Annual Event

Old Spanish Days Fiesta

Every August, Santa Barbara transforms itself for five days into a delicious, colorful, music- and dance-filled Fiesta, which is once again our readers’ pick for Best Annual Event. “Old Spanish Days Fiesta thanks the entire community for its support as we returned to celebrate a full Fiesta this past year,” said Maria Cabrera, 2022 La Presidente. She added, “The 2023 El Presidente David Bolton and the leadership team are already working on next year’s Fiesta as well as our 100-year celebration in 2024.”

Runner-Up: Summer Solstice Parade

Old Spanish Days | Credit: Fritz Olenberger (file)


Hendry’s Beach (Arroyo Burro Beach)

You can tell how long someone has lived in town by what they call Hendry’s Beach, which is also called Arroyo Burro Beach Park, and only known to very longtime residents as “The Pit.” Surrounded by tall bluffs and trails that overlook the water, the beach is a beautiful place to relax and watch the sunset, swim, play in the sand, throw Frisbees, or enjoy the popular Boathouse Restaurant. Hendry’s also has outdoor showers, self-serve dog-wash stations, free parking, and an adjacent bird-filled estuary. A popular running and walking beach for both dogs and their humans, the off-leash section is actually part of the nearby Douglas Family Preserve, and therefore not subject to the same rules and restrictions as the County Park property.

Runner-Up: Butterfly Beach

Classical Ensemble

Santa Barbara Symphony

“As a professional symphony orchestra, we are a family dedicated to bringing joy and connection to our community,” says Marketing Manager Renee Cooper. “Our musicians are some of the most sought-after orchestra musicians in the region, perform in the film studios of Hollywood, and love sharing their music with the community. Our teaching faculty guide and inspire our local students to collaborate and become leaders through our youth ensembles and music van programs. Our professional staff and volunteers work tirelessly year-round to make magic and impact happen. Being voted the ‘best’ means that our momentum, impact, and relevance are continuing to grow, and means that all our hard work is making a difference!”

Runner-Up: Santa Barbara Strings

College Night • Dance Club

Wildcat Lounge

Once again deemed Santa Barbara’s best place to shake your tail on the dance floor, this quirky kitty is a perennial favorite for revelers of all ages. Winning Best Dance Club and Best College Night for too many years in a row to count, Wildcat Lounge also received massive props from our readers for the new Glitter Brunch. Hosted by drag goddesses Vivian Storm and Angel D’mon every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., as one reader writes, “Who doesn’t love mimosas and drag queens! This is the place where everyone is welcome. … The vibe is always about having fun, being free, and loving one another.”

Runner-Up (College Night): Sandbar

Runner-Up (Dance Club): SOhO Restaurant & Music Club

Dance Company

State Street Ballet

As one voter eloquently put it, “Artistry. Athleticism. Admiration.” These are the things that make State Street Ballet your pick for Best Dance Academy in 2022. “This ballet company has inspired me to do better every day I dance. They show beauty and grace through every movement of every performance, and are supportive and kind whenever I get to meet company dancers when I work with them,” writes another fan. “Their dancers aren’t just good, but they’re determined and hardworking, which makes them better every day they come to class.” The company performs holiday favorite The Nutcracker at the Granada December 17-18, followed by a spring performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (March 4, 2023), and Jungle Book (April 29, 2023).

Runner-Up: La Boheme

A penguin at the Santa Barbara Zoo | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Family Fun Spot

Santa Barbara Zoo

Asked what they wanted to say to voters, Santa Barbara Zoo Director of Marketing Kevin Nuss says, “More than anything else, thank you! Being a nonprofit organization, the Santa Barbara Zoo truly wouldn’t exist without the support of our community. We are eternally grateful for the families and other visitors that return year after year to have fun, learn, and be inspired by our incredible animals and programs. See you soon, Zoo friends!”

Runner-Up: Santa Barbara Botanic Garden 

Place to Hear Live Music

Santa Barbara Bowl

Santa Barbara Bowl | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“Every time you see a concert at the Bowl, you support youth in Santa Barbara County,” shares the Santa Barbara Bowl team. “Santa Barbara has a history of supporting the performing arts. We take that community investment seriously by reinvesting in performing arts education for youth throughout Santa Barbara County through our Outreach program. Thank you to the entire community for supporting the Santa Barbara Bowl through the pandemic and as we return to live events. It is only through the amazing support of S.B. Bowl patrons, donors, supporters, volunteers, and staff that this nonprofit can continue to provide world-class experiences.” 

Runner-Up: SOhO Restaurant & Music Club


Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History President/CEO Luke J. Swetland | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“Winning Best Museum for the fourth year in a row is an incredible honor,” says Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History President/CEO Luke J. Swetland. “We’re proud of the positive response we’ve received for the Sea Center’s new exhibit Dive In: Our Changing Channel, and Museum summer exhibits Butterflies Alive! and Rare Earth. We appreciate the community’s support as we work to connect people to nature for the betterment of both.”

