12 Top-Rated Museums in Santa Barbara (2022)
Santa Barbara is a hub for museum lovers, be it for Art, culture, history, or science. The city has more than 14 magnificent museums that undoubtedly can be classified as one of the best museums in Southern California. All of the museums in the city of Santa Barbara collect, preserve and then speak volumes about Santa Barbara Past, Art affairs, developments, and the local treasures. Be it the Museum of Contemporary Art Museum or the exciting MOXI, every stop here in the city does not only brings entertainment but also adds value to one’s time and efforts.
Most of the Popular Santa Barbara Museums are within the city limits, linked closely to each other. Some of them focus upon the city, some on the nation, whereas some over the entire United States, though each one is definitely worth a visit. Here are the 12 Must-visit Museums in Santa Barbara. Have a look:
12 Top-Rated Museums in Santa Barbara
1. Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Museum of Art is located in downtown Santa Barbara, complimenting the city since 1941. It is home to a very prestigious and varied collection of ancient Art dating back up to 4000 historical years. From permanent, temporary to a special art collection, the museum exhibits work from Asia, Europe, and America, covering almost half of the world. The art collection here includes multiple thousands of display pieces in the form of sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, bronzes, lacquer, textiles, paintings, glass, jades, and ceramics. Some of the unmissable additions here include Contemporary Regional art, Buddhist Art, 19th-Century French Art, and Western Pacific Rim photography.
Address: 1130 State St, Santa Barbara
2. Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara
A small yet engaging space in Santa Barbara, the Museum of Contemporary Art takes one close to the Art and design of this era. It aims to generate creative and critical thinking about present-day Art with topics like media, race, geological study, gender, etc. It features solo and group exhibitions presenting the collection to the general public in a very neat and informative manner. The museum is open from Thursday till Sunday, and hours 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Though most of the exhibitions here are completely free, one has to make reservation 24 hours prior, and every reservation lasts only for 30 minutes.
Address: 653 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara
3. Art, Design & Architecture Museum
Formerly known as the University Art Museum, AD & A Museum is indeed a delight to explore. It aims to collect, preserve and present art, architecture, and design archives from various cultures and traditions, though mainly from Southern California. The museum houses 8,500 original works along with more than 1,000,000 writings, scrapbooks, historical photographs, 3-D objects, and architectural drawings. Apart from the rotating installations of its permanent collections, the AD & A museum also is a hub for several special programs and events. Some of the unmissable elements here include the Sedgwick Collection of Old Master Paintings, the Fernand Lungren Collection, and the Morgenroth Collection of Renaissance Medals and Plaquettes.
Address: 552 University Rd, Santa Barbara
4. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Museum of Natural History is one of the most-visited museums in Santa Barbara. It has a unique style and build-up with exhibitions both indoors and outdoors. It is uniquely nestled in the lap of nature, with its roots dating back to the early 1800s; however, the present setup was established in 1916. The museum holds more than 3.5 million exhibits inside a full-dome planetarium, 10 indoor halls, art galleries, and extensive outdoor displays. The collection here focuses upon astronomy, paleontology, geology, anthropology, Chumash Indian, and almost every aspect of natural history. Though, despite its wonderful extensive display, what attracts visitors the most is a unique and peaceful outdoor setting that is nowhere else to be found (in terms of museum setups).
Address: 2559 Puesta del Sol, Santa Barbara
5. Santa Barbara Historical Museum
The Santa Barbara Historical Museum holds the heritage of history in the form of photographs, artifacts, textiles, furniture, and relics. Located in the heart of historic downtown of the city, it holds over 450 years of cities’ history showcased in one of the most decent and inspiring ways. Here you can find work from Chinese, Mexican, Spanish, Yankee, and Chumash culture. Along with a huge permanent collection, the museum also features a rotating exhibition space displaying something new and exciting every four months. Th museum building in itself is quite unique and magnetic, unlike the regular museum settings found in most of the cities.
