Nowhere is the rich cultural history of the area more alive than in Santa Barbara museums. From the thought-provoking works of the Museum of Contemporary Art to the educational programs at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, you’ll discover science, history, art and more within the walls of these exciting institutions. Here are a few interesting local museums to consider when planning a visit.
With more than 3.5 million artifacts and specimens in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, vertebrate and invertebrate biology, geology and paleontology, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History provides access to one of the largest collections in the state. Located a mile from downtown, the museum maintains a diverse set of educational programs for all age levels through the involvement of the museum’s scientists and the power of hands-on nature experiences.
Located at Stearns Warf, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center offers visitors of all ages the opportunity to get their hands wet while discovering the beautiful, weird and fascinating life of the Santa Barbara Channel. A 1,500-gallon tidepool tank and live shark touch pool offer kids up-close interactions with ocean life and a chance to learn about all the wonders of the area’s underwater world. (Please note that the Sea Center will be temporarily closed from September 7 through spring 2022 for structural upgrades and an upstairs exhibit refresh. We’re sure it will be worth the wait!)
Located downtown in the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center on the Upper Arts Terrace, the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara (MCASB) has been inspiring creativity and critical thinking by exposing visitors to the art of our time for 40 years. With constantly rotating exhibitions, guided tours, kids programming and more, MCASB is committed to exhibiting, commissioning and documenting the most innovative and compelling contemporary art.
Santa Barbara’s newest Science Museum, MOXI, will bring an added level of innovation, imagination and fun to downtown Santa Barbara. Located on lower State Street, MOXI’s not just for kids. That’s right; all ages will be awe-struck with each of the three engaging floors, filled with hands-on exhibits focused on science and technology. As an added bonus, MOXI’s stunning rooftop Sky Garden will give guests a birds-eye view of Stearns Wharf, Cabrillo Boulevard and downtown Santa Barbara.
At the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, artifacts and stories illustrate the adventurous history of man’s discovery and exploration of the Santa Barbara Channel. From the superstitious world of nautical tattoos to firsthand accounts of the more than 300 women who once served as lighthouse keepers, the museum offers visitors, young and old, a unique insight into some of the lesser-known stories of the sea. The museum is located off Shorline Drive, within walking distance of Santa Barbara Harbor.
Over the course of four decades, the late Madame Ganna Walska created a 37-acre botanical nirvana known as Lotusland. The 25 gardens, each distinctive in design, are home to several extraordinary collections including rare cycads, cacti, palms and euphorbias. Additional gardens feature ferns, aloes, lotuses, water lilies, bromeliads and the newest additions, the palmetum and insectary garden. Located in a private, residential neighborhood, Lotusland’s unpublished address (available with reservations) makes the garden wonderland even more mysterious and alluring.
With more than 27,000 pieces spanning 5,000 years of human creativity, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is dedicated to integrating art into our lives. Conveniently located on State Street in Santa Barbara’s historic downtown, the museum is home to examples of some of the most important art ever created – including the largest collection of works by legendary French Impressionist Monet on the West Coast to “Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932,” the only intact mural in the United States by David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1786, Old Mission is an extraordinary cultural and historic landmark, a museum located on the site of an active community of Franciscan friars. Only a mile from downtown (walking distance from the Museum of Natural History), Old Mission sits on 12 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and houses an archive and library with thousands of historical documents pertaining to the study of Franciscan Missions and Native Peoples of the Americas.
Located in Santa Barbara’s historic El Pueblo Viejo district, within walking distance of downtown, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum walks visitors through more than 500 years of history with collections from the Chumash, Mexican, Spanish and American periods. Here you’ll find some 80,000 artifacts and objects, including fine art from the late Renaissance, Spanish Colonial, Mexican, and Early California periods. The museum maintains the largest institutional collection of works by artists such as Ludmilla Welch, Clarence Mattei, John Edward Borein and the old west artwork of John Edward Borein.