Tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara is a little slice of coastal heaven. Thanks to chill vibes, nearly perfect weather, and exceptional food and drink, there’s never a bad time to visit the American Riviera. Still, the spring’s longer days and blooming flora make March through May a spot-on season for travel. Check out the city’s best spring festivals—you’re sure to find an excuse to pack your bags.
1. In the early 20th century, orchids took Santa Barbara by storm with locals planting the exotic species in high-end homes and gardens. Get a dose of Orchidaceae fever during the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show, which transforms the Earl Warren Showgrounds into a colorful hothouse from March 8–11.
2. Experience the rich tapestry of Jewish culture as expressed in cinema during the five-day Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival from March 15–19. Showcasing work from American, European, and Israeli artists, everything from comedic shorts to full-length documentaries will be on view at the New Vic Theatre.
3. The Santa Barbara Bowl makes for a live-music experience that’s absolutely unforgettable. Carved into a hillside with just 5,000 seats, the Bowl delivers a uniquely intimate feeling in the great outdoors. Check to see if your favorite act is playing during the 2018 season, which opens on March 18.
4. On April 8, it’s all about the kiddos. The Santa Barbara Zoo hosts El Dia Del Niño, or Children’s Day. A national holiday in Mexico (although traditionally celebrated later in the month), the day’s sole purpose is to make little ones feel special. Children will enjoy face painting, Spanish-language music, special snacks, and talent shows—all while exploring the zoo’s wild wonders.
5. The Santa Ynez Mountains aren’t just wonderful to look at—they also provide fertile ground for acres of wine-ready grapes. On April 19–23, the good stuff flows during the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival Weekend. Held in nearby Lompoc, the event provides the opportunity to taste the vin from more than 100 regional winemakers and the food from 30 local restaurants.
6. The Earth Day Festival, held April 21–22 in Alameda Park, celebrates the city’s deep ties to global conservation. Test drive a low-impact vehicle at the Green Car Show, jam out to live music on the outdoor stage, or find your new favorite healthy snack at one of the many organic food booths.
7. Get a duel dose of art and history at the Founding Day Festival on April 28. The celebration honors the 1782 creation of Santa Barbara’s Royal Presidio. Start the day with a costumed reenactment of the original ceremony before enjoying flamenco dancing, Mariachi performances, and living history demonstrations.
8. Santa Barbara is called the American Riviera for a reason: European influences abound in this luxurious seaside city. On Memorial Day weekend (May 26–28), chicness is on full display at the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival. In the plaza of the Old Mission Santa Barbara, artists armed with colorful chalk transform pavement into paintings.