Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

2559 Puesta del Sol; 682-4711;

“As the oldest museum in Santa Barbara, we’ve been a community treasure for a long time, but some of our spaces were getting a bit outdated,” said Luke J. Swetland, president and CEO. “As part of our Centennial Campaign in 2016, we fundraised over $21 million for extensive renovations to improve accessibility, energy efficiency, update our beloved mammal and bird halls and museum backyard, build a permanent butterfly pavilion, and create our new Santa Barbara Gallery focused on the region’s climate and biodiversity. Being back on top of the public’s mind and in the community’s heart is a true honor.”
Runner-Up: MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation

Dance Club College Night

Wildcat Lounge

15 W. Ortega St.; 962-7970;

This quirky kitty is a perennial favorite with revelers of all ages. When the dancing spirit moves you, there is no better place in town to find your own beat than the Wildcat. “This award means a lot to our business. We don’t lobby for it at all; I think that makes it even more special,” said Bob Stout, who owns the business with his wife, Dawn Stout. As for funny stories, “I’d have to go with an April Fool’s trick our 6’4” bar manager, Shaun, played on our bookkeeper, who was upstairs working away. Shaun somehow fit himself into an empty, unplugged ice machine and called the bookkeeper, asking him to check on the ice machine. We should post the video shot from inside the ice bin. It’s pretty funny.”
Runner-Up (Dance Club): SOhO Restaurant & Music Club
Runner-Up (College Night): Baja Sharkeez

Place to Hear Live Music

Santa Barbara Bowl

1122 N. Milpas St; 962-7411;

A killer spot to hear big-name talent in an intimate setting, it’s no wonder that Santa Barbara Bowl is our readers’ choice for best place to hear live music, year after year. “The Bowl is the community ​— ​and is what it is today because of Santa Barbarans and their support throughout the years,” said Rick Boller, executive director of Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation. “We are thankful for our loyal supporters and remain committed to bringing unique and memorable music experiences to everyone. The vote is not only for the music, the setting, and the vibe, but it also recognizes the volunteers, contractors, and employees who make it all happen ​— ​and share the love and passion for the Bowl with Santa Barbarans.”
Runner-Up: SOhO Restaurant & Music Club


Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery

11 E. Anapamu St.; 730-1460;

“Getting this award helps us know that our efforts are resonating with people and that they enjoy their experience here,” said Nathan Vonk, owner of Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery, which has an inventory of more than 3,000 paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, and sculptures, including beloved local artists such as Hank Pitcher, Phoebe Brunner, Meredith Brooks Abbott, and Lockwood de Forest, among others. Vonk’s favorite part of having an art gallery in Santa Barbara is “Having such a wonderful, tight-knit community of art lovers that support our program,” and being called the best “means that we’re doing something that our audience appreciates, and that means the world to us.”
Runner-Up: 10 West

Beach Place to Watch the Sunset Dog Park

Hendry’s Beach (Arroyo Burro Beach)

2981 Cliff Dr.;

You can tell someone’s a long, long, longtime resident when they call Hendry’s Beach “The Pit,” a 1970s-era nickname for what is now the home to upscale amenities such as the Boathouse Restaurant and a parking-lot dog washing station. “When we were teenage surf kids, we had a phrase, ‘All roads lead to the pit,’ which we thought was very clever in our own little arrogance-of-youth way. But it turns out we were kinda right,” said Spencer Barnitz, a k a Spencer the Gardener, whose sun-kissed, Latin-tinged, genre-defying surf mariachi pop tunes are often fueled by those youthful, sandy adventures. All roads do indeed lead to the pit ​— ​including Indy readers’ votes for Best Beach, Best Place to Watch the Sunset, and Best Dog Park. Best of all, the waves are still crashing and the parking is still free.
Runner-Up (Beach, Place to Watch the Sunset): Butterfly Beach
Runner-Up (Dog Park): Douglas Family Preserve

