Best Early Entertainment in Santa Barbara

10 Best Places for Early Entertainment in Santa Barbara

There's so much to do during the day in sunny Santa Barbara, that you probably won't want to miss a single golden moment of daytime. So let's make an early night of it, shall we?

Lucky for us, there are plenty of Santa Barbara nightlife venues that feature early entertainment, so you can have a little fun after dinner and still get to bed at a decent hour. This list take a peek at your best bets before 10 p.m.

Check out our top picks for every kind of fun:

  • Love the theater? Visit the Lobero, Granada or catch a play by the Ensemble Theatre Company.
  • Live for live music? The Santa Barbara Bowl and Chase Palm Park are great destinations.
  • Looking for something a little different? Join Santa Barbara Bike Moves or try your hand at trivia at Old Kings Road.

All 10 of our choices wrap up early enough for you to be bright eyed and bushy tailed at work the next day. Or - if you're truly a night owl - might we suggest following up with some late night eats?

No matter what you choose, you can't go wrong. We hope you'll send us some pictures! (Or, you know, you can tweet us at @10Best.) 


This one-screen theater is a real treat, focused primarily on independent films and art house fare. Tucked away above the Santa Barbara Mission, the Metropolitan Riviera Theatre has only a few showings a day. There is a small box office and equally tiny concession stand. Seats are adequate but nothing to write home about. It is truly the selection and the surroundings that make this quiet, hidden movie theater a local favorite. Oodles of free parking right out front, and the fabulous El Encanto resort is just steps away if you favor a fancy nosh before or after catching a feature film.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Santa Barbara's tiniest theater is a local secret. The place to catch independent and art house flicks.

Geneva's expert tip: Don't skip the snacks! The Riveria's small concession stand means the popcorn is always fresh!

Read more about Metropolitan Riviera Theatre →

Santa Barbara
Arlington Theatre

Crowned by a grand tower and a red tile roof, this elegant theater is a gem of Spanish Revival architecture. Built in 1931 for Fox West Coast Theaters, the Arlington continues an Iberian theme inside. The auditorium itself mimics a courtyard, complete with stairways, balconies, faux painting and an electrified "star"-studded sky overhead. Visitors revel in the setting while watching classic films and enjoying performances by the Santa Barbara Symphony. The theater also plays current movies, as well as hosts comedians and famous musicians. There is limited free street parking as well as paid lot space nearby. Many restaurants and shops are within easy walking distance.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: This magical theater has a faux-outdoor auditorium, giving it a truly magical feeling. Great spot to catch movies, ballets and comedy acts.

Geneva's expert tip: If the balcony is open, try to rush upstairs and hop in the first row. It is really the best place to sit.

Read more about Arlington Theatre →

Santa Barbara

If you're planning on spending a Thursday night in Santa Barbara this summer, don't miss your opportunity to embrace a little al fresco fun at Chase Palm Park. Starting in late June, the Parks and Recreation department hosts free weekly concerts at this park by the sea. Check online for band lineup. Kids delight in a carousel and playground, and picnic areas pepper the space, along with an entertainment pavilion and restrooms. A pleasant plaza also boasts a stately fountain, and a small, beautifully detailed lake invites folks to be mesmerized for a while. Parking is free, but can be tricky to find when it's busy.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: For early evening al fresco fun, head to Chase Palm Park for their summer Concerts in the Park series.

Geneva's expert tip: Bring a blanket, chairs and snacks. Arrive early to stake out your space!

Read more about Chase Palm Park →


For creative and original live shows in Santa Barbara, look to the inventive team behind the Ensemble Theatre Company. Santa Barbara's professional theater company puts an emphasis on bringing rarely seen stage events and premieres to town. For a list of upcoming events, visit their website. Shows are staged at the New Vic - a lovingly updated theater on a charming side street of downtown Santa Barbara. There is some free street parking out front, as well as a city lot out back. Many other great destinations are within easy walking distance. In fact, the Santa Barbara Public Market is right across the street if you're in the mood for a snack before or after the performance.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: As Santa Barbara's professional theater group, the Ensemble Theatre Company puts on a great live show.

Geneva's expert tip: This is your opportunity for dinner and a show! Some of the best eats in town are centered around the Ensemble Theatre Company's theater.