Runner-Up: Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Funk Zone Spot

Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop

[See Drinking: Beer Selection on Tap]

Runner-Up: Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. It means the world to all of us that we have successfully made an impact that the community appreciates,” shares Sullivan Goss owner Nathan Vonk. Making connections with people who come in the most rewarding part of being a gallerist, says Vonk. “Over time, I get to know people and what kinds of art they get excited about. I look forward to seeing the sparkle in their eyes when they see something that really hits the mark.” 

Runner-Up: Waterhouse Gallery

Mujeres Makers Market organizers Elysia Guillén, Maritza Flores, Leah Ortega, Daniela Aguirre standing in front of the Campesinos Mural at Ortega Park. | Credit: Jean Ziesenhenne (file)

Makers Market

Mujeres Makers Market

“We are extremely honored to receive the first Best Makers Market award,” say founders Elysia Guillén, Lili Muñoz, Leah Ortega, Daniela Aguirre, and Maritza Flores. “It is our mission to provide opportunities that help women-of-color-owned businesses in our community and to provide our shoppers with a unique and positive shopping experience. We want to thank everyone who took the time out of their busy schedules to support us by voting. We look forward to seeing you on the first Sunday of each month at Mujeres Makers Market!”

Runner-Up: Farmer and the Flea

Movie Theater

The Arlington Theatre

“The Arlington Theatre holds a special place in so many hearts and continues to be a significant part of our community,” says General Manager Benjamin Beck. They love when guests share their special memories. “Recently, we hosted a wedding rehearsal dinner on our courtyard patio for a couple who met at the Arlington when they attended the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. They returned to the place where it all began as they prepared to start their FOREVER together; it was a night they will never forget.”

Runner-Up: Camino Real Cinemas

Place to Make Art

Art From Scrap

Friendly staffers from Art From Scrap work to help you transform trash into creative treasures. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“We can’t imagine Art From Scrap being in business anywhere else. As the only Creative ReUse Store on the South and Central Coast, we are unique and have been part of Santa Barbara for over 30 years now,” says Explore Ecology Public Relations Director Jill Cloutier. “Our longevity shows how important the arts are to our community, as well as the practices of creative reuse and waste reduction. Our shoppers are the best! So are all of the people who donate materials to the store. Together, they have diverted thousands of pounds of reusable materials from the landfill and, using their imaginations and creativity, have transformed it into art.”

Runner-Up: The Painted Cabernet

Place to Watch the Sunset

Butterfly Beach

The top pick as Best Place to Watch the Sunset once again, Butterfly Beach is undoubtedly one of Santa Barbara’s most beautiful spots to stroll the sand and enjoy both the sunset and the sunrise, thanks to the transverse orientation of the coast. At low tide, it’s even possible to walk from Butterfly Beach all the way to East Beach in Santa Barbara, or Hammonds Beach in Montecito.

Runner-Up: Hendry’s Beach (Arroyo Burro Beach)

Restaurant/Bar to Watch Sports

Finney’s Crafthouse

Voted the Best Place to Watch Sports for the fourth year in a row, Finney’s Crafthouse has become a destination spot for sports fans to gather to enjoy the ambiance. The family-owned and -operated casual restaurant and bar has multiple flat screens, plenty of comfortable seating, 30 beers on tap, and a tasty menu of shareable starters, snacks, and wings, as well as burgers, pizza, and other sports-friendly (and kid-friendly) fare.

Runner-Up: Press Room

S.B. Tour Company

Land & Sea Tours: Land Shark

Illustration by Ben Ciccati

The Land Shark’s amphibious tours took the town by storm when they first began cruising from the Old Mission down to deep blue sea back in 2003. The very entertaining 90-minute land and sea tour adventures are now a must-do for visitors and a fun escape for locals as well. Private charters are also popular, and groups of up to 40 passengers can happily gather to celebrate birthdays, engagements, team-building events, and more. The two Land Shark Hydra-Terras can lay claim as the most state-of-the-art amphibious vehicles in the world, as well as being our readers’ choice for Best S.B. Tour Company once again. 

Runner-Up: Santa Barbara Adventure Company

Theater Company

Ensemble Theatre Company

Audiences love the high-quality, adventurous programming presented by Ensemble Theatre Company, Santa Barbara’s sole professional Equity theater company, now in its 44th season and our readers’ choice once again for the Best Of award. ETC has been performing a varied slate of interesting shows since its founding (as the Ensemble Theatre Project) in 1978. There’s more on the way in the 2022-23 season, including A Christmas Carol (December 1-18), Selling Kabul (February 2-19, 2023), The Children (April 6-20, 2023), and Seared (June 8-25, 2023).

Runner-Up: The Theatre Group at SBCC

Whale-Watching Tour

Condor Express

“I am very honored to be awarded the Best of Santa Barbara® Whale Watching Tour,” shares Condor Express President Hiroko Benko. During the pandemic, they installed four new quad-jet engines, which are eco-friendly and specially designed to allow whales, dolphins, and porpoises to visit the Condor Express up close without endangering them. “Thank you for your votes,” says Benko. “We have been serving whale-watching cruises for decades in Santa Barbara, watching little children become parents, then grandparents. We have seen generations of whale-watchers. We are very proud to be a part of your lives.”

Runner-Up: The Double Dolphin, Santa Barbara Sailing Center

See all of the winners in our “Best of Santa Barbara® 2022” cover here.