El Presidente David Bolton, left, and Primer Caballero Gonzalo Sarmiento with the Fiesta 2023 poster. | Photo: Courtesy

A total of 70 floats, 500 horses, an all-women mariachi group from Guadalajara, and many more will descend upon Santa Barbara for the 99th anniversary of Old Spanish Days Fiesta from August 2-6.

To kick off Fiesta, the Old Mission will be graced with flamenco, folklórico, and many other dances for the annual Fiesta Pequeña on Wednesday evening. Earlier that day, you can shop the Mexican market for food and gifts while enjoying live music at El Mercado de la Guerra. It will be open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A new mercado will also be added to the lineup this year, with El Mercado de la Playa right next to SBCC’s La Playa Stadium. Here, Fiesta planners hope to attract families with their classic carnival rides from Thursday through Sunday.

“We’re going back to the early days of Old Spanish Days where they had a carnival at the beach,” Fiesta El Presidente David Bolton said. “We’ve always wanted to do more with Fiesta, and we know Sunday is a very big family day. So by having a Sunday event, we can now allow everybody in this community to really enjoy Fiesta on one day or another.”

Since its early days, Old Spanish Days has emphasized helping local businesses and nonprofits. As Fiesta grows larger and attracts even more visitors, this priority remains.

“Many of them [the nonprofits] raise their annual operating money at our mercados, and we’re really proud and honored to be able to offer that and team with them again this year,” Bolton said.

Santa Barbara City College has partnered with Old Spanish Days to provide the new site of El Mercado de la Playa. | Photo: Hannah Weaver

The majority of Fiesta’s events, including the signature mercados, parade, and concert series are free. This year, there are thousands of additional free parking spaces at SBCC to accommodate the larger crowds and also continue Fiesta’s mission of accessibility.

“For generations, Fiesta has been a gathering place for families. … It’s a great way to bring together friends, colleagues from work, [and] your neighbors,” Bolton said. “It’s very important for us that we continue this and our generous sponsors and donors really make that happen.”

A key goal of Fiesta is maintaining tradition and drawing attention to the local history. For Bolton, this means including the equestrian history of North Santa Barbara County and the Chumash people. As part of this effort, Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto of the Barbareño Chumash will lead this year’s parade.

“History since the very first year has been important to Old Spanish Days. And as we look to the future, it’s very important that we understand our history and our past,” Bolton said. “Old Spanish Days is a community festival, [so] being inclusive is very important to us, and we’re honored to have selected an elder of the Chumash Barbareño to be this year’s parade Grand Marshal.”

There’s lots to do throughout the five days, so Bolton recommends making a plan that allows you to make the most of the festival.

“Make it a combination: Visit downtown, visit the beach, but definitely get out and enjoy Fiesta 2023,” he said.

As Fiesta gets up and running this week, the organizers are continuing to recruit volunteers across a variety of roles. As Bolton said, “Volunteers are the backbone of Fiesta.” To sign up for volunteer opportunities and find out more about Fiesta events, visit sbfiesta.org.


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