Thousands sit and stand on both sides of Cabrillo Boulevard to watch dancers, horses and more
Justin Uribe celebrated his birthday with a smile on his face and a Moscow mule cocktail in his hand.
Clad in a white shirt, jeans and sunglasses, the friendly Santa Barbara resident, who turned 41, stood outside Bluewater Grill on Cabrillo Boulevard. He shouted cheerfully in Spanish to the riders on the horses in the nation’s largest equestrian parade.
Wearing Old Spanish Days costumes and hats, the men on the horses smiled back. Then their horses proudly did some fancy footwork, just for Mr. Uribe.
“They’re all dancing horses. So I tell the riders, ‘I want to see them dance!’ They’ll start doing a special dance,” Mr. Uribe, an equestrian himself, told the News-Press.
As the first Fiesta Historical Parade since 2019 proceeded early Friday afternoon on its new route, Cabrillo Boulevard, Mr. Uribe raised his voice to be heard over the dynamic music of mariachi horns, violins and guitars, and the loud, joyful volume of the crowd, easily numbering in the thousands. They sat and stood on both sides of Cabrillo Boulevard, on a route stretching from Castillo Street to the colorful Chromatic Gate.
“Viva la Fiesta!” shouted Father Larry Gosselin on a float that was a replica of the Santa Barbara Mission.
The crowd of all ages, from children on their parents’ shoulders to seniors sitting on benches, shouted, with enthusiasm to match the priest’s: “Viva la Fiesta!”
Leading the parade were Los Niños de la Flores, young girls with flowers, setting the stage, so to speak, for Spirit of Fiesta Tara Mata and her court of fellow dancers.
Ms. Mata, 19, a recent graduate of Santa Barbara City College, danced in the traditional Fiesta white dress and gestured with a white fan, a common part of flamenco. She proceeded with style, grace and a constant smile — the entire route of the parade.
Then came more royalty: Saint Barbara — Lynn Kirst — wearing her crown, robe and gown and standing proudly outside the castle on her float.
Then came the horses, of all sizes and colors, with, as Mr. Uribe noted, an uncanny talent for dancing. This was their day to show fancy footwork, and this was the day for their riders to wear traditional costumes. The men had their Old Spanish Days hats, and the women wore bright red, green, blue, you name it, dresses, some of them long enough to wrap the horses with color.
In fact, some of the horses wore floral wreaths. This was a day everybody was looking their best.
And some horses pulled carriages of various sizes and colors. Riding in one of those carriages was Mayor Pro Tem Meagan Harmon, smiling widely as she sat next to someone else with a big smile — Junior Spirit Layla Gocong, 9.
The Spirits and Junior Spirits from the 2020 and 2021 celebrations, which didn’t have parades, got to be in this one.
And this year’s La Presidente Maria Cabrera and her husband, Francisco Cabrera (the honorary presidente), stood proudly on their float.
This was the parade’s first time on Cabrillo Boulevard after nearly a century on State Street. A parade couldn’t proceed there this year because of the parklets outside restaurants, and the city of Santa Barbara is continuing to work on issues such as making the parklets portable (and hence removable for parades).
But the News-Press talked with a dozen or so parade goers, and they were unanimous in preferring the wider Cabrillo Boulevard and its backdrop of palm trees and the Pacific Ocean over historic State Street.
“You can’t beat a parade next to the beach,” Maritza Corona, a 25-year-old Santa Barbara resident and native, said.
Charlotte Hamilton, 17, who works at Bluewater Grill, said Cabrillo Boulevard makes for a better environment.
“There’s more room to sit,” said Ms. Hamilton, who participated in the Historical Parade on State Street when she was a young girl, wearing a traditional Old Spanish Days dress.
“It’s awesome. I love it,” she said about this year’s parade.
Besides providing an ocean backdrop, the new route helped business at Bluewater Grill. That was clear as a regular number of customers went in and out during the parade.
“We were open during the Fourth of July, and we didn’t see a turnout close to this,” Bluewater Grill host Jocelyn Ambrosini told the News-Press. “This is definitely one of our busier days.
“It’s just awesome to see everyone in the community come together. It’s such a fun time,” Ms. Ambrosini, 20, said.
Standing near Bluewater Grill, Ms. Corona said she’s missed the parade, which didn’t happen in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I love everything, from the music to the floats to the horses to the confetti eggs,” said Ms. Corona, a brunette who had confetti of various colors in her hair, as did people of all ages along the parade route.
“It’s almost unreal to see all these people together,” she said. “It’s awesome. I’m really glad we were able to do it this year.”
Mr. Uribe said Cabrillo Boulevard offers a different vibe than State Street.
“I think this is way better,” he said. “You have the beach as the background.”
While there were free trolleys, many people chose to walk down State Street to Cabrillo Boulevard for the parade. On the way back, music flowed out of restaurants and bars by State Street parklets, everything from recordings of easy-listening pop to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
A mariachi band performed in the back of Joe’s Cafe and could easily be heard out on State Street.
Along State Street, people were selling confetti eggs (cascarones), and the Fiesta spirit continued all the way up into El Mercado De la Guerra, where the dancing and music became more dynamic and percussive as the day progressed. At one point, a large crowd gathered to see and hear Grupo Folklórico de West L.A., complete with elaborate headdresses, on stage.
Fiesta continues this morning with the children’s parade at 10, again on Cabrillo Boulevard but this time led by Layla, the Junior Spirit, as she dances with pride.