Fiesta Ranchera

Fiesta Ranchera, photo by Fritz Olenberger, courtesy Old Spanish Days.

Fiesta Ranchera, photo by Fritz Olenberger, courtesy Old Spanish Days.

Come celebrate Fiesta in June at the always fun Fiesta Ranchera party! Truly a great night out for locals, this is an awesome way to get into the spirit of Fiesta, Goleta style!

On June 16, Fiesta Ranchera opens the Fiesta summer season with the help of Old Spanish Days and the Goleta Valley Historical Society for an unforgettable night of food, fun and merriment. The event begins at 5 p.m. at the historic Rancho La Patera & Stow House, 304 N. Los Carneros Rd. in Goleta.

The beautiful gardens make this a perfect place for a night of pre-Fiesta fun that includes sampling of food from local restaurants, wines from award-winning local wineries, craft beer and signature drinks. Guitarist Tony Ybarra will play as the crowd mingles, followed by performances from the 2016 Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta. Then dance the night away to the ever-favorite sounds of Area 51.

Fiesta dancers, photo by Fritz Olenberger, courtesy Old Spanish Days.

Fiesta dancers, photo by Fritz Olenberger, courtesy Old Spanish Days.

“We look forward to welcoming you for a rare opportunity to enjoy this lovely, historic landmark after the sun sets for a magical night at the Ranch,” says Amanda De Lucia, executive director of Goleta Valley Historical Society.

Restaurants and chefs to showcase their fabulous fare include Anna’s Bakery, Angel Oak at Bacara Resort & Spa, Catering Connection, Country Catering & Meat Market, Goodland Kitchen, McConnell’s Ice Cream, The Nugget, Pepe’s Mexican Food, Rincon Events, Trattoria Grappolo, Caffe Primo, On The Alley, Benchmark Eatery, Farmer Boy, High Sierra Bar & Grill, Woodstock’s Pizza, Woody’s BBQ and Nothing Bundt Cakes.

Guests will sip wine by Alexander & Wayne, Arthur Earl, Bella Cavalli Vineyard, Sunstone, Windrun and Zaca Mesa, along with craft beer from Hollister Brewing Co., Enegren Brewing, Captain Fattys, Santa Maria Brewing, Telegraph Brewing and Knee Deep Brewing.

Fiesta photo by Fritz Olenberger, courtesy Old Spanish Days.

Fiesta photo by Fritz Olenberger, courtesy Old Spanish Days.

Tickets for the event are $65 and are now all inclusive (no more pesky drink tickets) and may be purchased online at Tickets will also be available onsite for $80 at the door. Designated driver and group discounts are available, and guests must be 21 to enter. Attendees are encouraged to dress in Fiesta or ranch attire.

Leslie Dinaberg

Published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine on June 9, 2016.

Editor’s Pick: La Fiesta Pequeña

Fiesta dancers, photo by Bill Zeldis

Fiesta dancers, photo by Bill Zeldis

One of Old Spanish Days’ most beautiful traditions is the official opening of Fiesta, which has taken place in front of the Santa Barbara Mission since 1927. Always free to the public, La Fiesta Pequeña (“little Fiesta”) is a colorful historical program with traditional songs and dances from the Californio, Flamenco, Spanish Classical and Mexican Folklorico traditions. Old Mission Santa Barbara, 2201 Laguna St. Aug. 5, 8 p.m.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Summer 2015.

—Leslie Dinaberg

La Primavera Fiesta Kick Off

El Presidente Cas Stimson (center) celebrating at La Primavera, photo by Fritz Olenberger

El Presidente Cas Stimson (center) celebrating at La Primavera, photo by Fritz Olenberger

Last weekend was the official kick off for the 2015 Fiesta season, La Primavera, where El Presidente Cas Stimson unveiled the official Fiesta theme, poster design, and pin.

