Celebración!! Let’s Throw a Fiesta!!


Celebración!!! The Santa Barbara way.   Time to break out the confetti eggs and Puebla dresses.  Old Spanish Days Fiesta is right around the corner.

Zermeno Dance Academy

Zermeno Dance Academy, Company Dancers, 2014. P/C: Sarah Villalobos

What is Old Spanish Days Fiesta?

Old Spanish Days Fiesta, commonly referred to as Fiesta, is a weeklong celebration of our Spanish heritage.  Begun in 1924, the councilmembers wanted a way to celebrate the heritage of the town.  It mixes in the Mexican and other Latino as well but the entertainment is more Spanish based.  Downtown State Street becomes street vendor central with fans, confetti eggs, flowers, balloons, and everything in between.  Bars decorate with bright colors and host more music and brews than necessary to survive.  It is really a party to behold with something for everyone.  The year’s theme—Fiesta Romantica—marks the 91st annual festival as a reminder of treasured times.  This year Fiesta will be August 5th-9th.

This past January the Old Spanish Days Foundation had the honor of representing Santa Barbara in the 126th Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.  The entry included a carriage drawn wedding couple on their way to the reception, surrounded by dancers from studios around the town representing the couple’s friends and family.


Old Spanish Days-Fiesta in the 2015 Rose Parade. P/C: Fritz Olenberger

What’s in store for August?

Fiesta officially kicks off at Mission Santa Barbara during the La Fiesta Pequena.  It highlights the hospitality of the Fransiscan monks and allows for a large gathering.  It is here the El Presidente will officially open Fiesta and everyone will be invited to enjoy highlighted dancers, music, and greet the flower girls.

Gracing many stages throughout town will be entertainers and performers of all ages and styles.  Folklorico, Mariachi, and Flamenco are just some of what visitors will be viewing.  Performers come from all around to share their talents and passions in Latino traditions.  They are all certainly a wonder to behold.

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A young dancer shows her Flamenco skills. (2014) P/C: Sarah Villalobos

For the more rowdy crowd, the PBR comes to town!  Watch the cowboys and bull riders show their skills in roping and riding.  The Fiesta Rodeo also opens up, events from team roping to mutton bustin‘!

One of the greatest traditions is the Children’s Parade.  It is held on the event Saturday and thousands of children take to State Street to show off.  The best part of the children’s parade is that it is open to the public for entry and not limited to programs or foundations.  Parents may sign their kids up prior to the parade and walk with them down State Street, waving at all the people gathered down the sides.  It gives everyone a chance to participate in the heritage of the town.

Fiesta 2014

Float Entry in the Children’s Parade, 2014. P/C: Alejandro Navarro

Where are These Events?

Alice Keck Park is home to music and dancing and a slight reprieve from the State Street crowds.  De La Guerra Plaza is filled with a portable stage and vendors sharing food from hotdogs to enchiladas.  El Paseo is a historical plaza and restaurant hosting dancers and stories.  The Paseo Nuevo is easily the most popular as it is the main stage for dancers of all ages.

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Young Flamenco dancers on stage in Paseo Nuevo, Fiesta 2014. P/C: Sarah Villalobos

Mackenzie Park becomes a family-friendly mercado complete with a carnival.  Rides, dancers, and music fill up the grass.  The Courthouse Sunken Gardens plays host to the more formal events- the President’s breakfast and the Flower Girl Tea. As well as dancing at night.  La Cumbre Plaza also joins in for an outdoor stage venue.  The Carriage Museum opens up their doors for longer hours and features their antique carriages of all sorts.  The highlight of this museum are the old Wells Fargo transit carriages.  The PBR and Fiesta Rodeo are hosted at the Earl Warren Showgrounds and are truly a spectacle to see.

What is the Dancing all about?

The features of this celebration are the dancers.  People from all over come to watch family members put their best feet forward in the Flamenco and Folklorico shows.  With dancers from over 10 studios all around the cities, there is plenty of talent to behold.  There are also entertainers travelling from across the nation and Mexico to perform for the thousands of guests that flock to Santa Barbara.  There have been performers of all genres and across history grace the stages of Old Spanish Days.  The most famous of these include Leo Carrillo, Shirley Temple, Doris Del Rio, Will Rogers, Don Wilson, and of course the past and present Spirit and Junior Spirit dancers.

Spirit of Fiesta 2015

Lei’ana meets the 2015 Spirit of Fiesta, Alexandra Freres. P/C: Sarah Villalobos

The ultimate goal for any who have a heart in dancing is to be selected as either the Junior Spirit or Spirit of Fiesta.  These are the Miss California of Fiesta.  Dancers show off their skills in flamenco or folklorico in hopes of being crowned as the one who exemplifies what Fiesta is all about.  These dancers practice for hours a day, nursing blisters and bruises, for months just to perfect their routines.  This tradition began in 1949 and has flourished many hearts of dancers.  The auditions are held prior to Fiesta and the dancers are then included in all pre-Fiesta events and Fiesta events.  The next year the winners graciously hand over their crowns to the next winners.

2014 Junior Spirit

2014 Junior Spirit of Fiesta Natalie Mowers with some young dancers. P/C: Sarah Villalobos

Pre-Fiesta Events

The Fiesta events begin with the Spirit auditions.  The next pre-event is the La Primavera.  It is the luncheon to officially announce the theme, the advertising poster, and introduce the Spirit and Junior Spirit.  For those who want to feel a part of the celebration, the annual costume sale is a must.  It showcases fancy and daily-wear for everyone.

For a complete list of events and maps, visit the Old Spanish Days website.

Come out and support the dancers and enjoy the heritage of this beautiful city.

Children's Parade 2014

A dance studio cruises down the parade route during the 2014 Fiesta Children’s Parade. P/C: Alejandro Navarro



About Author

Sarah Villalobos

Sarah transplanted to Santa Barbara from the Mojave Desert. She spends her spare time with her daughter in all the fun ways. Random historical facts and sharing those with people bring her joy. Her passions are her daughter, swimming, sharks, tattoos, movies, and reading.

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