This event is part of the larger Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Festival, but the parade, started by one man--a mime and artist--is what started what has become Santa Barbara County's largest single day event.
In 1974, an artist named Michael Gonzales conceived the parade to celebrate his own birthday, which occurred near the summer solstice. He and several of his street performer buddies just danced down Santa Barbara's main drag, State Street.
From there, the parade grew every year, and now it's become a huge annual event with street fairs, concerts, stage performances, all put on by artists from around the world who come to Santa Barbara to enjoy the beautiful weather the area affords.
Each year, artists and everyday Joes are invited to design and build a non-commercial, non-mechanized entry for the parade, following a common theme for that year's celebration (for example, the theme for the 2002 festival is Circus). Each year a staff of festival artists-in-residence hold a workshop about six weeks before the parade itself, to help people craft imaginative floats, performance art, dance routines, or whatever to participate in the parade. There are no rules other than you may not under any circumstance use any written words, advertisements, live animals (except for seeing-eye dogs), and all moving parts must be completely people powered (with the exception of motorized wheelchairs).
The parade in some years has caused a bit of scandal for both tourists and residents alike. While the parade is often a beautiful spectacle, the actual content of the parade varies wildly from year to year, depending on the theme. Several years ago, for example, there were a number of sexuality-related floats and particpants (mainly of the bondage type) which incensed many parents who had thought "Hey, it's a parade! It'll be good for the kids to watch!" Such was not the case that year, and each year's event often brings many surprises of this type. If you plan on attending, be forewarned that sometimes the parade is most definitely rated R. But that's part of the whole fun of the thing ... you just never know what you'll see, hear, taste, and experience.
The parade itself begins at noon on the closest Saturday following the annual summer solstice. It follows a mile long route beginning from the upper (northern) portion of State Street, ending near the street's beachside terminus. Nearly 100,000 spectators jam the sidewalk to view the parade, so grab your spot early! And have fun ... even participate in this unique local event.
Information for this writeup adapted from the official Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Festival website, www.solsticeparade.com