Address: 136 E De La Guerra St, Santa Barbara
6. Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
One of the best museums in Santa Barbara, the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is a small yet surprising site to visit. It is undoubtedly a treasure trove of historical documents, and being a part of one of the largest libraries of rare and historical manuscripts in the world makes it even more special and magnetic. It is home to millions of manuscript pages putting light on all the moments, ideas, and efforts that have shaped the world. Here you can find manuscripts like the first draft of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, bas relief hieroglyphic sandstone panels, writings by Lord Admiral Nelson, and even Richard Nixon’s resignation speech. The museum offers free admissions, and if you are a history buff, it is indeed your place.
Address: 21 W Anapamu St, Santa Barbara
7. MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
Museum establishment and development isn’t just limited to the past, but Santa Barbara has done enough efforts to create space for the latest innovations as well. MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, is the city’s latest find (in the year 2017), with a tremendous collection on display. It is designed by Gyroscope, Inc, an award-winning museum planning firm, and is surely one of their most magnificent works. Suitable for visitors of all age groups, the extensive collection here cannot be examined in one single visit; thus, one has to come at least thrice to cover it all. The exhibits here mainly focus upon science, technology, space, engineering, and maths,
Address: 125 State St, Santa Barbara
8. Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
Maritime Museum has been serving in Santa Barbara city for over 2 decades now. This 7,825 square-foot museum is located in the Santa Barbara Harbor with a motive of bringing history to life via interactive exhibits and educational programs. It isn’t just a sight to view, but there’s also a lot of interesting subjects that you can learn here. Some of them includs raising a sail, diving, sport fishing, fishing in a kelp forest, and other sustainable practices. The museum is operational Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on the US national holidays. When done with exploring the museum, you can further climb to the Visitors Center (on the fourth floor) and capture the panoramic view of the harbor.
Address: 113 Harbor Way STE 190, Santa Barbara
Lotusland is 37 acres open-air museum in Santa Barbara displaying spectacular collections of exotic plants imported from all around the world. This dramatic and unexpected site is the historic estate of Madame Ganna Walska, presenting over 12 gardens in a magnetic setting. As you walk through each of the gardens, you will come across Walska’s love for unexpected, dramatic, and whimsical presentations. Small detailing like crystal edge stones, cascading clamshell fountains, borders with abalone shells, and statue stones imported from Japan, all of which adds to the beauty of the park. Lotusland is undoubtedly one of the best gardens in the world, and every corner here will justify the thought.
Address: Cold Spring Rd, Montecito, Santa Barbara
10. Casa Del Herrero
Casa Del Herrero or the Steedman Estate is another garden and plant museum located in Montecito, a Santa Barbara neighborhood. It is one of the finest architectural examples of the Spanish Colonial Revival Style in Southern California and is also noted as a historical landmark of Santa Barbara. Casa Del Herrero’s residence was originally built in 1925; however, it was transformed into Steedman Estate later in the year 1993 by the owner’s son. The site is open on Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., offering tours on reservation for exploring the house, gardens, and workshop. From unique trees to the marvelous architecture, everything here adds to an enjoyable experience.
Address: 1387 E Valley Rd, Montecito, Santa Barbara
11. Casa Dolores
Casa Dolores is a small museum dedicated to Art in Santa Barbara. It is located on the oldest standing two-story adobe in Santa Barbara that was built in 1843. The museum houses one of the largest Mexican folk art collections on the central coast of California, housing over 6,000 objects in various media. The museum displays are in the form of natural fibers, ceramic, leather, tin paper, glass, wood, and clay. Most of the pieces here are unique and exquisite, brought from Oaxaca, Puebla, and the western highlands of Mexico. Art work from some great artists like Teodora Blanco, Josefina Aguilar, Rosa Real de Nieto, Candelario Medrano, and Abelardo Ruiz are undoubtably one of the best belongings of Casa Dolores.
Address: 1023 Bath Street, Santa Barbara
12. Reagan Ranch Center
Reagan Ranch isn’t a dedicated museum but is an interpretive exhibition center located in President Reagan’s Western White House in Santa Barbara. It can be reached in the heart of the Left Coast, one of the busiest Santa Barbara Street. It is basically a taste-of-the-art facility that exhibits a library of conservative resources. The exhibiting galleries here discloses the original Reagan Ranch artifacts and multimedia that talk about the history of Ronald Reagan’s quarter-century and all his accomplishments during his presidential years. The center is operational for public tours from Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with absolutely free admissions.
Address: 217 State St, Santa Barbara