About the Museum

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We're not your typical structured museum with stiff curators, cold halls, and strict rules. We like to go outside and get our hands dirty, pick things up and take a closer look, laugh, skip, or maybe even jump for joy. Because learning is messy and we all learn by doing, not sitting. That's why we offer a different approach to discovering the natural world: one where you're free to wander, ask "silly" questions, and explore on your own terms. And when you come here you'll see we're a museum unlike anything else. In a nutshell, we're naturally different.

  • President & CEO: Luke J. Swetland, M.A., M.I.L.S.
  • Board Chair: Christopher Knowlton
  • Founded: 1916
  • Members: +5,300


The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History inspires a thirst for discovery and a passion for the natural world.


The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center seeks to connect people to nature for the betterment of both.


The Museum was founded in 1916 by William Leon Dawson as the Museum of Comparative Oology. In 1922, thanks to Miss Caroline Hazard and Mrs. Rowland Gibson Hazard, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History opened its doors at the current campus. In 1987, the Museum added the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf as an off-campus facility focused specifically on our regional coastal and ocean environment.


We preserve extensive natural history collections of approximately 3.5 million objects used for research by a staff of 11 curators as well as visiting scientists from around the world. These invaluable and irreplaceable collections embody the natural heritage of our region. They are in part the results of research by Museum scientists and in turn serve as a vast research archive for ongoing investigations.

Our researchers are active in disciplines ranging from anthropology to zoology. Every year, they discover and describe new life forms (species), investigate past and current changes in our natural environment, and assist in projects of environmental conservation and restoration. They also study changes in human society and cultures in our region over thousands of years and their changing relationships with the environment. Often, this work is pursued in collaboration with other scientific, governmental organizations, or private sector agencies.

The expertise of the Museum’s scientific staff underpins and supports all of our educational efforts; curators themselves take an active part in an array of educational programs.


The Museum is a private, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that relies on a variety of funding sources which enable us to share our collections, exhibits, and education program with thousands of visitors, school children, and scientists each year.

"I can see that this Museum has been built by the work of love." Albert Einstein, 1931