Silly in the sun

Paisley mermaids? Prancing ovens? It has to be Santa Barbara's Summer Solstice Parade

Sheila Schmitz

Every June, Santa Barbara celebrates summer with a spectacle that invites you to check your adulthood at the door. The Summer Solstice Parade, held on the Saturday closest to the longest day of the year (June 21 in 2003), is the city's homegrown freewheeling answer to Mardi Gras.

The parade has decidedly iconoclastic rules: No vehicles or motor-powered floats. No animals. No corporate logos. Deprived of the usual parade standbys, participants must rely on eye-popping invention: paisley mermaids in place of a homecoming queen, a whale-size goldfish for the mayor to ride in.

One year, a pink oven the size of a small house wobbled up State Street, stopping now and then to release dancing baked goods onto the pavement. This year's theme is "Silly," but to be honest, that could pretty well describe every parade since the event began in 1974.

A long, carefree day

The day is a triumph of collaboration as well as creativity. For six weeks, artists and volunteers work to turn donated wood, cardboard, paint, and fabric into mobile art and performance pieces. The sense of communal participation continues even after the parade has begun its 90-minute march along State Street. Massed on the sidewalks, spectators cheer on friends dressed as papier-mâché zebras and whack on a truck-size percussion instrument made of salvaged metal. Sidewalk vendors sell garlands, fairy wings, masks, and festival posters.

By the end of the parade route, the distinction between paraders and spectators has almost disappeared. The crowd funnels into Alameda Park, where food, music, and festivities await. High above, the sun hangs in the sky, motionless. With so much light comes time to soak in the day. Grown-up concerns can wait until later. Much later. After the sun goes down.


Summer Solstice Parade. Runs along State Street from Cota to Micheltorena Streets. Bring a blanket and secure a place on the curb by 10 a.m. (Many veterans claim territory the night before.) Seniors and those with disabilities may arrange for limited free reserved seating by calling (805) 965-3396. A $50 donation can reserve a spot ($100 for two spots). Jun 21, noon.

Parking. City lots off Santa Barbara, Anacapa, and Chapala Streets charge $1 per hour after the first 75 minutes; free parking is available on side streets.

Alameda Park Festival. The parade ends at Micheltorena and Anacapa, but the party continues. Floats stick around until 4:30, and live bands play until 8.

Float-builders' workshop. Arrive a day early and you can watch participants put finishing touches on their creations. Jun 20, noon-9. Location not set at press time.