Theatres of Santa Barbara

By Shannon Hsu

Arlington Theatre

The Arlington Theatre is the most well-known performing arts center and largest movie theater in the city of Santa Barbara. Not only does it regularly screen movies and host performances, but people from all over, including many stars from Hollywood, also come to participate in the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Built after the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake on the previous location of the Arlington Hotel, the Arlington Theatre originally was a showcase movie house for Fox West Coast Theaters before Metropolitan Theaters Corporation restored and expanded it around the 1970s to its current state.

The architecture here was designed with a Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival theme. You can see how the interior of the building is extravagant and elaborate, with the ceilings heavily beamed and intricately painted. The impression that the audience is meant to have as they enter is that they are in a plaza of a colonial Spanish town, complete with houses, staircases, and balconies built out from the walls. While parts of the original theater are replaced by lighting and staging equipment necessary for modern shows, the original ceiling remains to give the audience the feeling of sitting outside under the stars.

The Granada Theatre

The Granada Theatre is an old beautiful building, having been a local, integral part of Santa Barbara’s history for almost a century. At eight-stories high, this is also the tallest building in Santa Barbara. After its restoration beginning in 2004, the Granada Theatre reopened in 2008 as the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts (SBCPA). Home to eight resident companies, including the Santa Barbara Symphony, Opera Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Choral Society, State Street Ballet, American Theatre Guild, Community Arts Music Association of Santa Barbara (CAMA), Music Academy of the West, and UCSB Arts & Lectures, there will definitely be something that fits your interest here.

The original Granada was built in 1924 following a moorish style. If you get a chance to go inside to see, you definitely should go and experience it. Even when the earthquake happened in 1925, the theater only suffered minor damage, and all the varieties of shows still continued to be performed. It was well known for premiering Hollywood movies since Gone with the Wind in 1939, and even in 1977 it was still popular enough to earn the only regional 70mm print of Star Wars.

No matter where you sit, you will be able to clearly see the stage. With a venue this large and with so many tiers for seating, every place in the theater offers a different perspective, especially if you go to see a play, musical, or a dance concert.

The Lobero Theatre

Founded in 1873, the Lobero Theatre is California’s oldest and continuously operating theater. Also registered as a California Historical Landmark, this theatre has been an integral part of the arts here in Santa Barbara. It originally was an opera house, but by the early 1920s, it became deteriorated and was then rebuilt as a theater in 1924. This building also was designed with a Spanish Colonial Revival style, similar to much of the architecture in Santa Barbara at the time.


The Lobero Theatre is relatively small, especially compared to the Arlington Theatre or the Granada Theatre, but the live acoustics and smaller size make this venue more intimate and well suited for chamber music and musical concerts. The Lobero LIVE series showcases concerts for blues, folk, and jazz music, as well as comedy shows, dance concerts, and more. DownBeat Magazine named this theater “a gem of a jazz room,” so come and experience a night at this historical landmark, especially if you are a fan of jazz music.

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