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UCSB Events Center

Isla Vista, CA

Home of the UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos



UCSB Events Center (map it)
University of California Santa Barbara
Isla Vista, CA 93117

UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos website

UCSB Events Center website

Year Opened: 1979

Capacity: 5,600

There are no tickets available at this time.


Local Information


Beyond Thunderdome

In nature, the sound of thunder typically follows a flash of lightning, but on the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara (or UCSB), thunder follows the heroics of the men's basketball team. Nicknamed the Gauchos, the team plays their home games in what is officially called the UCSB Events Center. The locals may give you a puzzled look however if you refer to it as such, as fans affectionately refer to it as the "Thunderdome."

The facility was built in 1979 and was originally referred to as the Campus Events Center. Such a name was not striking any fear into opponents, and the fans starting referring to it as the "Thunderdome" in 1987 after the home team defeated Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack. It was said that the crowds were so intense that opposing teams mentioned it sounding like thunder inside of the gym.

First time visitors to the Thunderdome may ask themselves, what is a Gaucho? Merriam-Webster defines gaucho as a cowboy of the South American pampas while other sources refer to a gaucho as simply a "North American cowboy."

The Gauchos have appeared in the NCAA tournament five times (1961, 1988, 1990, 2002, 2010), most notably in 2002 when they almost upset a top seed in the Arizona Wildcats. When the program is achieving its highest success, it's likely to see it full with 5,600 for basketball or 5,814 for other events.


What is FANFARE?

The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Atmosphere
  • Neighborhood
  • Fans
  • Access
  • Return on Investment
  • Extras

Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".

Food & Beverage    1

With all of the amazing food options in the surrounding Santa Barbara neighborhood, I expected a lot more from the concessions. Unfortunately the menu was limited to your very typical stadium fare. Items such as nachos ($5), chips ($1), peanuts ($3), cracker jacks ($3), cotton candy ($3), soft pretzel ($3.50), popcorn ($4.50 for small and $5 large), and candy ($2) were available on both sides of the arena. Probably the most uncommon item on the menu was the Ben & Jerry's ice cream ($3.50).

I did try a Gaucho hot dog ($4), which was a big more sizable than your normal hot dog and came on an above average bun, but still wasn't anything to get excited about.

Beverage options were exempt of alcohol and included Coca-Cola, Sprite, apple juice, spring water, lemonade, hot coffee/tea, hot chocolate for $3.

Atmosphere    4

When I entered the arena, I noticed the many banners hanging above the baselines and quickly understood the success the program has achieved. I looked and saw former NBA player Brian Shaw's retired number on a pole on the corner of the court.

The contest got started with AC/DC's song "TNT" as the players were introduced. The PA system was extremely loud, which may have encouraged the fans to be even louder.

The student section was at a focal point of the arena, opposite the player benches, and really set the tone for the balance of the crowd.

During breaks in the action, there were tricycle races and a rather amusing dance-off participated in by some of the younger fans to keep the crowd involved.

At one end of the arena, a small band was getting the crowd involved with their music. They were definitely playing the part, wearing sarape (blankets) and Gaucho sun hats. The cheer squad was also represented on both ends, encouraging the fans to "bring the thunder" throughout the arena.

Ultimately, the atmosphere was rather entertaining from the get-go as there was a roar after every play. At other times, fans would break out in a "U-C-S-B" chant or "Let's Go Gauchos."

Neighborhood    5

Santa Barbara is often referred to as the "American Riviera" due to its Mediterranean climate. While a trip to the city should certainly leave time for a stop at the UCSB Events Center, there is a plethora of additional activities to take part in.

The downtown offers many interesting sights in the "Red Tile Walking Tour," which stops by the beautiful courthouse and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Other interesting sights include the blue whale skeleton at the Museum of Natural History, the Channel Islands (America's Galapagos), Stearns Wharf, and the Old Mission (founded in 1786). Also, try to check out the Moreton Bay fig tree. This tree is now over 125 years old and is one of the largest in America, said to span over 170 feet.

As far as the food goes, Harry's Plaza Cafe seems to be one of the top spots. Here, you'll want to sit in one of the candy apple red booths and admire all of the pictures of the famous visitors that have stopped by. They offer some amazing sandwiches and stiff drinks, but the best choice here is probably the "Burnt Ends," which is a sandwich of prime rib and tri-tip ends smothered in BBQ sauce and served on a fresh french roll.

If you are interested in some Mexican, try La Super Rica. A small establishment located on the corner of Milpas and Alphouse and can be spotted by its cheerful mint green trim. Here you can watch the employees make fresh tortillas while you wait for your food.

