Skip to Content

New mercado site and a theme of ‘Let’s Fiesta!’ set for Old Spanish Days 2023

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - In its 99th year, Old Spanish Days is evolving with some new additions for the series of events that lead up to and encompass Fiesta in Santa Barbara.

It is the city's largest celebration and embraces history, traditions and the spirt of community.

Old Spanish Days El Presidente David Bolton gathered his board on the steps of Santa Barbara City Hall to announce the theme "Let's Fiesta!" as dancers swayed to the ceremonial moment.

Bolton says some of the key decisions have been made and now the fine tuning for logistics will be worked out.

One of the big changes will be the location of Mercado del Norte, which has been at MacKenzie Park on Las Positas since 1997 and involves a carnival, food booths and a dancing stage. It will be moved to the beach at the Santa Barbara City College parking lot area. There are two lots in that location and how much of the area will be used is still being worked out. That site will be called Mercado de la Playa.

The downtown mercado in De la Guerra Plaza will still be in its traditional place.

The El Desfile Historico, Fiesta parade will again take place on Cabrillo Blvd. It will extend from Castillo Street to Milpas Street with a longer route to allow for the horses and carriages to have a more comfortable turnaround area. Last year it was a slightly shorter route and more difficult in the ending area.

The other traditional events will be held in the coming months and during Old Spanish Days including the Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta competition, La Primavera, Goleta's fiesta Ranchera, Dignatarios at the Zoo, Fiesta Pequena at the Old Mission and Noches de Ronda at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Gardens.

The replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's ship the San Salvador will also be in the local waters. The vessel came through in 1542.

Mayor Randy Rowse says Old Spanish Days, with all of its activities in several months, will help the economy in many ways after a cold and wet start to the year.

Old Spanish Days released all the details in this new release:


Theme and Detailed Plans Unveiled for Fiesta 2023

Plans have come together nicely for Fiesta 2023, with all of the traditional events confirmed and with one event returning to its historic roots.

Officials of Old Spanish Days and the City of Santa Barbara gathered on the steps of City Hall to announce detailed plans for Fiesta 2023, as well as unveil the theme for our community’s beloved summer festival.

‘Let’s Fiesta’ has been chosen by El Presidente David Bolton as this year’s Fiesta theme.

“Fiesta means so much more than merely a party — it’s about celebrating, it’s about family, friends, neighbors and colleagues,” said El Presidente Bolton in making the theme announcement. “Fiesta is so special and so unique to Santa Barbara. We come together every year as a community to celebrate our history, traditions and culture. Throughout this year, ‘Let’s Fiesta’!”

Looking ahead to Fiesta 2023, officials announced that the Friday historic parade, El Desfile Histórico, will return to Cabrillo Boulevard with a longer route from Castillo Street to Milpas; a full Mercado and carnival has been given the green light to return to its historic roots at the beach; and all other traditional events, from Fiesta Pequeña to the Rodeo to Noches de Ronda, are confirmed for Fiesta 2023.

“Our organization, the City and our collaborative partners work very hard year-round to pull off a safe and memorable Fiesta,” said El Presidente Bolton. 

“We are looking forward to a great 2023 Fiesta.”

Since 1924, the City has played a key role in the success of this community’s Fiesta. 

“The City of Santa Barbara is pleased to announce our continuing partnership with Old Spanish Days,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse. “Old Spanish Days brings our city our most time-honored and treasured tradition — Fiesta. The dancers, food, music and crowds make this celebration the largest community party of the year. Let’s Fiesta!”

Old Spanish Days officials also recognized the County of Santa Barbara and the City of Goleta for their tremendous collaboration and support of Fiesta.

Regarding the Friday parade, everyone is excited to have El Desfile Histórico return to Cabrillo Boulevard, according to Division Chief of Pageantry Tony Miller.

 “Cabrillo Boulevard is one of our most historic stretches,” he said. “It was an important area for the Chumash, later Spaniard Gaspar de Portola traveled along the route during his 1769 overland trek, and the Boulevard is named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo whose ship the San Salvador came through our channel in 1542.”

