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Best Things to Do in December in Santa Barbara

10 Best Holiday Attractions in Santa Barbara this Winter


Heading to Santa Barbara for the holidays? Lucky you! This coastal California beach town gets extra festive during the winter season with parades, live performances and much, much more. 

If you're looking for lights, you can book a ride on the Santa Barbara Trolley of Lights to scope out the best houses around town. Trolley tickets sell out early, but you can always plan a DIY tour and drive yourself. Don't miss The Miracle on East Quinientos Street. This private residence is so bright that you might want to bring sunglasses!

Are you a theater fan? You can catch the Nutcracker Ballet at either the Granada Theatre or the Arlington Theatre. Both of these historic venues are stunning, and there are dozens of mouthwatering restaurants nearby. Rather go shopping? Check out the dozens of pop-up markets featuring local makers that appear on the weekends.

For family fun, look no further than the ice rink in Goleta. Ice in Paradise is an indoor rink with a casual restaurant onsite. It's a good place to take a lesson, catch a hockey game or even see a holiday ice show. 

This list of the 10 best holiday attractions in Santa Barbara can help you get any Scrooge in the Christmas spirit. So get out those jingle bells and get going!


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Nothing says Santa Barbara like, surf, sun and... ice skating?!? Yep, after years of waiting, Santa Barbara has it's very own ice rink for sport and leisure. And wouldn't you know it, they put on an awesome holiday ice skating show every December. Head out to Goleta with the whole family for a little winter fun. It's also a great place to learn to skate or catch a hockey game. There is a restaurant onsite, so you don't have to worry if your time on the ice causes you to work up a powerful thirst or ravenous appetite. Lots of free parking right out front. Follow their Facebook page to stay in the know about upcoming events.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Ice skating is a holiday tradition isn't it? Santa Barbara isn't much for snow, but we do have our own indoor ice rink!

Geneva's expert tip: Visit their website to check out the schedule for upcoming hockey games and ice skating shows.

Read more about Ice in Paradise →


Possibly the most wonderous of all natural wonders in Santa Barbara, California. The Coronado Butterfly Preserve is a place where - from late October through early March - monarch butterflies migrate to spend the winter. They hang in clumps and clusters from the branches of the eucalyptus trees, often hundreds at a time. Free to the public (there is a donation box at the entrance), the Coronado Butterfly Preserve open every day from sunrise to sunset. Even in the off season, the preserve is a beautiful place to visit, home to numerous birds and wildlife, Devereux Creek, trails, open area and outdoor gathering areas and classroom.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: When all the shopping and wrapping and carousing gets to be a bit too much, go out to nature for an easy, beautiful hike.

Geneva's expert tip: Once you've walked through the preserve, keep right on going across the bluff for a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean.

Read more about Coronado Butterfly Preserve →


Paseo Nuevo Shops & Restaurants
Photo courtesy of Paseo Nuevo

If you want to say hello to Santa and catch a nightly flurry of snowflakes, Paseo Nuevo is your destination this season. Santa's taken up residence in a charming cottage right in the heart of this outdoor shopping mall. Pets welcome too. There's also a giant Christmas tree, weekly live acts and nightly snowfall at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. (Spoiler alert: it's very magical, but it's not actual snow.) While you're there, satisfy your gift-giving needs for the whole family. You can find shoes for Mom, gadgets for Dad, toys for the kids and pick up a little something for yourself while you're at it.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For holiday retail therapy, nothing tops the festive atmosphere of Paseo Nuevo. There's even a nightly "snowfall" at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Geneva's expert tip: Don't miss the family friendly silent disco party on Dec. 2, 2021, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Headphones will be provided, and ugly sweaters are encouraged.

Read more about Paseo Nuevo Shops & Restaurants →


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Catch the Nutcracker Ballet at the Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara's most splendid and impressive performing arts venue, boasting over 1,500 seats, multiple patron lounges and a custom orchestra shell. Originally built in 1924, the theater underwent a dramatic restoration and re-opened in 2008. A vibrant mural decorates the proscenium arch, seats have been refreshed with improved sightlines, and the original chandelier is sparkling once again in its place of honor. Nationally recognized ballet troupes perform here regularly, as well as famous comedians, legendary musicians and inspiring lecturers. Visit their website for a list of upcoming shows and holiday events. Located near many of Santa Barbara's best restaurants, so plan on dinner and a show!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This holiday family favorite performed by the State Street Ballet is set to the music of Tchaikovsky and staged against opulent sets.

Geneva's expert tip: Pop into the Good Lion, an ultra-cozy cozy cocktail bar right next door, for a festive cocktail before or after the show.

Read more about The Granada Theatre →


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Santa Barbara
La Arcada
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

Don't miss the annual La Arcada Christmas Walk! Enjoy strolling carolers, freshly popped popcorn and a visit from Santa at this quaint, character-filled shopping venue that's as good for relaxing as it is for shopping. Marked by a chiming clock, the entrance leads to a variety of shops, restaurants and art galleries. If the folks accompanying you don't want to browse the shops, they can admire La Arcada's landscaping, fountains and many statues. Plus there are plenty of benches where you (and they) can catch your breath before moving on. And did we mention the turtle pond? Yes, there's a turtle pond. Located in the heart of downtown, this is one Christmas shopping destination you don't want to miss.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This fun night of caroling and snacks is a Santa Barbara tradition. Plan to do a little Christmas shopping while you're enjoying the festivities.

