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Old Spanish Days Gallop for Santa Barbara

The venerable fiesta features beautiful riding, a children's parade, and mercados, too.

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    Old Spanish Days, the historic Santa Barbara celebration, rides from July 31-Aug. 4, 2019. (© 2006 VisionsofAmerica.com/Joe Sohm. All Rights Reserved)

    A FABULOUS FIESTA... can, by its move-fast, have-fun nature, feel fleeting. You want to capture the emotion you're experiencing, right there, and the sounds you're hearing, and the sights you're enjoying, but you know that moments do go. And soon? The performers will pack their instruments, and the saddles'll be stowed, and you'll need to wait for the next vibrant, food-filled, dance-rich celebration. But the beauty behind this bittersweet reality? Historic fiestas, the kind that have been around for most of a century, do absolutely return, with the parades you love, the flamenco you adore, and the feeling you look for to, each year. 

    OLD SPANISH DAYS... is one of the most venerable and vibrant of the California summertime spectaculars, and it returns to Santa Barbara each August, near the start of the month, with a host of events. And in 2019? Happy news: It will actually begin on the last day of July, getting the party going even earlier. So trot your pony in the direction of the American Riviera from July 31-Aug. 4, 2019, for mercados, parades, dance presentations, and more.

    SOME HIGHLIGHTS? Truly, the entire fiesta is festooned with highlights, but make time to behold Las Noches de Ronda, "The Nights of Gaiety," which swirl on Thurday, Friday and Saturday at 8 o'clock in quite the picturesque location: The Santa Barbara County Courthouse's Sunken Gardens. The El Desfile de los Niños is the fiesta's beloved and adorable Children's Parade (see it on Saturday morning, along State Street), while Flor y Canto honors the historic side of dance and song.

    AS FOR FAMOUS SHOPPING? Exploring El Mercado de la Guerra and El Mercado del Norte for "crafts and souvenirs" of all kinds is tradition, and a way to take a little bit of the fun and flavor back home. Old Spanish Days, which will mark its centennial in a half decade, is a true trip back in time, with a strong regional spirit, and art-strong beauty to spare. Fiestas do end in a flash, but Old Spanish Days is one of the happiest and heartiest of our state's annual gatherings, a bucket-list must for many Californians and a joy for people who fancy a festivity that possesses both meaning and community pride.