Dance Studio Dance Company

Santa Barbara Dance Arts

531 E. Cota St.; 966-5299;

“Santa Barbara is different than other communities, specifically for dance. There is a value in balance for our kids, and I love that our families support our fair process that goes against the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality,” said Alana Tillim, director/owner of Santa Barbara Dance Arts. “I also love that I get to help support the next generation of leaders through the arts. We are truly more than a dance studio, and the fact that we get to be a child or teen’s ‘special place’ where they find belonging makes my job the best one in the world. After 22 years, I have alumnae doing incredible things, and they are always grateful for the skills they learned at Dance Arts.”
Runner-Up (Dance Studio): Santa Barbara Festival Ballet
Runner-Up (Dance Company): State Street Ballet

Theater Company

Ensemble Theatre Company

33 W. Victoria St.; 965-5400;

Audiences love the high-quality, adventurous programming presented by Ensemble Theatre Company, now in its 41st season and seventh year at the New Vic in downtown Santa Barbara. “The entire staff and board are dedicated, passionate, and tireless in their pursuit to create quality theater. This award is a gratifying testament to the work they do,” said Jonathan Fox, artistic director. When asked about the funniest thing that’s ever happened during a production, he offered, “Years ago, we did the play Take Me Out, which included a lot of male nudity. After the performance, a woman went up to our box office and said, ‘I’m 84 years old! I loved the nudity; I never get to see it anymore.’”
Runner-Up: PCPA

Classical Ensemble

Santa Barbara Symphony


“Receiving the Best Classical Ensemble award is recognition for the work the symphony does in the community, a reflection of how important the symphony is to our community, and inspiring to us all, as creating powerful musical experiences is core to the Santa Barbara Symphony’s mission,” said Kevin A. Marvin, executive director. “Thank you for the support and love; we can feel it from the stage with every downbeat of every performance. Receiving this award is recognition from our most valuable treasure ​— ​our audience,” added Music & Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti.
Runner-Up: Santa Barbara Strings

Funk Zone Spot

[See Drinking: Beer Selection on Tap]

Restaurant/Bar to Watch Sports

Finney’s Crafthouse

35 State St., Ste. A; 845-3100;

A buzzy, popular spot since it opened on lower State Street in 2018, Finney’s Crafthouse offers an ideal combo platter for sports buffs: a fan-friendly atmosphere, 10 big screens, a casual dining menu, and 30 local craft brews on draft. “Thank you for choosing Finney’s as the locals’ go-to spot to watch sports, eat delicious food, and drink great local beer,” said founder Greg Finefrock (pronounced “Finneyfrock”). “We are proud to win this award, proud to be a part of this amazing community, and proud of our hardworking team.” NFL Football is the most-watched sport at Finney’s, with a special NFL Sunday Brunch menu available through December 29.
Runner-Up: The Garden

Whale-Watching Tour

Condor Express

301 W. Cabrillo Blvd.; 882-0088;

“Our favorite part of our job is meeting new whales, dolphins, and seals,” said Condor Express Marketing Director Richard Slade of the state-of-the-art whale-watching business, which first launched in 1973. The current 75-foot catamaran is an ideal platform for just about any type of ocean outing, including whale watching, island excursions, weddings and receptions, company charters, dinner cruises, and educational and research trips. When asked what he wanted to tell those who voted for the Condor, Slade said simply, “Come aboard.”
Runner-Up: Double Dolphin: Santa Barbara Sailing Center


The James Joyce

513 State St.; 962-2688;

The James Joyce offers live musical entertainment Tuesday through Saturday, but it becomes even more jumping on Sunday and Monday nights, when guests take the stage, stars are born, and the joint converts to a full-on karaoke bar. Indy readers’ best karaoke pick for the second year in a row, this popular downtown Irish bar has been hopping since 1996, with an emphasis on local music ​— ​the website even notes, “We do not book touring bands.” The crowd is a nice mix of locals and tourists who enjoy a convivial atmosphere of music, darts, billiards, pints of Guinness, and complimentary peanuts (leave the shells on the floor).
Runner-Up: Tiburon Tavern

