From avoiding the crowds to finding budget accommodations, here are the best times to visit Santa Barbara © Maxwell Frank / Getty Images
Coastal perfection – in the form of a Mediterranean-esque climate, clusters of palm trees, and the looming Santa Ynez Mountains beyond the city skyline – is a year-round constant in Santa Barbara.
But, depending on the type of California escapade you seek, there are optimal times for planning it. Whether you are a deal hawk looking to maximize a trip budget, a festival-lover seeking a stretch of uniquely Santa Barbara gatherings, or a sun-seeker looking to escape cooler climes, the time of year you land on can make all the difference.
This month-by-month guide to events in Santa Barbara can help you time your visit perfectly.
Grab yourself a bargain during low season from December to February
Don’t count on a white snowy winter in Santa Barbara, folks. But, for white sand beach bliss without the crowds, the December to February timeframe is it. High temperatures rarely crawl out of the 60ºFs and lows have been known to hover in the low 40ºFs. January and February are also, historically, the town’s rainiest months. You’ll see Santa Barbarans all bundled up, but perhaps the hot hotel deals will keep you feeling cozy? The holiday warmth is also omnipresent in December leading into January, with the Santa Barbara Parade of Lights and open-air Christmas light tours aboard the Santa Barbara Trolley being annual staples. Fans of whale watching will find gray whale numbers at their peak between January and March as they move northward along the coast.
Not too hot, not too cold – shoulder season is the time for outdoor sports © Ruta May Photography / Shutterstock
Enjoy outdoor adventures in the sunshine during shoulder seasons (March to June and September to November)
For lovers of the in-between, you will find solace in Santa Barbara’s shoulder seasons. Not too hot and not too cold, these are the months you’ll want to stroll down State Street, bike along the beach, and winery hop that much more. It’s easy to be fooled by the pleasantness of these months, but you’ll still want to pack your sunscreen during the day and a jacket at night. To experience Santa Barbara’s spring in full bloom, the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Festival remains a must for wine lovers and visitors alike.
High season in July and August brings high temperatures and prices
With typical year-round highs hovering in the low-60s to upper-70ºF range, Santa Barbara’s temperatures are as pleasant as its laid-back locals. But, with an uptick in temps in the months of July and August (highs just below 80ºF), there is also a noticeable increase in hotel prices as well as visitors.
The masses flock here during summer’s peak for good reasons. This is the time of the year when wetsuits are not an immediate necessity for taking a swim/surf/kayak in the Santa Barbara Channel. Water temps are at their peak in August – in the lower 60s – upwards of 10ºF warmer than the lows of March and April. Adding that much more sizzle to the mix, July/August is typically the time for Santa Barbara’s most beloved annual celebration, the Old Spanish Days Fiesta.
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January is one of Santa Barbara's coldest months
By Santa Barbara standards, the year typically kicks off on a crisp note with high temperatures in the low 60ºFs. To escape the cooler temps – especially at night – a show at the Granada Theatre keeps spirits warm.
Key events: New Year’s Day Polar Dip, Martin Luther King, Jr Birthday Celebration.
February means rain and beautiful sunsets
To take that Valentine’s date to the next level, hit the beach with a jacket for a Santa Barbara sunset. The pops of color are arguably best in February as cooler temps begin their exit. This is also the city’s rainiest month, so keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Key events: Black History Month at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
March is a beautiful time in Santa Barbara as the flowers begin to bloom © Ron and Patty Thomas / Getty Images
March brings blooms as spring arrives
Spring literally blossoms before your eyes, with purple jacarandas lining State Street and the International Orchid Show taking center stage. Speaking of stage, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival – which attracts A-list celebs – is always a town-wide spectacle.
Key events: Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Santa Barbara International Orchid Show.
April's temperatures keep on climbing
The temperatures just keep climbing toward even more pleasant status. The Santa Barbara Bowl opens its season – which runs through October – always a winning spot to take in a show and the fresh air.
Key events: Santa Barbara Earth Day Celebration, Lucidity Festival.
May is the perfect time for wine
There is never a bad time for wine in Santa Barbara. However, with the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival and an end-of-spring climate, many argue that May is the best time.
Key events: Santa Barbara Restaurant Week, The I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival, Santa Barbara Vintners Festival.
The summer solstice events draw big crowds to Santa Barbara in June © Jack N. Mohr / Getty Images
June is when it starts to get crowded
Summer kicks off – literally with a solstice celebration. The crowds visibly begin to grow along the town’s beach and State Street arteries.
Key events: Santa Barbara Wine + Food Festival, Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration and Parade.
July is busy with lots of great events
Loaded with festivals and fireworks, this is the peak of summer tourism and annual activities.
Key events: California Wine Festival, Santa Barbara French Festival, Santa Barbara Greek Festival, July 4th Fireworks at West Beach.
August is party time
In 2022, August's mantra is “Viva La Fiesta!” as Santa Barbara’s cultural spectacle – the Old Spanish Days Fiesta – spills into the street with a parade, dancing, and related events for days.
Key events: Old Spanish Days Fiesta, Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival, Pacific Pride Festival
September may be the start of fall, but it's still warm
While fall begins, the summer temperature-bliss lingers. With cold beer and sizzling barbecue, the California Brew & BBQ Festival strikes the perfect chord for September.
Key events: Santa Barbara Sea Glass & Ocean Arts Festival, California Brew & BBQ Festival.
Introducing Coastal California
October is when the Santa Ana winds blow their hardest
Santa Ana winds typically peak in Santa Barbara in October. So, hold on to your hats and, on the occasion of a very rare rainy day, your umbrella, too.
Key events: Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival.
November marks the start of the chillier weather
High temperatures finally and consistently dip below 70 degrees. Many locals stay warm by signing up for the annual half marathon.
Key events: Santa Barbara Half Marathon.
December is full of festive spirit
With lights draping palm trees, main streets and some over-the-top, decor-loving residences, the holiday spirit is pervasive all month long.
Key events: Holiday Zoo at Santa Barbara Zoo, Trolley of Lights Tour, Parade of Lights, Annual Downtown Holiday Parade.