Santa Barbara’s Solstice Lens
Looking Back at Nearly Two Decades of Summer Solstice Festivals
Images and words by Paul Wellman | Published June 20
The longest day of the year always inspires Santa Barbara’s most colorful party. The annual Summer Solstice Parade on State Street and festival at Alameda Park rely on scores of artists, who work hundreds of hours on dozens of floats that entertain the thousands of spectators arriving from near and far for the spectacle. Streets are closed, blankets and lawn chairs mark territories along the route, bodies are painted, confetti flies, and the impacts from too much or too little sunscreen and margaritas will be on display this weekend.
This seasonal institution is a most-anything-goes talent show combing art and architecture on wheels and feet with costumes and music generating laughter, awe, curiosity, and dancing, of course.
At high noon on Saturday, June 22, the handmade, people-powered creations, large and small, will make their way up 10 blocks up State Street without motors or written messages. The floats hang a right at Micheltorena Street and pull over at Alameda Park, where the party will have started the night before and will continue through Sunday. There will bands onstage, food and vendors’ booths, a drum circle, and copious amounts of shade for those done with literal sun worship.
This year’s Solstice parade theme is “Wonder” and marks year number 45 for what started as Michael Gonzales’s birthday celebration in 1974. The annual event blossomed with the help of the Summer Solstice Music Festival and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to become a three-day event that is famed beyond our region.
I’ve photographed the event and its workshop more than a dozen times over the past two decades, and I am sharing some of my favorite photographs from over the years here. Despite having so many parades under my belt, I’m still impressed to see the imagination that comes to life through wood, canvas, paint, coaxial cable, papier-mâché, and countless other repurposed items that become the parade stars talked about for years afterward.
So grab a hat, dress colorfully, and snag a spot in front. Though it’s the longest day of the year, the parade and party always seem too short.
4•1•1 | The 45th Annual Summer Solstice Celebration takes place Friday-Sunday, June 21-23, with an opening ceremony Friday, 4-9 p.m., at Alameda Park (1400 Santa Barbara St.); a parade down State Street on Saturday at noon; and a festival at Alameda Park on Saturday, noon-8 p.m., and Sunday, noon-6 p.m. Call 965-3396 or visit solsticeparade.com.