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Viva la Fiesta! After pandemic disruptions, the South Coast's biggest community celebration is back

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KCLU
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Dancers take the stage at Santa Barbara's De La Guerra Plaza, which is home of one of the popular Fiesta marketplaces, filled with entertainment, food, and crafts.

Old Spanish Days returns with its popular outdoor marketplaces, stage shows, parades, rodeo, and more.

After being a virtual celebration in 2020, and a scaled back event in 2021, the South Coasts’ largest community celebration, Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days is back with a full slate of events.

The five day long celebration of the community’s heritage is in full swing. There’s three nights of entertainment at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse’s Sunken Garden, the historical parade on Friday, and the children’s parade on Saturday.

The city’s De La Guerra Plaza is one of the traditional hot spots, with live entertainment and food both benefitting local non-profits.

Jesse Aldana is a longtime Santa Barbara resident, and is thrilled Fiesta is back.

"It's so nice to be back... it's one of my favorite things," said Aldana. "You see a lot of people in the community you haven't seen for a long time."

Meanwhile, Fiesta is a brand new thing for Kate Switzer. She's munching on a chicken tamale. The Ventura woman recently started working in Santa Barbara.

"This is my first Fiesta," said Switzer. She said a co-worker described it to her, but she is still getting a handle on all of the events.

While Fiesta is about fun, having it back is important economically for Santa Barbara County. Hotels and restaurants are traditionally packed with tourists. And, it’s a huge opportunity for non-profits which have food booths in De La Guerra Plaza, and in MacKenzie Park.

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KCLU
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People line up at food booths for the Fiesta marketplace at Santa Barbara's De La Guerra Plaza.

There’s also some community service programs. Angie Sisineros helps runs a program for kids 6 though 17 who visit shut-ins, and first responders who can’t take part in fiesta events.

The kids in the Los Ninos De La Flores program also go to places like the airport, and train station to greet visitors. And, they are a part of both of Fiesta's big parades.

"We went to more than 14 retirement homes, fires stations, and police stations," said Sisneros. "For people who cant get to Fiesta, we bring Fiesta to them."

There are a few significant changes this Fiesta. With a large section of State Street closed for outdoor dining, Friday’s Historical parade will take a different route. It will start on Cabrillo Boulevard, and Castillo Street, but instead of turning onto State Street, as was tradition, it will continue on Cabrillo Boulevard to the Hilton Hotel.

The city will run free trolleys Friday morning from the downtown area to the beachfront parade route for the noon parade.

On Saturday, the Children’s parade will return for the first time since 2019. It will also be on Cabrillo Boulevard, starting at Garden Street and ending near Milpas Street. It’s the 90th anniversary of the Children’s parade.

The Fiesta celebration runs through Sunday, August 7.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.