The theme, Fiesta Romántica, states Stimson, “recalls the time in the early 19th century when people met at parties filled with music and dance… that lasted for days! During this charming era, young men wooed their ladies with music and song under the moonlight. Old Spanish Days continues this romance of people coming together in celebration with their best friends and spouses. As has been the case with many visitors and residents of Santa Barbara, my wife Kathy and I met during Fiesta 25 years ago.”

La Primavera was held at the historic El Paseo Restaurant. Here’s a look at the event, featuring photos by Fritz Olenberger.

The 2015 Old Spanish Days poster,  photo by Fritz Olenberger

The 2015 Old Spanish Days poster, photo by Fritz Olenberger

Celebrating at La Primavera, photo by Fritz Olenberger

Celebrating at La Primavera, photo by Fritz Olenberger

Celebrating at La Primavera, photo by Fritz Olenberger

Erin Graffy de Garcia, celebrating at La Primavera, photo by Fritz Olenberger

2015 Spirit of Fiesta Alexandra Freres celebrating at La Primavera, photo by Fritz Olenberger

2015 Spirit of Fiesta Alexandra Freres celebrating at La Primavera, photo by Fritz Olenberger

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine on May 13, 2015.

Cocktail Corner: Viva la Sangria!

Peach Sangria, courtesy Ciroc Vodka

Peach Sangria, courtesy Ciroc Vodka

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

Of course, nothing will ever usurp the Margarita as my Fiesta drink of choice. As I’ve written in this column before, “Margaritas are part of the DNA of Santa Barbara and—along with buying Cascarones and seeing old friends—one of my favorite ways to celebrate Old Spanish Days. My son was born on July 27, 1999 and once I got over the initial euphoria, the first thing I wanted to do was drink a Margarita. After all, it was Fiesta time and that’s how we do it around here.”

But, as I’ve learned—the hard way—there is such a thing as too many Margaritas. That’s where Sangria comes in. This Spanish/Portuguese libation takes many forms.

The most common Sangrias consist of red wine, chopped fruit, a sweetener, and a small amount of added brandy, vodka or some other spirit. The beauty of a drink like this is that less expensive wines work well, and the chopped fruit can include almost anything you have around. Oranges, lemons, limes, apples, peaches, melons of all types, berries, pineapples, grapes and mangos are all good. Frozen berries work especially well, and you can substitute Sprite or 7 Up or Lemon Lime for the spirits if you want a lighter cocktail.

Sangria is pretty widely available in the summer. For example, the Coral Cafe & Bar at the Coral Casino has a Skinny Superfruit Sangria that is magically under 125 calories (made with Veev Acaí, Cranberry Juice, Red Wine and Strawberry Puree). Finch & Fork at the Canary Hotel offers a $20 “Sangria & Bites” happy hour special with a pitcher of red or white sangria and three bites to share: warm citrus marinated olives, blistered shishito peppers and honey roasted spiced nuts. Alcazar on the Mesa also has a nice Sangria happy hour special.Strawberry

I particularly like the white sangria, also known as Sangria Blanca, made with white wine. The Latin Kitchen has a nice recipe here.

Also becoming popular are versions that forgo wine entirely. One of my favorite variations in that category is a Peach Sangria. Here’s a recipe from CÎROC Vodka, which is incidentally made from French grapes, rather than the traditional grain alcohol:

Peach Sangria

(Pitcher Recipe)

10 oz CÎROC Peach

5 oz Hennessy

5 oz Fresh Lime Juice

5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice 5

1 oz Simple Syrup

40 Dashes Bitters

20 oz Club Soda

Stir over ice in 64 oz pitcher


(Single Cocktail)

1 oz CÎROC Peach

.5 oz Hennessy

.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice

.5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

.5 oz Simple Syrup

4 Dashes Bitters

2 oz Club Soda

Stir over ice in Wine Glass

With that I’ll leave you with this Fiesta-flavored video from CÎROC partner/brand ambassador Sean Combs.

Viva la Sangria!


Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on August 1, 2014.

Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Don’t Miss Fiesta’s Wildest Party

Celebracion de la DignatariosAs longtime locals know, Celebración de Los Dignatarios—Fiesta’s wildest party at the Santa Barbara Zoo—is the hot place to dance the night away alongside lions, snow leopards, elephants and elected officials!

With live entertainment, dancing to King Bee (a personal favorite), mariachis, margaritas and tempting treats from more than 20 local restaurants, not to mention loads of lovely señors and señoritas in beautiful costumes, this is without a doubt one of the best places for party animals to strut their stuff.

Need further convincing? Celebración de Los Dignatarios is also a joint fundraiser for Old Spanish Days and Santa Barbara Zoo. And it’s this Thursday night, July 31, from 5–10 p.m. Santa Barbara Zoo, 500 Niños Dr. 805/962-8101,

Courtesy of Old Spanish Days

Courtesy of Old Spanish Days

Buy tickets at local Albertsons, at the Santa Barbara Zoo or online.

You can park at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort and catch the Dignatarios shuttle in the parking lot.

Hope to see you there!

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on July 30, 2014.

Marilyn Horne Named “Honorary La Diva of Old Spanish Days”

Marilyn Horne, courtesy photo

Marilyn Horne, courtesy photo

Viva la Fiesta and Viva la Diva!

This summer, The Music Academy of the West presents the 2014 Carmen Celebration; a special series of events in honor of the legendary opera singer Marilyn Horne’s 80th birthday. As part of this series, the Music Academy has partnered with Old Spanish Days to celebrate Horne, director of the Music Academy’s voice program, in conjunction with her 80th birthday, and recognize her with the official title, “Honorary La Diva of Old Spanish Days.”

On July 23, from 5:30–7:30 p.m., the Music Academy hosts a special private event to commemorate this occasion. The program includes performances from the Music Academy’s production of Bizet’s Carmen and the 2014 Spirit of the Fiesta. (The Music Academy will present a new, fully staged production of Carmen, directed by David Paul, conducted by James Gaffigan, and featuring State Street Ballet dancers at Santa Barbara’s Granada Theatre on August 1 and 3.)

“Marilyn Horne embodies the very spirit of our extraordinary performing arts & cultural community in Santa Barbara, and Old Spanish Days is the perfect partner to help us commemorate our Carmen Celebration in honor of her 80th birthday,” says Scott Reed, president of the Music Academy of the West. “We are thrilled to bestow this honor upon a legend, and true legacy of the Music Academy of the West.”

This year marks the 90th Anniversary of the Fiesta Historical Parade, one of the largest equestrian parades in the United States, which will take place on August 1. As part of the Carmen Celebration festivities, during the parade Horne will ride in an antique carriage sponsored by the Music Academy’s presenting sponsor, Montecito Bank & Trust.

The Granada Theatre will also commemorate the honor of Marilyn Horne’s title “Honorary La Diva of Old Spanish Days” on the theatre’s marquee.

Horne has long been recognized as one of the most influential artists to portray Carmen. Her first major professional engagement was in 1954, when she dubbed the singing voice of Dorothy Dandridge in the film Carmen Jones. Horne went on to sing the title role in Bizet’s Carmen to open the Metropolitan Opera’s 1972-73 season, which featured Leonard Bernstein as conductor, and earned a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1974. Horne’s distinguished career has garnered her numerous honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Gramophone magazine. She was named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1995, received the National Medal of Arts in 1992, and has been inducted into the American Classical Music and Hollywood Bowl halls of fame. Among her worldwide prizes are the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters from France’s Ministry of Culture. She was named a National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors recipient in 2009.

Horne, who attended the Music Academy in 1953, has been a member of the Music Academy faculty since 1995, and has directed the Academy’s renowned Voice Program since 1997.

Please also note these upcoming performances.
• Opera Covers Performance in Lehmann Tuesday, Jul 22 at 3:15 p.m.
• Carmen Opera Performances, Friday, August 1 and Sunday, August 3
• Vocal Masterclass with Marilyn Horne, Wednesday, August 6

For more information, visit

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on July 22, 2014.

