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The Ultimate LA Family Guide ™


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Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History



















The museum is located behind the Old mission in a residential area not far from the hustle and bustle of State St. The address is 2559 Puesta Del Sol. The phone number is 805-682-4711  and the hours are 10 am-5 pm and they are open daily except for major holidays. Admission prices are $10/adult; $7/senior (65 and over); $7/Teen (13-17); $6/Child (3-12); Children under 3 free. A number of LA museums have reciprocal agreements with this museum so if you are a member at the LA Natural History Museum or the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, your family will be granted free admission here. This museum also runs the Ty Warner Sea Center which is located on Stearns Wharf, also in Santa Barbara.  We did not visit this center on this latest outing, but would like to in the future. It has a tidepool tank and changing exhibits.


Please note that the museum does not have a cafe or a snack stand. You are welcome to bring food though and eat lunch at the outdoor picnic tables.


This museum has a lot to offer residents and visitors. In addition to the many rooms of artifacts and exhibits showcasing birds, insects, mammals, marine life, fossils, and Native Americans, there is a beautiful garden and creek outside to explore. The museum opened in its original location on State St. in 1886 and was the vision of a group of professional scientists and amateurs. In 1916 they were joined by noted ornithologist William Leon Dawson from Ohio whose bird studies led to the amazing collection of birds seen at the museum today.


I have never seen so many birds as I did in the Bird Hall and it is truly a magnificent collection. They also show many types of nests and eggs which my kids found fascinating. We also enjoyed a short video in this room  that showed birds catching large fish in the ocean.


This bird hall was recently refurbished and redesigned and the new arrangement allows visitors to learn how birds co-exist and thrive in the many habitats around Santa Barbara. You can spend a long time here just learning about bird evolution, communication, reproduction habits and bird habitats. We also spent time in the mammal hall where the kids ran from habitat to habitat to see the characteristics of the jackrabbits, badgers, foxes, deer and sea lions.


We went outside at this point to enjoy the beautiful garden, creek and foliage. The kids of course wanted to climb around the rocks and get from one side of the creek to the other. They also have a paleontology fossil dig out here, but unfortunately it wasn't open when we were there. The building housing the seasonal butterfly exhibit is also located next to the creek and this exhibit is open during the summer.   The nature trail in the backyard of the museum is 11 acres and is shaded by Coast Live Oak woodland along Mission Creek. There are paths, picnic tables, and an outdoor amphitheater.


After spending time outdoors to eat a snack and enjoy the trails, we went inside to the Cartwright Hall of Plant and Insect Interactions. The first thing you'll see in this hall is a huge glass wall with 4000 bugs which is just beautiful.  This was our favorite hall because under each wall display there is a drawer to pull out. In the drawer there are hands-on items to extend your child's understanding of the plants and bugs. These include molds to touch, books and activities. This hall also has live specimens such as a tarantula, newt, millipede and scorpion.


Next we went into the Chumash Indian Hall. The Chumash are the Native American tribe that are native to the Santa Barbara region. The museum staff and curators continually consult with the Chumash that continue to live in the region to develop programs and exhibits that detail how their ancestors lived. The Museum houses one of the largest collections of Chumash material in the world, and their anthropologists work closely with the Chumash community in learning about and sharing knowledge of their culture.The dioramas depicted their everyday activities. Logan immediately went to the diorama with the baby in a papoose type pack with fur to keep the baby warm. He also loved the diorama that showed how the Native Americans used fire pits for light, heat, traditional dances and cooking.


As we were leaving, we took time to view the iconic blue whale skeleton. Washed ashore at Vandenburg Air Force base in 1980, it is a 72 foot long giant that took nearly three years to put together with hundreds of volunteers helping out. Unfortunately visitors can no longer touch the skeleton but there is still a lot to be learned by viewing it. The museum is currently restoring it because of the deterioration over the years.


This family is a treasure for the residents of Santa Barbara as well as visitors so we definitely recommend checking it out next time you are in town.