumash Indians and later a Mission and Presidio of  the Spaniards, long before today’s fishing fleet dropped nets off Santa Barbara’s still unspoiled beaches. Around Christmastime however that fleet takes center stage in the 26th annual Parade of Lights Santa Barbara.

What is the Santa Barbara Parade of Light?

Santa Barbara’s Christmas Parade turns these working boats into floating Christmas trees and parades them past the throngs from near and far that come out on a typically beautiful Santa Barbara evening to watch the spectacle from Stearn’s Wharf, East Beach as well as the breakwater. This December 11th, Sunday, the place to be is Stearn’s Wharf, the breakwater, or pretty much anywhere on the shoreline in Santa Barbara as the Christmas lights float by.

Santa Barbara’s Parade of Lights has long been a tradition to the locals, Los Angelians up for the weekend, and others taking advantage of the abundance of hotels during the off-season. Christmastime in Santa Barbara is devoid of snow and generally quite nice, weather and otherwise. The Santa Barbara Christmas Parade is great way to end a day of shopping on State Street, dining, or exploring the Santa Barbara Mission.

The Festivities begin in the afternoon with events for the kids, tons of snow will be hauled in to make up Santa’s Village, and fireworks will follow the 35-50 boats that are the main event of the Parade of Lights Santa Barbara.

With a quick walk down State Street and under hwy 101, past the restaurants and many bars – yes, there are four major colleges here – and you run into the dolphin statue fountain, and the mouth of Stearns Wharf, probably the best place to view the Parade of Lights Santa Barbara. From the wharf spectators will see the boats from the fishing fleet lit up and cruising by along with pleasure craft, some of which quite expensive looking, but all having in common strings of lights and a definite Christmas theme.

And as the boats make their way back into the harbor, like icing on the cake come the fireworks, capping a wonderful Santa Barbara Christmas Parade on the waterfront.

What else is there to do in Santa Barbara?

For most the evening doesn’t end there, just up from the beach and all along State Street are some of the finest restaurants in the country, not to mention nightlife for any taste. And in the harbor itself sporadic parties on the decorated boats tend to spring up. But you’ll need a key to get in, or an invite from a boat owner. Either way this is an occasion that should call for at least a weekend. The beauty of Santa Barbara – museums, people watching, beaches, and strolls downtown as well as places like the Mission de Santa Barbara Rose Garden call for at least a weekend. Remember it is all capped with the Parade of Lights Santa Barbara on Sunday, December 11th.

Where to stay in Santa Barbara?

Off season Christmas travel to Santa Barbara is ideal in terms of vacancies and room rates. A suggestion:

  • Four Seasons Santa Barbara: You know you can’t go wrong with a four seasons, and you can usually grab a great deal on your stay here.

If Christmastime travel is your thing, after you have seen Disneyland, the La Brea Tar pits, and Hollywood; head north on the 101 to the place Los Angeles escapes to, Santa Barbara.

Photos by Joe Stein, Jorge Lascar,   DieselDemon