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The Museum’s Centennial Celebration Begins

In January 2016, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History will celebrate 100 years of serving the Santa Barbara community and its visitors. The Museum is one of the oldest and most important institutions in Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. In order to sustain and protect the Museum’s scientific and education relevance, and maintain its ability to continue to serve the community well into the future, the Museum has developed a Master Plan and updated Conditional Use Permit to guide the Museum for the next 10–15 years.

On April 28, 2015 the Santa Barbara City Council voted to approve the Museum’s Master Plan and updated Conditional Use Permit. 

Subsequently, on August 11, 2015 the Santa Barbara City Council approved the initiation of proceedings before the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission to annex the Museum's western woodland parcels into the City of Santa Barbara. When complete, the annexation will bring the entire campus under the regulations imposed by the Conditional Use Permit. Under the CUP, the Museum will continue to keep the woodland open and available for free public use – as it has been since the Museum first acquired the land in the mid-sixties. Similarly, the Museum voluntarily adopted restrictions – originally contained in the Mission Canyon Community Plan -- on future use of the woodland space that will ensure the long term preservation and stewardship of the woods as environmentally sensitive habitat.


The Museum anticipates that LAFCO will take action on this matter in the next several months.

While this final action is being scheduled, the Master Plan for revitalization of the historic Mission Canyon Campus is already underway.

We will revitalize the Museum and transform the visitor experience by better connecting people to science and nature...indoors and improving site stewardship, creating new gallery experiences, and refreshing legacy galleries. 

The first set of improvements to the Museum will include an enhanced arrival plaza, accessibility improvements to the Museum’s Backyard and Nature Club House, site wide landscaping and signage upgrades, and a new permanent Butterfly Garden Exhibit space, which can be used year round for a variety of new educational purposes. 

The ground breaking for this work will take place in the fall of 2016, the Museum’s Centennial Year and a number of the exhibition galleries will be re-open in early 2017.

The Museum is grateful to the City of Santa Barbara for the speed with which the approvals process was completed.  

And we are deeply indebted to the entire Community for their encouragement and support as we begin  the gentle transformation of the Museum of Natural History.

Our plan for the Museum’s future will...

Effect a gentle transformation across the entire campus to create a revitalized and coherent visitor experience that respects the site and its architecture
Improve universal accessibility and visitor amenities
Strengthen the connection between the indoor gallery and outdoor natural experience.
Live within our existing footprint and neither demolish nor build structures
Renew and interpret landscape features and native habitats
Provide innovative new gallery experiences and revitalized iconic exhibition spaces
Adopt a phased approach so that the Museum remains open to the public

Key site improvement and gallery improvements comprising the Master Plan include...


BUTTERFLY GARDEN EXHIBIT: The Museum’s Butterflies Alive! temporary exhibit is a longtime favorite of locals and visitors, and provides them with close-up, memorable encounters with one of nature’s most amazing ambassadors. The new permanent Butterfly Garden Exhibit will offer visitors an annual opportunity to enjoy a refreshing garden setting and the complex beauty of these fascinating creatures that are important to our ecosystem.

Butterfly Pavilion

CHUMASH GALLERY: Renaming and rehabilitating Gould Hall, with the advice and assistance of the Chumash community, gives the first people of our land a direct voice at the Museum and gives visitors insights into the past, present and future of the Chumash. Their history, impact, and lifestyle will be further interpreted in a revitalized Chumash ethnobotanic garden and outdoor learning area.

BIRD HABITAT HALL: The Museum’s founding collection is recognized as the finest and most comprehensive collection of indigenous birds on the West Coast. The Hall’s refurbishment will include: improved and refreshed dioramas, increased lighting, interactive media, and new exhibits in the center of the hall. Visitors to the Bird Habitat Hall – veteran birders and fledgling naturalists alike – will be immersed in the sights and sounds of the Central Coast’s abundant, diverse world of birds.

SANTA BARBARA GALLERY: In the existing space of our marine and paleontology halls, the new Santa Barbara Gallery will become the hallmark and standard for gallery reinterpretations. Interactive components will supplement the informative exhibits, showing how the Central Coast was formed, the underlying geology that defines it, and how all its floral and faunal inhabitants are perpetually interdependent in the natural world.

NATURE OBSERVATORY: A new active learning gallery experience utilizing existing building space, will be the gateway from the inside to the outside – connecting the world of indoor exhibits with the dynamic nature of Santa Barbara’s outdoor splendor. Visitors will be able to ask questions of a naturalist, join in a demonstration or workshop, participate in indoor and outdoor learning labs, or investigate the Museum’s grounds on their own.

SCIENCE ON SITE AT CRC: One of the Museum’s core activities – ongoing research in the natural sciences and stewardship of 3.5 million scientific specimens and artifacts – has often gone unnoticed though it has existed at the Museum since its inception. In existing space in our Collections & Research Center, the new Science-on-Site Gallery will bring a part of our scientific research and collections from behind-the-scenes to the forefront for visitors to see and experience first-hand.

To learn more about the Museum’s Master Plan, please call President & CEO Luke Swetland at
805-682-4711 ext. 102 or Spokesperson Gary Robinson at 805-682-4711 ext. 125


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