Read more about Ensemble Theatre Company →

Old Kings Road
Photo courtesy of Geneva Ives

From the hard cider on tap to the witticisms lining the wall, everything at Old King's Road smacks of a London-style pub, right smack in the middle of Santa Barbara. Of course there are more than a dozen varieties of beer on tap - and many more offered by the bottle - but there are also spirits, with a particular emphasis on scotch. Sporting opportunities include pool, darts and trivia games, including a popular quiz night. On Wednesdays in the early evenings, groups of friends line the bar, answering trivial questions about pop culture and munching on English fish n' chips from a chip shop just down the block. So pull up a stool, grab a pint (many are just $5) and settle in for a night of fun, classic pub style!

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Love answering trifling questions while drinking? Stop in on Wednesdays for an early trivia night.

Geneva's expert tip: If your trivia team isn't faring so well, sneak out back to try your hand at pool and darts.

Read more about Old Kings Road →

The Granada Theatre is Santa Barbara's most splendid and impressive performing arts venue, boasting over 1,550 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. Located near many of Santa Barbara's best restaurants, so plan on dinner and a show!

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: The Granada is Santa Barbara's most majestic theater and is THE place to go to catch a play.

Geneva's expert tip: Pop into the small bar next to the theater for elegant cocktails before or after the show.

Read more about The Granada Theatre →

Santa Barbara Bike Moves is a fun, free social event that happens every month and welcomes wheeled participants of all stripes. Grab your beach cruiser, mountain bike, skateboard, roller blades or scooter (or really anything with wheels) and join in the fun. Bike Moves meets at 7:30 p.m. at Plaza de Vera Cruz on the first Thursday of every month for a group ride through town. There is a theme for each ride that encourages riders to come in costume, but you don't have to dress up if that's not your thing. Enjoy a ride with friends old and new. Then grab a drink afterward at a predesignated local pub. Visit their Facebook page or website for ride details.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Outdoorsy types will love this unusual nightlife activity! Santa Barbara Bike Moves is active, fun, free and open to all.

Geneva's expert tip: Don't forget your lights and your helmet. We want you to be safe when you're wheeling around after dark.

Read more about Santa Barbara Bike Moves →

Founded in the 1800s, the Lobero Theatre is the oldest continuously operating theater in California. Originally opened in 1873 and rebuilt in 1924, it is recognized as one of Santa Barbara's architectural jewels. It is also a state and city landmark. Local and visiting acts perform at the Lobero - ranging from State Street Ballet to Mikhail Baryshnikov to Dizzy Gillespie. The Lobero Theatre is Santa Barbara's premiere destination for jazz. Located in the heart of downtown, this venue is close to dozens of shops, restaurants and other attractions. Park in a nearby lot or find street parking for free.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: This historic theater is a wonderful place to catch a live show. Great jazz acts come through here often.

Geneva's expert tip: Skip the drive! The Lobero Theatre is an easy stroll from many Santa Barbara hotels and restaurants.

Read more about Lobero Theatre →

Where do you go at night if some members of your party want to enjoy an adult beverage while others do not? And where should you take a large group after dark? And what if you all need to blow off a little steam? The answer, friends, is Zodo's: Bowling & Beyond. Zodo's is not only Santa Barbara's singular bowling alley (and a mighty fine one it is, at that) but also it is one of the best places to enjoy draft beer, with over 40 varieties on tap. In addition, there are many tasty snacks, like Irish Nachos... aka cheese fries. And private parties? Yeah, it can accommodate you and about 549 of your closest friends. Free parking right out front.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Zodo's is the perfect destination for all-ages fun in the evening. Enjoy bowling, arcade games and dozens of beer on tap.

Geneva's expert tip: Although Zodo's may seem a very far 9 miles away from downtown Santa Barbara, you'll find it quite reasonable to split a cab there with friends.

Read more about Zodo's Bowling & Beyond →

Santa Barbara

The best live music venue in Santa Barbara! This outdoor amphitheater has an aerial view of the city, multiple concessions stands and wonderful accommodations. Bands big and small (but mainly big) play at the Santa Barbara Bowl. The concert season typically runs from April through September; check the website for the most up-to-date concert lineup. Some parking is available, but we recommend you go early or take a cab. You can even get a little more fresh air when you take a pedicab. Because this venue is located in a residential neighborhood, shows wrap up fairly early, around 10 p.m., leaving you with plenty of time to visit a local watering hole.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: The Santa Barbara Bowl is a beautiful outdoor venue with great sound and an ocean view. Shows here end by 10 p.m.

Geneva's expert tip: Don't bother trying to find parking - hail a pedicab instead.

Read more about Santa Barbara Bowl →


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