Viva La Fiesta!

1707e47c9de6bf305c9143c1031a1948Love it or hate it, Leslie does both

Like many Santa Barbarians, I have a love/hate relationship with Fiesta. I’m not one of those people who flee from town every Fiesta, but you’ll also never catch me running for La Presidenta.

My ambivalence started when I was a kid, and like most things when you’re 7 years old, it was all my mom’s fault.

You see, other than the rare button repair or sock darning, my mom didn’t know how to sew. She didn’t garden either, so even though she let me be a flower girl in the Children’s Parade I never had the prettiest dresses or the prettiest flowers to toss.

It was still fun, but I’m sure it would have been much more fun if I’d had a better outfit, Mom!

The street dances at West Beach were awesome when I was a teenager. Part of the appeal was that parents weren’t allowed, but I guess the city canceled them when they got too rowdy. I’m sure this was my mom’s fault somehow.

Still, Old Spanish Days are always a lot of fun.

It’s too many Old Spanish Nights in a row that I pay the price for.

There’s something about those hot August evenings and Mariachi music that always lead to a little too much fun in the cactus-based beverage department, then one too many late night burritos at Casablanca (R.I.P.) “to absorb the alcohol.”

After almost four decades (yikes!) of Fiesta celebrations, I’ve finally learned to pick and choose my events. It’s hard, because they’re all fun in different ways and it’s always great to see friends. But it’s also a lot of people and a lot of festivities to deal with for five days straight, not counting the pre-events that start five months before.

Did I mention it’s a LOT of people?

But I really don’t love that Fiesta feverish feeling I get towards the end of the week when hearing one more chorus of “La Bamba” will put me over the edge. And as much as I love the colorful cascarones, I hate finding confetti in my laundry basket for the next six months.

But I love watching all of the dancing, running into old friends, and the tamales at Our Lady of Guadalupe. And going to the parties-I really love going to the parties.

But I’d like them even better if I had a prettier dress.

Share your Fiesta memories with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 29, 2011.

Fiesta celebration a quiet one for law enforcement

This year’s Fiesta celebration went off with few hitches, which is just the way law enforcement likes it.

“This Fiesta had fewer large problems than the last several recent Fiestas,” said police Lt. Paul McCaffrey, a department spokesman.

He credits much of the success to the preplanning and prior year analysis that goes into making decisions.

To make things work smoothly, all hands are on deck within the department, both officers and civilian personnel.

“Days off, holidays, vacations are all canceled during Fiesta,” said McCaffrey. “The courts don’t say ‘Oh, well, it’s Fiesta’ and give us extra time to get the reports done.”

Also lending a hand were officers from other agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department; Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula and Ventura police departments; Santa Barbara County Probation; and the California Youth Authority. While having additional officers on the streets helps, the reinforcements also brought special knowledge of known gang members from their areas.

“The incidents we did have were largely gang-related problems,” McCaffrey said. “Having officers from other agencies that are knowledgeable of who the gang members are, who might have a warrant, the terms of probation. Some people are not allowed out of their county, out at night, (or to) associate with gang members, some are prohibited from consuming alcohol.”

Being able to quickly take action on some of these minor types of violations allowed police to “send a message of what we will and will not tolerate here in Santa Barbara,” McCaffrey said.

“… Especially a gang of 20-25 people, take one or two people out of group for something relatively minor, we’re sending a message. That philosophy did a lot to prevent problems,” he added.

Another big part of police effectiveness was increased communication and mobility. McCaffrey said another radio frequency was added and there were extra officers on bicycles, motorcycles and on foot on State Street, where most of the action took place.

“Gangs aren’t hanging out at the Noches de Ronda,” said McCaffrey, who added that they like the see-and-be-seen atmosphere of State Street.