Geneva's expert tip: The date of the La Arcada Christmas Walk changes every year, so be sure to look it up before you go. It is currently scheduled for December 1, 2021.

Read more about La Arcada →


Explore the best Christmas light displays in Santa Barbara during this jolly, open-aired trolley tour. A caravan of lighted trolleys take groups around town after dark for a 90-minute ride. Hot cider is sipped, carols are sung, neighbors come out and say hello ... it's all very magical. The open sides of the trolleys allow you to easily capture your favorite moments on camera. The one drawback is that this tour always sells out (usually in October). So book early if you think you even kind of, might possibly want to go. Santa Barbara Trolley cars also operate during the days for classic town tours and can be chartered for private parties, weddings and wine tasting tours.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This open-aired trolley tour (complete with hot cider) is the best way to see local Christmas light displays.

Geneva's expert tip: Book early! This 90-minute tour takes you to see the best Christmas light displays, but it sells out quickly every year.

Read more about Santa Barbara Trolley →


Enjoy a festive day in this charming wine community just north of Santa Barbara. A short drive brings you to a busy main street lined with shops, wine tasting rooms and restaurants. Los Olivos celebrates on Olde Fashioned Christmas every year, often on the first Saturday of December. This year, it falls on December 4, 2021. Enjoy an artisan boutique and open houses as well as crafts for the kids. Holiday treats and carolers make the afternoon extra cheery and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Santa is the special guest. Visit the park for some free roasted walnuts, Christmas cookies and hot chocolate plus holiday music and singers. The event is capped off by the official tree lighting by the flagpole at the center of town with live music in the park nearby.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This event makes for a fun day trip for the whole family, with shopping, treats and activities for the kiddos.

Geneva's expert tip: Go early to find parking or you might have to walk a couple of blocks.

Read more about Los Olivos Olde Fashioned Christmas →


For the best Christmas lights in Santa Barbara, look no further than this house on the East Side. Local man Peter Estrada layers on the twinkles at this private residence that draws a crowd from far and wide. We feel sorry for the other homes in the neighborhood; even if they put forth a solid effort, it's pretty much impossible to compete with this fantasy display that you may be able to see from space (slight exaggeration). There are many tasty Mexican restaurants in the area, so plan on a dinner outing and consider bringing some cash for La Super-Rica, a legendary local taqueria.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This private home has the biggest and best display of lights in Santa Barbara.

Geneva's expert tip: Go around dinner time and bring cash so you can visit the legendary La Super-Rica after you get your fill of lights.

Read more about The Miracle on East Quinientos Street →


Miracle at the Funk Zone
Photo courtesy of Claire E Hartnell

Dive head first into the holiday season! The international smash 'Miracle' pop-up Christmas bar takes over Pearl Social from Thanksgiving until Jan. 2, 2021. Upon arrival, the colorful onslaught of twinkle lights and tinsel paired with the cheery blare of Christmas music immediately lets you know you're in the right place. Miracle's festive cocktail menu has something for everyone (whether they're on the nice or naughty list) including the SanTaRex, Christmaspolitan and Jingle Balls Nog. There are also seasonal snacks like soft ginger molasses cookies, salted peanut brittle and dark chocolate peppermint bark. If you like Griswold-esque holiday cheer and a heavy dose of 90s nostalgia, this is a must-stop. Reservations recommended.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Walking into this pop-up bar is like walking onto the set of a Mariah Carey Christmas video. Merry and bright indeed!

Geneva's expert tip: The holiday cocktails are super fun, but they're also high on sugar (kind of like a tiki bar). If you want to have more than one, you may want to flip to the back of the menu for the more basic beer and wine list.

Read more about Miracle at the Funk Zone →


What's better than a parade? A boat parade! And what's better than a boat parade? A boat parade with lights and fireworks! The 35th annual Santa Barbara Parade of Lights happens December 12, 2021. It boasts all of this and more. Join the locals for this Santa Barbara holiday tradition along the coastline. The boat parade is preceded by Santa's Village activity on the City Pier in the harbor, starting around noon. At 4 p.m., dozens of stand-up paddlers and kayakers dressed in festive attire will loop Stearns Wharf spreading holiday cheer. Then, at 5:30 p.m., the annual boat parade begins as dozens of boats motor, sail and paddle along the coastline and compete to win prizes. Admission is free. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars on both the pier and the harbor where you can relax and enjoy the view.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: How many places have a Christmas boat parade? It's so lovely seeing all the festive lights reflected in the water.

Geneva's expert tip: Bring a blanket, pack a picnic and hit the beach for a romantic date night that doesn't cost a fortune.

Read more about Santa Barbara Parade of Lights →


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Meet Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 on a whim (ok, and to go to college) and never looked back. She loves Santa Barbara because it’s really one of America’s greatest small towns - it...  More About Geneva

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