Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days is exhilarating, but can be a logistical nightmare. Here are tips on how to survive -- and enjoy -- this weekend’s festivities. More information is at


Parking has to be Fiesta’s biggest headache. But public transportation is plentiful, so park along a bus line and ride into the heart of downtown. Park at San Marcos High School and take the MTD 6 or 11, for example, or catch an electric shuttle from the waterfront. Find out more at Uber and Lyft are also good options, though pricier.


Friday’s Historical Parade is hugely popular and viewing areas along the route fill up quickly. Arrive at State Street at least an hour early (11 a.m.) to snag a spot. Better yet, pay for reserved (and shaded) seating along Cabrillo Boulevard, near the parade’s start ($18 per person).

Saturday’s Children’s Parade is less crowded. It starts at 10 a.m. at Victoria Street and winds down State to Ortega. Local kids are adorable in their homemade traditional costumes, and there are some elaborate floats.


Two mercados (Mexican markets) are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. through Saturday. The De la Guerra Mercado, across from City Hall, offers nonstop entertainment, crafts and delicious authentic food. El Mercado del Norte, at MacKenzie Park (corner of State Street and La Positas), also has food and fun, but is more family-friendly with carnival rides and attractions for kiddies. Margaritas and beer are available here, as is live music and a lively dance floor.


Santa Barbara Courthouse Sunken Garden hosts free concerts of music, singing, dancing and much more, starting at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Bring beach chairs and blankets to enjoy the shows.

In addition, authentic dances and songs from the Spanish California era are performed in period costumes and on replica instruments at 7 p.m. Friday. A showcase for talented kids under the age of 16 who sing and dance is Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.

The Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival at the Santa Barbara Bowl is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. features top acts Pedro Fernandez, Mariachi Los Camperos, Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez and others. Tickets start at $55. (583-8700,

Fiesta winds down Sunday at 3:30 p.m. with a free Fiesta Concert by the West Coast Symphony, conducted by the infallible Christopher Story VI.


On a budget? Daytime events are free at the Fiesta Rodeo at Earl Warren Showgrounds, and start as early as 7 a.m. Friday with young cowpokes barrel racing, calf tying, roping and more. A stock horse show begins at noon. Saturday features steer stopping, roping, tie-down and dummy roping. Branding, penning and cow dog finals are Sunday.

Tickets are required for these events: professional bull riding Friday at 7 p.m., professional rodeo Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and rodeo performance Sunday at 2 p.m. (, 687‑0747)

Julia McHugh can be reached at