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Mercados Bring Authentic Food, Shopping and Music to Santa Barbara Fiesta

As perhaps the tastiest Old Spanish Days tradition, Fiesta mercados around town host food booths and entertainment stages

Fiesta-goers have a variety of foods to choose from while attending the festivities at El Mercado del Norte at Santa Barbara’s MacKenzie Park.
Fiesta-goers have a variety of foods to choose from while attending the festivities at El Mercado del Norte at Santa Barbara’s MacKenzie Park.  (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Amid the confetti, parades and chaos that are an essential part of the Old Spanish Days celebration, there’s something else bringing crowds to the local event — the smell of fresh cinnamon-sugar-covered churros, homemade pork tamales and elotes fresh off the grill.

This festival cuisine can be found at each of the three Fiesta mercados, the marketplaces filled with food stands, shopping booths as well as a center stages for live dancing and music.

Old Spanish Days celebrates Santa Barbara’s Spanish heritage, and that doesn’t stop at the food. While the festival cuisine takes more after our neighbor Mexico, these homemade delicacies are arguably one of the best parts of the event.   

Mercado de la Guerra

In the heart of downtown Santa Barbara is Mercado de la Guerra, named for its location in De la Guerra Plaza. This marketplace sees the most foot traffic out of the three mercados since it neighbors State Street. De la Guerra Street is closed off between State and Anacapa streets and instead, the lanes are filled with booths selling hats, flowers and clothes as well as offering henna and face painting.

Traditional Mexican tacos are one of the most popular food dishes served at the Old Spanish Days mercados. Click to view larger
Traditional Mexican tacos are one of the most popular food dishes served at the Old Spanish Days mercados. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Inside the plaza, food booths border all sides, offering everything from fish tacos to enchiladas and fresh corn-on-the-cob. The center of the plaza is left open so that spectators can watch the performances at the stage. Some of this year’s headliners include: RedFish, Cruz Dance and Entertainment and the LA Impromptu Orchestra. Mercado de la Guerra also has its own nearby beer garden, the Casa Cantina, for those craving margaritas or cervezas.

It's open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

For a full schedule of Mercado de la Guerra performances click here.

Mercado del Norte

On Upper State Street, Mercado del Norte is located in MacKenzie Park, right next to Earl Warren Showgrounds. This is the largest mercado and it needs every bit of the extra space. Four sub-sections make up the marketplace — food stands, the Fiesta Bazaar, the Fiesta Carnival and the Crazy Horse Cantina.

Tyler Mallard and Drew Wakefield help raise money for the Santa Barbara Jaycees by selling taquitos at Mercado De la Guerra. Click to view larger
Tyler Mallard and Drew Wakefield help raise money for the Santa Barbara Jaycees by selling taquitos at Mercado De la Guerra. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Food booths here are similar to those at Mercado de la Guerra with their tamales, barbeque and funnel cakes, but the real draw is the Fiesta Carnival. Kids and adults alike can brave daredevil rides such as the Zipper and Superman. Those looking for a little less adrenaline can enjoy options like the Fun House and Super Slide.

Mercado del Norte also houses a main stage where local musicians and dancers perform. Fiesta-goers who are over 21 can enjoy the Crazy Horse Cantina, a beer garden within Mercado del Norte complete with its very own stage and dance floor.

It's open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

For a full schedule of Mercado del Norte events, click here.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Mercado

One of the best-kept local secrets of Fiesta is the Old Lady of Guadalupe Mercado. Santa Barbara natives boast this location as housing the most authentic cuisine out of all mercado venues. Whether tamales or tortas, the food booths here are guaranteed to be just as good as your “abuela” makes.

A Fiesta favorite, cascarones (confetti eggs), come in all styles and colors. Cascarones are believed to bring good luck when cracked over somebody’s head. Click to view larger
A Fiesta favorite, cascarones (confetti eggs), come in all styles and colors. Cascarones are believed to bring good luck when cracked over somebody’s head. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

This marketplace is located in the courtyard of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church at 227 North Nopal Street. The open venue becomes transformed for Fiesta with colorful banners and the ever-present confetti littering the pavement. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe also has a stage for performances. However, due to the enclosed setting of the courtyard, these acts have a much more personal, intimate feel as the music bounces off the surrounding structures.

It's open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Noozhawk intern Sarah Scarminach can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Dancers from Boscutti Ballet Theatre in Lompoc perform Wednesday at Mercado Del Norte in MacKenzie Park. Click to view larger
Dancers from Boscutti Ballet Theatre in Lompoc perform Wednesday at Mercado Del Norte in MacKenzie Park. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)
Many merchant booths line the Avenida de los Presidentes on De la Guerra Street during Fiesta days at Mercado De La Guerra in Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Many merchant booths line the Avenida de los Presidentes on De la Guerra Street during Fiesta days at Mercado De La Guerra in Santa Barbara. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

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