“A big part of the gang mentality and lifestyle is to defend your gang and look for other gangs.”

Authorities estimate there were 524 arrests during Fiesta vs. more than 650 last year. McCaffrey said the department will have a “great big Fiesta debriefing” in the near future.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon

History On Parade

Old Spanish Days Fiesta Parade, photo by Damian Gadal, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Old Spanish Days Fiesta Parade, photo by Damian Gadal, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Along a route of less than three miles, El Desfile Histórico makes a colorful connection to Santa Barbara’s past.

Friday’s Old Spanish Days parade is always one of the highlights of Santa Barbara’s annual Fiesta festivities.

El Desfile Histórico, themed as “a celebration of early Santa Barbara,” will be the fruit of hundreds of hours of volunteer labor. About 800 horses, 30 carriages and as many as 20 floats will line up for the parade this year, according Kelly Magne, vice presidente of pageantry.

Because it’s Fiesta’s 80th anniversary, the parade will be a re-creation of the 1924 event, with every float either representing a 1924 float or something that existed in Santa Barbara in that year, said float chairman Marc Martinez. There will be floats depicting the 1924 Courthouse (which was later destroyed in an earthquake), City Hall, the Arlington Hotel, El Patio Restaurant (the precursor to El Paseo) and other historic buildings, events and figures.

Creating the Boys & Girls Club

Club of Santa Barbara’s Chumash village float was both fun and educational for the young art camp participants who researched the different elements of Chumash life, then designed and built the float from the ground up. One end of the elaborate float will feature two Chumash huts.

“We started with bamboo poles, but it didn’t work,” said Mitchell Cunningham, a Notre Dame School seventh-grader who helped build the float. “The bamboo looked good but it burst.”

“So we used authentic Chumash PVC pipe,” laughed Ingrid Bodnar, lead teacher for the project.

Fellow art teacher Lise Lange also contributed leaves from her yard to build the authentic-looking huts. The finished project will portray a seaside village, complete with sand, waves and Chumash grinding maize and going about their daily lives.

Also featured will be the club’s flamenco dancers, said executive director Erin Cavazos. They have new costumes this year, she noted, thanks to money donated by the alumni association.

St. Barbara is also getting a new look this year, said Dolores Hartnett of Reina Del Mar Parlor No. 126, Native Daughters of the Golden West, who’s been involved with the parade for “50 years at least.”

“We just rebuilt our float from the ground up … it’s going to be great for St. Barbara (portrayed by Marisol Cabrera) to ride,” said Hartnett. While all of the floats were drawn by horses at one time, St. Barbara is the only float drawn by horses now.

A new addition to the parade is the Fiesta Queen and her court, said Martinez. In the 1924 parade they held a queen competition as a fundraiser, where the girl who raised the most money won and had the honor of being led to the float by flower boys, a tradition that will be re-created this year, he said.

The queen will be portrayed by Diana Vandervoort, with princesses Thea Vandervoort, Jazz and Paisley Moralez, Marianne Freeman, Cari Kendric and Donna Egeberg.

The coming together of the whole parade is a work of art, said Magne, especially the horses.

“We have a full team of equestrians there that are making sure all the horses are under control and prepared. … It’s been an amazingly safe parade because of the skill of our team,” she said, giving special kudos to equestrian director Wayne Powers.

Besides being one of the country’s largest equestrian parades, it is also a qualifying parade to ride a horse in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day, said Magne.

“Riding a horse in a parade is no easy task,” she said. “You need a lot of training and lot of years of experience to ride in noisy crowds.”

The equestrians are definitely big supporters of Fiesta and Old Spanish Days thanks them with a party, the Horsemen’s Rendezvous, said Magne, adding, “They usually stay one or two nights. It’s great because they spend their money here. We like that.”

“This is probably the best parade we’ve had in at least 20 years,” said Martinez, whose father, Abe, was the former float master. “I used his hammer to build many of the floats this year. It feels like he’s still with me.”

