The Best Santa Barbara Museums

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    Recommended Santa Barbara Museums

    When you're visiting Santa Barbara, it's easy to get distracted by all the natural wonders. Tall palms, white sand beaches, foliage-rich foothills inviting a hike... we get it. It's beautiful here. But you know what? Even we want to head inside once in a while. Fortunately, there are a great many museums within city limits, providing marvelous wonders and learning tools for inquisitive minds. Admire the masterpieces at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, stand under the whale skeleton at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and pet the sharks at Ty Warner Sea Center.

    Santa Barbara Maritime Museum 2

    Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

    Located just north of Stearns Wharf in the harbor, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum includes a wide variety of exhibits on two large floors. Visitors can learn about the Chumash, the original inhabitants of the Santa Barbara area, through the Maritime Museum’s popular exhibit. It includes a 23-foot wooden tomol (canoe) and artifacts dating back 10,000 years. Other popular exhibits include surfing, NOAA shipwrecks, traditional ship models, and information on the otter and seal hunting trade. And be sure to visit Munger Theater, shaped like a ship’s hull, to see exciting and informative videos created by the Maritime Museum.

    Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

    Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

    Take a short drive from the coast to the historic Mission Canyon neighborhood to visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Right around the corner from the Santa Barbara Mission, the museum meets and exceeds its goal to enlighten the public to the world of natural history. Boasting eleven exhibit halls focused on Santa Barbara’s natural history, the museum allows visitors to understand the region’s marine, mammal, and insect life, as well as the rich heritage of the Native Americans and the Chumash Indians. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is well known for its significant shell and bird collection as well as its large collection of Chumash Indian artifacts. The Chumash exhibit is second in size to the Smithsonian’s exhibit. The museum also has a Sea Center location on Stearns Wharf, where you will find a focus on marine exhibits. Traveling exhibits frequently stop at these wonderful Santa Barbara museums, so there is always something new to discover. Popular classes and kid camps are available during the summer for ages 2-12 where children can learn about marine life.

    Santa Barbara Museum of Art

    Santa Barbara Museum of Art

    Rich in many periods and styles of art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art possesses collections of European, American, and Asian art. Visitors also enjoy photography, works on paper, a growing modern and contemporary area, as well as Roman and Greek antiquities. The museum constantly hosts new exhibits for both visitors and members to view and appreciate. Santa Barbara Museum of Art possesses an extensive Library complete with countless materials on art history and art criticism. The Library emphasizes American, Asian, European, Latin American, Contemporary art, and Fine Art Photography in its collection of monographs, videos, art journals and periodicals, and more.

    SB Presidio

    Local Historical Museums & Sites

    Santa Barbara also offers several museums and historical sites that preserve local history and provide a fascinating educational experience for visitors. Painted Cave State Historic Park, Santa Barbara Mission, El Presidio State Historic Park, Casa de la Guerra, South Coast Railroad Museum, and Stow House are highlights on the National Register of Historic Places, while Santa Barbara’s Historical Museum, Carriage Museum, and Botanic Gardens also provide rich, immersive encounters with Santa Barbara’s remarkable past.