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.

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.

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.


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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.


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