As part of this year’s Fiesta, Old Spanish Days officials also announced that a full size replica of Cabrillo’s ship the San Salvador will visit our harbor during Fiesta weekend 2023 offering tours to the community. The ship is traveling from its home at the San Diego Maritime Museum for this special Fiesta visit — a collaboration between Old Spanish Days and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

More exciting news this year for Fiesta is the City giving the green light for the return of the Fiesta carnival and a full Mercado and beer garden to the area near SBCC’s La Playa Stadium. Historically, the carnival was first held there, before moving to MacKenzie Park as part of Mercado del Norte which began in 1979.

Now, and new this year, the City is allowing the rebranded Mercado de la Playa to run Thursday-Sunday providing a great venue for a Sunday afternoon of Fiesta.

“This is fantastic news for our community, and for families and others who enjoy spending a Sunday afternoon together,” said El Presidente Bolton. “Throughout the logistical meetings to bring a full Mercado and carnival back to the beach area, city officials showed a tremendous commitment to the community and to Fiesta history.”

Also in the plans for Fiesta 2023 is the return of Mercado De La Guerra in the heart of downtown. Featuring food, vendors and entertainment, this venue remains the popular downtown hub during Fiesta week, and provides a platform for area businesses and local non-profits to generate important operating revenue.

“The Fiesta Mercados are a special gathering place where the community can come together and feast on Spanish and Mexican-American food, enjoy live entertainment, and also shop for crafts & souvenirs,” said Division Chief of Marketplaces Andrea Caplan. “What makes it so special is supporting the numerous local non-profits, restaurants and talented musicians that reside in our jewel of a city.”

Further, as part of Fiesta 2023, two long-time, free-to the-public Fiesta entertainment events also return in a big way: Fiesta Pequeña providing a Wednesday evening of entertainment on the steps of the Old Mission, and Noches de Ronda offering its three evenings at the Santa Barbara Courthouse Sunken Garden.

“Music and dance are celebrated with passion throughout Santa Barbara during Fiesta week, capturing the heart and soul of Santa Barbara traditions,” said Patricia Oreña, Division Chief of Dance & Entertainment. “Fiesta brings together musicians and dancers of all ages to showcase their talents for everyone to enjoy and admire.”

Fiesta 2023 will also include an arts and crafts show, the Fiesta Rodeo, and a variety of dance shows and great networking celebrations including La Primavera on May 13 at El Paseo Restaurant, Goleta’s Fiesta Ranchera, Dignatarios at the Zoo, and La Recepción del Presidente.

“Fiesta means bringing our Community together with family, friends and others to celebrate our heritage, enjoy the dancing, food and lots of happiness together,” said Janice Howell, Division Chief of Celebrations.

Fiesta 2023 will be held August 2-6, with additional events beginning in April.

The year kicks off with the Spirit of Fiesta Audition on Saturday, April 15 at the historic Lobero Theatre, the organizers of Santa Barbara’s first Fiesta in 1924. Tickets go on sale Wednesday, March 8 via the Lobero box office.

With multiple free public venues, and a throng of tourists flocking to our beachside community supporting the festival and local businesses, pulling together this community’s Fiesta is a team effort.

“You can imagine the logistics and public assistance needed to pull off Fiesta in a single week in August,” said El Primer Vice Presidente Brian Schwabecher who is in charge of overall operations “Our organization requires thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours and we are always open to new volunteers to help at one or many of our celebrations. Fiesta is a community effort.”

All of the Fiesta events are open to the public — something that is very important to Old Spanish Days.

“This is made possible thanks to our sponsors and collaborative partners who are committed to the 99-year tradition that has been recognized as Santa Barbara’s number one annual event, ” said El Segundo Vice Presidente Fritz Olenberger.

“Fiesta sponsors represent a variety of businesses who share the love for our community and who join us in celebrating our rich history and culture. We love dance. We love music. We love food. We love Fiesta. Fiesta is part of the fabric of our amazing city.”

For more information about Fiesta 2023, to purchase tickets, or to sign up as a Fiesta volunteer, please visit

Let’s Fiesta!

For more from John, follow him on Twitter below:

Article Topic Follows: Fiesta

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


News Channel 3-12 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content