Live and Learn: 10 Best Museums in Santa Barbara

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.

And no, not for a drink (although we know some good places to go come cocktail hour); we want to learn a little something about this great town that embraces us. And the state in which the town is located, and the nation encompassing that, and the world surrounding that nation, and all the people in the world and on and on. You get the picture. We're a curious bunch here in Santa Barbara.

Fortunately, there are a great many museums within city limits, providing marvelous wonders and learning tools for inquisitive minds. Unfortunately, this list only has room for 10 of those museums. 

So here's your assignment, fellow adventurers. Visit as many of the below establishments as you can. 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

Then go and find more museums, because they're out there. And you are a traveler, an explorer. And this is what we do. Right? Right!



A joint effort of Franciscan vision and Chumash Indian labor, this graceful structure was founded by Franciscan Friar Fermen de Lasuen on the Feast of St. Barbara, December 4th, 1786. Architectural details were reworked until the 1830s....  Read More

Casa del Herrero


Completed in 1925, this gorgeous Spanish Colonial Revival home is the collaboration of owners George and Carrie Steedman and a coterie of designers, architects and horticulturists. Painstakingly conceived, built and furnished, the estate is a...  Read More



This museum is hard to find (even though it's right downtown), but it's worth it! Located above the Paseo Nuevo shopping mall, the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara advances creativity and inspires critical thinking through meaningful...  Read More



Set in a Victorian-style depot dating to 1901 and built by the Southern Pacific Railroad, this museum has special appeal for railroad buffs. Aside from the charming structure itself, this facility offers exhibits about rail life (especially in...  Read More



Before it opened as a museum in 2000, this structure served as a training facility for the Navy for more than fifty years. Renovations have given it a new lease, and now its interactive displays seek to inform visitors about marine life, health...  Read More

Santa Barbara Historical Museum


Offering one of the state's best collections of regional history, this museum enjoys a downtown location along with a gracious courtyard and historical adobe buildings. Inside, fine art, western saddles, costumes and antique toys highlight the...  Read More

Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art


A local museum that enjoys a national reputation, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art offers a rare display of the artistic achievements of a variety of cultures and periods. Home to 27,000+ works of art (not including traveling exhibitions), this...  Read More



Owned and operated by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Sea Center is a wet and wild offshoot, focused on marine life. Creatures of the deep and the not-so-deep take the spotlight, from sharks to starfish. Interactive exhibits...  Read More



A giant skeleton of a blue whale greets you at the entrance to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, letting you know that you have arrived at a magical place dedicated to the wonders of nature. Occupying eleven acres in historic Mission...  Read More



The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara was founded in 1972. Located just steps away from beautiful West Beach, this free museum features historical carriages and carriage-related art. You will enjoy admiring one of the largest...  Read More


Meet Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 on a whim (ok, and to go to college) and never looked back. She loves Santa Barbara because it’s really one of America’s greatest small towns - it...  More About Geneva