As directors, we’re only the caretakers, continued Martinez.

“It’s been the people, the families, that have kept it (Fiesta) alive to make this 80th anniversary,” he said.

“The parade is the signature event that makes everything work.”

The Fiesta Parade begins at the corner of Cabrillo Boulevard and Castillo Street at noon Friday and will continue for two-and-a-half miles, ending at the corner of State and Sola streets.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on August 5, 2004.

Some do want to get away for Fiesta

Old Spanish Days Fiesta Parade, photo by Damian Gadal, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Old Spanish Days Fiesta Parade, photo by Damian Gadal, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

There are plenty of sanctuaries within driving distance.

Santa Barbarans have a love/hate relationship with Fiesta. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of people and a lot of festivities to deal with for four days straight. If you start to feel like one more chorus of “La Bamba” will put you over the edge, read on for some cures for Fiesta fever.

The charms of Los Olivos are just a short drive away. For those who haven’t visited lately, Grand Avenue is indeed grand. Stop by the always delightful Persnickity (2900 Grand Ave.; 686.8955) for a wonderful selection of gift items, including vintage linens, birdhouses, ladies dresses and more.

Also worth a look are the Gallery Los Olivos (2920 Grand Ave.; 688.7517), which represents more than 40 regional artists, and the two Judith Hale Galleries (north at 2890 Grand Ave.; 688.1222, and south at 2884 Grand Ave.; 693.1233), an eclectic mix of Western and traditional artwork in all media, including bronze and stone sculpture, woodcarvings and jewelry.

Featuring the works of Santa Barbara artist Merv Corning, among others, is Young’s Gallery (2920 Grand Ave.; 688.9745), which specializes in original watercolors, oils and calligraphy.

A must for wine aficionados is the Arthur Earl tasting room (2921 Grand Ave.; 693.1771). Winner of the South Coast Beacon’s Savor Santa Barbara “people’s choice” tasting, this small winery produces only about 2500 cases a year.

Another small-yield vintner worth checking out is Andrew Murray Vineyards Tasting Room (2901 Grand Ave.; 686.9604), the only exclusively Rhone estate in Santa Barbara County.

Los Olivos Cafe & Wine Merchant (2879 Grand Ave.; 688.7265) is great. The food is excellent and there’s also a nice selection of local wines by the glass and bottles to purchase.

Grand Avenue even has a four-star restaurant, the Vintage Room at Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn & Spa (2860 Grand Ave.; 688.7788.

After a visit to Los Olivos, you might want to go north to the Chumash Casino (3400 E. Highway 246), where there’s free live music every Friday and Saturday night, as well as a new resort hotel and spa.

Solvang, “the Danish capital of America,” is certainly an alternative to Old Spanish Days. No visit is complete without an aebleskiver — the Danish equivalent of the ubiquitous churro — available at any of the many bakeries in town. For theater fans, the PCPA features Bullshot Crummond, a takeoff on old “B” movies, running through Sunday. Call 922.8313 for ticket information and showtimes.

Nearby is Trattoria Grappalo (3687 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez; 688.6899) with its mouth-watering pastas and extensive wine list. If you’re feeling like a different kind of dining experience, the Chef’s Touch’s cooking class Saturday is “Married and Bored … Go to Dinner!” which features Thai food preparation and a meal. The cost is $45. Call 686.1040 for reservations.

For those looking to escape south, rather than north, there’s the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp in Oxnard (at the River Ridge Athletic Field on the corner of Ventura Road and Vineyard Avenue) from 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m.

The Ventura County Fair is going on through Aug. 15 at Seaside Park (10 W. Harbor Blvd., 648.3376). There are arts and crafts, food, farm animals, carnival rides and games, a petting zoo and more. Events in the grandstand arena are free with admission and include Motorsports at 6 p.m. today; Brad Paisley, at 7:30 p.m. Friday; the Village People at 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and … guess you can’t truly escape it … Fiesta Day at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on August 5, 2004.