Santa Barbara's Old Spanish Days Fiesta is an annual community-wide 5-day festival that begins on the Wednesday before the first Friday in August.

The historical Fiesta parade, running up State Street, is unique to Santa Barbara and features floats depicting episodes from the history of the state and city. Descendants of local Native Americans, Spanish Pioneers, the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, and local service clubs and organizations all reenact historical scenes. It is one of the nation's largest equestrian parades, featuring over 600 horses, as well as many antique carriages, coaches, and wagons. The parade starts at the west end of Cabrillo Boulevard, proceeds east along the beach to State Street, then up State Street to Sola Street. Viewing the Parade is free.

1924 - The First Historical Parade

As mentioned previously, the original celebration was planned to include a parade. The parade committee was headed by Dwight Murphy, who had come to Santa Barbara County and purchased large ranch holdings in the area of San Marcos Pass. He was by avocation a fancier and breeder of Palomino horses and possessed many of the finest of those animals.

Approximately two months prior to the parade, Murphy was invited to attend a meeting by Herbert Nunn, the city manager. At that time he was asked to arrange the details of the parade, which he accepted. The type of parade was left to Murphy's discretion, and he was allocated a budget of $200.00. Calling together a group of community members including Francis Price, Sam Stanwood, Ed Borein, Harry Sweetser, James Rickard and Wilson Dibblee, he met with them several times before deciding that they have a historical parade.

Price, Sweetser, Dibblee and Murphy met with members of the De la Guerra and Ortega families to obtain information regarding the early Spanish customs. After these meetings various committees were appointed to arrange for costumes, floats, carriages and horsemen. Service clubs, such as the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, were invited to participate to wear the costumes depicting the various historical periods. All of the floats were horse-drawn and built by representatives of the organizations riding on the float bed. Marching groups were secured to represent the Chumash Indians and the soldiers of Spain and Mexico.

Over the years, the character of the parade changed somewhat. The floats came to be drawn by motorized vehicles. More individuals and riding groups, wearing their own or their organization's distinctive attire have participated. Also, a greater number of entries were marching bands. Due to these changes, some feared that the historical character of the parade was in jeopardy of completely disappearing.

In recent years an effort has been made to deal with these concerns. The parade is now divided into two sections. The historical section, which has been carefully revised and is mainly presented on the floats, depicts most of the highlights of local heritage and history. The section of "Santa Barbara of Today" includes the many other types of participation based in accord with the spirit and purpose of Fiesta.