Explore the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Santa Barbara is all about the outdoors – and ironically one of the best places to learn about it is indoors. If you get a chance, we encourage you to explore the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. It’s a treasure for anyone who wants to better understand – and be amazed by – the wonder of the world around us.

Brown wooden sign outside that says Santa Barbara Museum of Natural HistoryThe museum is actually in two locations: 1) the original building found in the northeast part of town opened in 1923 and was fully renovated in 2018, and 2) The Sea Center, in the midst of Stearns Wharf, opened in 1987. Both facilities encourage learning for all ages – but forget the textbook and cold lectures. A trip here encourages hands-on explorations and offers interactive exhibits and a wealth of knowledge for all ages. It’s really easy to spend a full day in each building, so plan accordingly.

The original museum building is home to 3.5 million specimens related to natural history, including: animals, geology, astronomy, paleontology and anthropology.

The museum boasts extensive collections and often has rotating exhibits about many of the area’s attributes and history, including an abundance of information about, and artifacts from, the Chumash Indians, who lived from Malibu to Paso Roble. These informative displays reveal this Indian community’s life while they successfully lived in the area and along the coast for centuries.

bronze statue of roaring dinosaur outside at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural HistoryIn addition, rotating exhibits delve into the Santa Barbara area’s flora and fauna, and the whole back portion of the museum is an outdoor living exhibit. A gentle path strolls through the grounds dotted with informative signs about the habitats. With a creek meandering through, there is plenty of diversity, and the cool shade in the scrub oaks clusters is a delightful place for a family picnic. The area is perfectly set up so that parents can rest while children run around and explore the terrain.

A major highlight of the museum is the butterfly exhibit. This net-enclosed setting was built in 2018 and allows visitors to walk a path amid a wonderland of fluttering butterflies. These delicate, colorful creatures land on the surrounding plants and flowers, drink from the water features and sometimes land on visitors! It’s the perfect place to relax and see Mother Nature’s beauty in action.

Mother and son reaching into an indoor water exhibit touching starfishDowntown, The Sea Center is an interactive opportunity to learn about what occurs in the surrounding sea. The touch tanks, with fish, rays and anemones, are a hit with young and old alike. Often, there is a live dive broadcast where scuba divers swim below the wharf while an educator is above to answer audience questions. The Center’s central location on Stearns Wharf makes it an accessible attraction for both visitors and residents.

The Sea Center is also a short walk from the Eagle Inn, which is conveniently located in Santa Barbara. Stay with us to experience the beauty of our special community.

Insider’s tip: The museum hosts an “Ask a curator” feature on its website that covers everything from Chumash culture to what to do about nesting birds.

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