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Santa Barbara Natural History Museum

Santa Barbara, California, United States


Santa Barbara Natural History Museum is a small museum set in a Spanish-style building by a creek. Kids can wonder over a little bridge and climb on boulders in the back by the creek. The gem exhibit has huge crystals, stalactites, and caves filled with sparkling gems. Press the button on one of the displays and, in the changing light, you can see the rocks glow in the dark. There is a planetarium show, which I thought was a little boring. Many of the rooms are filled with taxidermied animals and birds, which I think is really gross but if you like these there are plenty to see. The Blue Whale skeleton out front is beautiful. Young kids enjoy this museum because it is interactive- there are drawers to open, buttons to press, flaps to lift.
Although the building itself is musty, there is a sunny inner courtyard with Spanish arches and vines. The drinking fountain is in an alcove of stunning blue tilework. A mural of elephants on an outer wall is lovely- makes you realize that murals are much nicer when done in pale earthtones.
The best thing about the museum is the summertime butterfly garden. Outside in a flower garden under a huge net are 1,000 rare and beautiful butterflies! The butterflies are from Florida and the docent told me there's a $50,000 fine if one escapes! It's nice for kids to watch the butterflies feed on the pieces of watermelon and orange that are set out. Come on a sunny day or the butterflies won't be out and about.
The museum store has some interesting toys for kids.
At various times of year, the museum has special days with music, crafts, and booths. 
After your visit, head over to Rocky Nook Park for a playground and a short hike. Or even better, to the Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden, a glorious spot with spacious views all around.

Photo Gallery

Spanish arches and a pretty courtyard at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum.

Wonderful blue tilework at the drinking fountain!

Huge butterfly decorations hanging from the oak trees.

Gorgeous elephants mural.

Summer Butterflies Alive exhibit- Tiger Swallowtail butterflies tasting an orange slice.

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

Delicate orange Julia Heliconian butterfly.

Lion fountain amongst flower pots.

Butterflies enjoying a Mexican Sunflower.

A lovely blue Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

A Julia Heliconian butterfly.

A Variegated Fritillary butterfly spread out on a white flower.

Two butterflies descend on a flower.

Butterfly with sandstone rock behind and wildflowers.

I love blue butterflies! Have to get to Costa Rica to see a huge blue one someday...

A butterfly amongst the leaves.

Monarch butterfly on a Mexican Sunflower.

Orange on orange.

What a delight!

The Butterflies Alive exhibit at Santa Barbara Natural History Museum.

A pretty courtyard at the Natural History Museum.

Calcite, in the gem exhibit.

Rocks in an exhibit before you push the button...

Rocks in the exhibit after you push the button!


This is an interactive map, you can zoom and move it.

Santa Barbara Natural History Museum is located at 2559 Puesta del Sol, Santa Barbara CA 93105, call (805) 682-4711.
Exit Highway 101 southbound at Mission St and turn left. Exit Highway 101 northbound at Mission St and turn right. Head on Mission St about 8 blocks and then turn left on Garden St. Turn right on Los Olivos St and follow it past the Santa Barbara Mission. Stay left at both forks in the road. Then follow the signs to the museum (left on Las Encinas Rd, left on Puesta del Sol and then into the parking lot on the right).
Open daily 10-5. Closed on Jan 1, the last Saturday in June,  Thanksgiving, Dec 24 at 3pm, and Dec 25.
Admission is: adults $12, seniors/teens $8, kids $7. Kids under 2 are free. In summer, admission costs extra and includes entrance to the butterfly garden.
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