Other popular spots include the Santa Barbara Brewing Company, Woodstock's Pizza , Freebirds World Burrito, Silvergreens restaurant, Chuck's of Hawaii, Kahuna Grill, Z's Tap House and Grill, Moby Dick, Madison's Sports Grill and Tavern, Elephant Bar Restaurant, and Dublin's Sports Grill.

Being close to Carpinteria, home of the annual California Avocado Festival, there is an ice cream shop nearby that serves a delicious avocado ice cream. Make it a point to stop at McConnell's Ice Cream and try this unique flavor or one of the other delicacies. If you do happen to pass through Carpinteria, you may want to stop at Robitaille's Candies, a candy store run by the family of former NHL star, Luc Robitaille.

Fans    3

Despite a 75 degree day in January, many fans did come out to the Thunderdome to show their support. While the student section was not substantial, their placement within the arena really made them hard to miss from any vantage point. Thus, the balance of the fans at the game would feed off of them and create even more noise.

I quickly learned how the arena received its name as the fans were pounding on bleachers below them throughout the game, creating substantial noise.

Access    3

The UCSB campus is slightly north of many of the tourist attractions and is easily accessible from the 101 freeway. Do not fear however, as the 101 here is nowhere near as congested as it is towards downtown Los Angeles. When trying to park, look for Lot 27 or Lot 29 and the fee will be $3.

When you enter the arena at one of the four corners, you'll quickly notice the four large sections of seating, each divided into five smaller sections. These sections rise up roughly 24 rows at the tallest spot, but still offer decent views of the action.

The scoreboard hangs in the middle of the arena, quite a way above the floor and is supported by wooden beams that cross through it. Unfortunately the scoreboard doesn't offer much more than score, fouls, timeouts, and time remaining.

You'll find restrooms near the entrances that were relatively sizable and clean. While it may take a bit to get to them if you are sitting in a higher section, but being that none of the seating is too far from an aisle, you can get in and out rather quickly.

Return on Investment    3

Fans can get season tickets for $125 or go with single game prices. Adults will pay $12 per ticket while seniors pay $8 and children pay $6. With minimal parking and concession expenses, any fan can see a game for less than $20. The atmosphere alone seems to make this a great value.

Extras    2

The program has started a "Legends of the Dome" program that honors the greats of years past. Throughout the arena, you'll see banners honoring individuals with significant contributions to the athletics program including Brian Shaw and Carrick DeHart.

An interesting rivalry occurs annually between UCSB and Cal Poly known as the "Blue & Green Rivalry." This program is aimed to make the students and fans aware of the recycling and sustainability efforts of the two campuses. The two teams compete in 16 sports annually, awarding a point for each win and announcing a winner each spring. Read more about this interesting program here.

Another interesting note about the lore of the basketball program is in regards to the "Tortilla technical." This tradition began in the early 1990's as students would toss a tortilla onto the court after the first Gaucho basket of the game. Unfortunately this would cost the team a technical foul, and the practice was ultimately stopped as security would then search the student for tortillas when entering the arena. The good news: apparently this practice still occurs at the soccer stadium.

Final Thoughts

After visiting dozens of Division I campuses over the past few years, I honestly believe this may have been the most beautiful one that I've encountered. The surrounding setting of Santa Barbara makes any vacation or day trip here a worthwhile one. The city is relatively easy to get around, so make sure you schedule a visit to see UCSB.

Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.

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Local Food & Drink

Harry's Plaza Café  (map it!)

3313 State St

Santa Barbara, CA 93105

(805) 687-2800


La Super Rica  (map it!)

622 N Milpas St

Santa Barbara, CA 93103

(805) 963-4940


Santa Barbara Brewing Company  (map it!)

501 State St

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805) 730-1040


McConnell's Ice Cream  (map it!)

815 East Canon Perdido Street

Santa Barbara, CA 93103

(805) 963-2958


Harry's Plaza Cafe  (map it!)

3313 State St

Santa Barbara, CA 93105

(805) 687-2800


Harry's Plaza Caf  (map it!)

3313 State St

Santa Barbara, CA 93105

(805) 687-2800


Harry's Plaza  (map it!)

3313 State St

Santa Barbara, CA 93105

(805) 687-2800


Local Entertainment

Red Tile Walking Tour  (map it!)

Santa Barbara, CA 93160

(805) 696-1100


Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History  (map it!)

2559 Puesta Del Sol

Santa Barbara, CA 93105

(805) 682-4711


Stearns Wharf  (map it!)

230 Stearns Wharf

Santa Barbara, CA 93109

(805) 564-5518



Holiday Inn Santa Barbara  (map it!)

5650 Calle Real

Santa Barbara, CA 93117

(805) 964-6241



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