15+ Ultimate Things to do at Christmas in Santa Barbara

We’ve compiled a list of Santa Barbara Christmas events. Visitors and locals alike may rest easy with the understanding that there are plenty of activities to both kick-off and celebrate this lively season. From artisan markets to holiday tree-light festivities, there are events to bring joy to those of any age and vocation. 

Always remember to double-check dates, opening times, and weather conditions before traveling.

Christmas in Santa Barbara California

Santa Barbara Guide to christmas events

Early December Events 

Annual Downtown Holiday Parade— (Usually occurs yearly on one day at the beginning of December)

In usual circumstances (pre-Covid-19) more than 65,000 would State Street’s nighttime parade of the year to catch sight of spectacular traditional bands marching in high-step fashion, the holiday floats, and even local personalities, such as the Grand Marshall. A local Holiday Prince and Holiday Fairy are chosen from the cast of spectators to light the way down the road, leading the parade to its final destination. 

*As an alternative to the Annual Downtown Holiday Parade, Santa Barbara has for the time-being decided to celebrate this holiday season with alternative smaller events, such as tree-lighting festivities, outdoor markets, and community performances.*

1st Thursday Art Walk 

On the first Thursday of every month, Santa Barbara’s streets are luminous and vibrant with the bustle of vendors selling their wares. Especially during the holiday season, this is quite the sight to see. Those perusing the outstanding demonstrations may also sip on wine as they stroll through. Art galleries and boutiques that were formerly closed are also now open for public viewing. 

Folk and Tribal Arts Marketplace—(For three days in the very beginning of December) 

It may be hard to fathom, but for over 35 years Santa Barbara’s Folk and Tribal Arts Marketplace has been an annual exhibit. Importing goods from all over the globe, this hub is a spectacle of global decor such as- intricately woven baskets, classic pottery, and hand-crafted jewelry and artwork. 

Events in Mid to Late December

Milpas Holiday Parade (Occurs usually some time between December 9th-20th)

Milpas Street becomes a wonderland of light shows, musical performances, and holiday floats amongst its comfortably situated guests. 

The Parade of Lights *(Occurs usually for a day some time between December 9th-20th and is subject to change)*

As December steps into midswing, the annual Parade of Lights kicks off. Festivities begin early in the day, heralding the beginning of the real Christmas season. Every year there is a different theme for this event, which is hosted on the waterfront of City Pier in Santa Barbara Harbor. A holiday tree-light ceremony is often held. 

The Parade of Lights Cruise

Over thirty boats can be sighted along the illustrious, azure coastline of Santa Barbara. Some will be motor boats. Some will be sail boats. Some may even simply be kayaks. This is one of the most picturesque things to check in Santa Barbara during Christmas.

Write a Letter to Santa

Running until Christmas Eve, everyday from 11 am to 7 pm, kids can write their letter to Santa with their Christmas wishes, but also draw and get creative at the Center Court at Paseo Nuevo Shops & Restaurants. Kids will be super happy to know that the crayons that are for them to keep… and expect a postcard reply for Santa himself! Discover more about the Letter to Santa Creation Station.

Festivities on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day 

High-Class Christmas Meals

There are several restaurants that occasionally offer incredible Christmas Eve and Christmas Day specials well-crafted for the occasion. We’ll name a few of the culinary masters: Christmas at Caruso’s, Christmas at the Revere Room, and even El Encando, A Belmond Hotel. 

Another incredible offering is Christmas Eve and Day at Angel Oak. There are some unbelievable Christmas offerings on The Bluff of Ritz-Carlton, Bacara, Santa Barbara. 

Events Occurring Throughout the Entirety of December 

santa barbara Trolley of Lights Tour— (December 4-24)

For ten years and running, Santa Barbara’s Rockstar Trolley has hosted the Trolley of Lights Tour. Take a tour through various neighborhoods in Santa Barbara to see the glittering displays of Christmas lights that will help to ring in the holiday cheer. 

State Street Promenade Market — Every Thursday of the season

The 1000 block of State Street between Carillo and Figueroa has been transformed into the ultimate market experience. Walk along where artisan vendors have displays of delectable samples of tastings, wine, and even light installations. 

Santa Sightings

Taking photos with Santa is a classic holiday activity, it’s not only fun, but the photographs will actually be cherished for years to come. 

You may come across Santa Claus himself in a myriad of locations across the city. A few notable spots from the past include: the very festive Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center, where pet dogs are allowed, La Cumbre Plaza (across from Chicos), and even during the State Street Tree-Lighting Ceremony. 

Solvang Julefest

Taking place in Solvang, California (noted by Oprah as one of the most ‘Christmas-y towns in the US) throughout most of December, Solvang Julefest truly seeks to embody all that is holiday cheer. With scenes best encapsulated by the words “hygge”, “holiday”, and “dog and kid friendly”, This festival is perfect for the whole family. This incredibly walkable town is located in Santa Yvez Valley wine country and will be decorated with lit-up displays, live ballerinas around the Solvang Christmas Tree, and even real carolers. 

A new, now annual feature of the Solvang Julefest is the hunt for the Solvang Nisse (the Christmas elves), which is conducted and moderated via the participant’s  (‘hunters’) scanning of QR codes.

Those in attendance may catch whiffs or even purchase foreign and locally-sourced spice blends, cheeses, and coffee.

The Yes-Store

With an over 50 year long history of appearing on the front-line of Santa Barbara’s highly-active Christmas season, the Yes-Store is a remarkable pop-up art gift gallery. Carpenters and woodworkers, ceramic, fine glass art, jewelry makers, and more will more than share their services. Up and coming artists will debut their wares, sitting conveniently within proximity to those who have a long-time history of returning again and again to this marvelous pop-up scene. 

Additional Ideas for the Holiday Season

Visit the Zoo

Santa Barbara’s Zoo has a tendency to join in with holiday-related enthusiasm. 

Check out Some of the Holiday Performances

There will be plenty of incredible visions of mistletoe and other forms of holiday cheer dancing right before your eyes. Holiday musical performances, theatrical debuts, and high-intensity groups of dancers will delight with traditional songs and themes of merriment. 

Christmas Pub Crawls

It doesn’t matter what time of month it is, you can bounce from bar to bar to get the most out of Santa Barbara’s holiday drink specials, which will be an experience for the books. 

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