Santa Barbara's Summer Solstice

It's one of the biggest summer-starting parties in the land.

HELLO, SUMMER: Our warmest season has a funny way of "starting" weeks before it actually does. It kicks off, unofficially, around the time the kids get out of school, and gets going full speed around Memorial Day. So by the time the third weekend in June arrives? It can feel like the whole shebang is like a third of the way over. Not so, of course, and there's nowhere in California -- and maybe the nation -- that says hello to the summer solstice like Santa Barbara. In fact, Santa Barbara's bash is called Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration, and it lasts for three days. And its centerpiece? The inflatable-filled parade down State Street. The dates for 2012 are Friday, June 22 through Sunday, June 24, with the parade dancing on Saturday, June 23.

WHAT TO EXPECT: There are over 1,000 participants in the parade and they're typically decked-out in glittery make-up, spangly costumes, hula hoops, stilts, feathered headdresses, and other eye-catching get-ups. There's also an inflatable art element to the parade, meaning there are several out-sized props in the middle of the merriness. The photos of past years truly tell the colorful story.

WHEN SUMMER GETS HERE: If you're keen to pay more attention this year, and not just be told by an office mate that the solstice has passed, here's the date and time: Wednesday, June 20 at just after 4 p.m. local time. So if you can't enjoy the Santa Barbara celebration, how will you mark the change of season? Pick a flower? Wear it in your hair? There's a start.

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