Fireworks, parades, food, music and fun.

All the ingredients for an Independence Day celebration were in abundant supply Wednesday, as residents from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara to Goleta — and throughout Santa Barbara County — marked the Fourth of July holiday.

In Santa Barbara, the fireworks were about to start, but the kids at the SBCC campus Wednesday night weren’t staring at Stearns Wharf.

About a dozen children gathered around a man dressed in American flag pants, a royal blue shirt and a stars-and-stripes tie wrapped around his head like a bandana. He also was armed with balloons.

Alex Graf is a Yardi Systems software developer by day and a balloon artist by night.

Kids asked him for swords, dragons, fireworks and dogs. Graf was stationed at the SBCC campus at 8 p.m., but he had been making balloons for six hours.

“It’s something I do for fun,” said Graf, adding that it’s a stress reliever. “I make enough money at my day job where I can make balloons and do something that makes people happy.”

He said it helps keep the kids’ attention before the fireworks.

“It costs five cents per balloon but it’s not a big deal to me because my job is making me enough to live in this city,” Graf said. “So I see it as giving back.”

Balloons weren’t the only Fourth of July attraction in Santa Barbara. Thousands of people sporting their red, white and blue packed the waterfront on Wednesday night to catch a glimpse of the fireworks show.

Santa Barbara SPARKLE’s 2012 Freedom Celebration kicked off at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a 50-piece combo band from the Air National Guard Base of the Southwest.

The City of Santa Barbara and the nonprofit SPARKLE hosted a 20-minute pyrotechnic display, which was produced by Bay Fireworks and funded by the Waterfront Department.

There were many “oohs” and “ahs” that lasted throughout the finale, as people gazed toward the wharf from atop the SBCC campus. Graf summed up the experience in one sentence.

“It’s just about having fun,” he said.

2012 Goleta Fireworks Festival-Noozhawk from Noozhawk on Vimeo.

Several miles to the west, thousands of spectators gathered at Girsh Park for the annual Goleta Fireworks Festival hosted by the Goleta Rotary Clubs.

Festivities kicked off at 4 p.m. Wednesday with live music from local dance band Area 51 and country band the Excellent Tradesmen. Family-friendly activities included bounce houses, carnival games, barbecue and even a mini-ice rink for children.

Rotary Club member Robert Cooney said the club expected to see a larger turnout than past years.

“We have had around 3,000 people in the past, and this year we expect to see around the same number plus more — maybe 3,500,” Cooney said.

Local politicians were also in attendance. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, was there to introduce Goleta Teen of the Year Shandeep Ahdi, a Dos Pueblos High senior, and Goleta Mayor Ed Easton led the crowd in singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

According to Cooney, one of the highlights of this year’s festival was the new ice rink, which was actually made of hard plastic with a synthetic oil coating to make it slippery.

Stage manager Steve Jones said the musical guests were prominent local musicians.

“Area 51 is a local favorite that has been playing for about 20 years,” he said. “Their music is sort of a jazz fusion. (The Excellent Tradesmen) started a little more recently, and they play a retro country style.”

Event co-chairman Eric Onnen said plans for the celebration have been in the works since last fall.

“There’s been a huge amount of effort put into this event,” Onnen said. “We formed a committee and started preparation for the event last September.”

Earlier in the day, the Goleta Valley Historical Society hosted its 38th annual Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration at Rancho La Patera and Stow House for a day of traditional family fun, including traditional barbecued food, carnival-style booths and historic exhibits.

Goleta Valley Historical Society director Amanda De Lucia said she was pleasantly surprised by the turnout despite the less-than-sunny weather.

“It’s been amazingly successful — we’ve had over a 1,000 people, and we are expecting around 1,500,” De Lucia said. “Despite the overcast sky, people are still buying ice cream and popcorn and it’s great.”

The celebration featured the live music of bluegrass band The Salt Martians, bluegrass duo Peter Feldmann and Blaine Sprouse, and classic rock band The Rawhides.

The food was catered by Country Catering, and included tri-tip, grilled chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs and beer from Hollister Brewing Co.

Family-focused festivities included everything from hayrides and ponies to an old engine show, tours of the historic Stow House, restored classic cars and antique sales.

Historical society board member Dan Marchiado said that while the focus of the event is family-friendly fun, he hoped people learned a few things about Goleta’s heritage, as well.

“It’s nice to see all the families out today — that’s really the goal of the celebration,” Marchiado said. “We want to provide fun for everyone with just a little bit of education as well.”

Merlyn Cummings dressed as Uncle Sam and posed for pictures.

“We aim to entertain and hope that everyone has a good time,” Cummings said. “A little girl asked me earlier if I was the real Uncle Sam and I said, ‘I am for today.’”

Click here for Fourth of July parade coverage from Santa Barbara and Montecito.

For the second year, Noozhawk used Storify to tell your stories of this year’s Fourth of July celebrations in Santa Barbara County. Scroll down to see our Storify coverage.

Noozhawk staff writers Alex Kacik and Patrick Kulp can be reached at and, respectively. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkBiz, @noozhawk and @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook. href=

Patrick Kulp, Noozhawk Intern | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk intern Patrick Kulp can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.