S.B. Tour Company

Land and Sea Tours: Land Shark

99 W. Cabrillo Blvd.; 683-7600;

Locals and visitors alike love to climb aboard the Land Shark amphibious tour vehicle, which offers an amusingly narrated 90-minute land and sea tour. Owner/Captain Andre Manoux said, “Having been born and raised in Santa Barbara, I am so fortunate to be able to have a business here too. Every day, I get the opportunity to see, experience, and share the uniqueness and unparalleled beauty of our city, and I truly appreciate my hometown.” Manoux added that visitors are always curious about celebrities who live in Santa Barbara, so the tour guides often rattle off a list of famous names. “On numerous occasions, we’ve had a celebrity from the list actually be on board with them and say hello to everyone after their name is mentioned.”
Runner-Up: Santa Barbara Adventure Company

Stargazing Spot

Lizard’s Mouth

W. Camino Cielo

“Lizard’s Mouth. It’s Santa Barbara’s top rock, where locals go to enjoy glorious sunsets, and even the name of a beer. The photogenic sandstone outcropping, perched on the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains, is also a great place to go at night to marvel at the moon, the Milky Way, and millions of stars,” said local hiking expert and author John McKinney ( Ironically, though we asked him about night hiking, McKinney is also about to release a new 10-book series about the best area day hikes: HIKE Santa Barbara.
Runner-Up: Camino Cielo

Family Fun Spot Kids’ Summer Camp

Santa Barbara Zoo

500 Niños Dr.; 962-5339;

“I love how dedicated our community is to our animals,” said JJ McLeod, education manager at Santa Barbara Zoo. “Capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, just returned to the zoo after a gap of a few years. When we didn’t have any on view, a kid made a sign that said, ‘I won’t nappy until you bring back our cappys.’” The awards mean a lot to the entire zoo, shares McLeod. “It takes every single department and a lot of planning to execute 10 weeks of summer camp while ensuring every guest and family that visits walks away with a unique experience and has fun! We are here to support our community the best we can, and being recognized as the Best Summer Camp and Best Family Fun spot is an honor.”
Runner-Up (Family Fun Spot): MOXI, The Wolf Museum of
Exploration + Innovation
Runner-Up (Kids’ Summer Camp): Nature Camp @ Santa Barbara
Museum of Natural History

Movie Theater

The Arlington Theatre

1317 State St.; 963-4408;

“I am awestruck every day by the history that this theater holds,” said Karen Killingsworth, general manager of The Arlington Theatre, where guests can enjoy the recently renovated courtyard. There are even secret rooms hidden in the walls of this historic structure, one of which was found accidentally when a large spotlight was being carried to an area above the balcony and it hit the wrought iron handrail, knocking it ​— ​and much of the plaster ​— ​off the wall and leaving holes. “Light unexpectedly came through, revealing a large open space on the side of the building that had no floor and was completely open to the top of the structure ​— ​it showed another structure hidden within.” The theater was built in 1930 on the site of the Arlington Hotel, which was destroyed in the 1925 earthquake.
Runner-Up: Camino Real Cinemas

Annual Event

Old Spanish Days Fiesta


“Old Spanish Days Fiesta is a celebration that is meant to bring the community together. There is something for everyone, and the fun and celebratory atmosphere of the events leave wonderful memories for the participants, so everyone looks forward to the next one,” said Barbara Carroll, 2019 La Presidenta of Old Spanish Days. “The Board of Old Spanish Days is very grateful for the recognition. It’s a tremendous amount of work for a group of volunteers to put on such a large and encompassing festival, and this award means the community recognizes that and supports our efforts.”
Runner-Up: Summer Solstice