The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

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FishKids on a full-scale, genuine rusty anchor

As our family grows, FishPapa and I are finding more and more fun places to explore. We have always loved to travel and we want to be able to share this experience with our kids. We’re not quite ready for the European vacation of our dreams, so we’re contented with exploring our home state. Last weekend we left San Diego to “go back home” in some respects. Hubs grew up in Santa Barbara; I went to college there. We both experience a flood of memories of all kinds when we return.

This trip we went someplace new: The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

I was a little surprised when Gramma Fish suggested we go there because I’d never heard of it being a hot attraction when I lived in Santa Barbara. However, Gramma is a museum curator at another museum in Santa Barbara and has travelled the world exploring museums. She had recently visited the Maritime Museum and figured our guys would like it.

I was a little skeptical that a museum dedicated to the history of sailing would be interesting to six energetic children. I was wrong. Guess that goes to show you should listen to Gramma!

Santa Barbara Harbor

Not only was the setting, Santa Barbara Harbor, absolutely gorgeous, but the museum itself was very well designed. Ready for a tour? Here we go.

Kids enjoy steering the moving ship’s wheel.

Treasure maps are available for children. There are two different levels, and of course, treasure is rewarded upon completion.

The children’s area is wonderfully interactive, complete with sailing themed activites: a craft table, dress-up clothes, a puppet show and puppets, computers loaded with seafaring computer games and tons and tons of picture books. My littles could have spent several hours in this area.

The entire museum is one large, two-story, open gallery so you would easily be able to find your peeps if you split the party and had one adult with the younger children downstairs while the older kids explored up top.

The upper level includes a movie theater in the shape of a huge ship (pictured) as well as all kinds of interactive displays teaching about the history of shipping, sailing, water trade, fishing, surfing, and war.

Actual bunks from a Vietnam warship, complete with sailors’ graffiti

It’s amazing the breadth of the water experience. And being a land lubber myself, it was an eye opener. Particularly since I don’t surf and in fact, stood on this board backwards when I first got on. Hello! What a nerd!

The museum features a working telescope that gives you a clear view of surrounding land and sea.

The stained glass in the gift shop is beautiful when the morning sun shines in.

Overall it was a wonderful visit. If you live near Santa Barbara or find yourself vacationing there, it’s a fun way to spend the afternoon. Admission is free for 5 and under, $2 for children, $7 for adults. A year’s pass is $55. Parking is free for the first 90 minutes.

While I wouldn’t put it TOP on the list of Santa Barbara attractions, I did think that it was an extremely rewarding outing. And since Gramma got a family pass, I get to go back and see the things that I didn’t get to see.

The experience got me thinking that there is probably hidden treasure in our own backyard when it comes to museums and attractions. In fact, I’m more inspired to plan a few family field trips in San Diego.

What about you? Have you found a gem of a museum or other attraction in your town?

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  1. Looks like so much fun! A little far for us, though ; )…we’re in South Carolina, soon to be in North Carolina. We will have a place similar to this when we move…I’ll check it out and post about it when I know something!

  2. That sounds like so much fun! Its amazing what we can find that is not a big attraction to others, yet so much fun to us! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Ok this is pretty funny. I LIVE in Santa Barbara, and I’ve never thought about coming here with the kiddos. We go to the break water a ton and walk up and down the pier and hit up the sea center there, but never thought about this place. However, now that I see your photos I think the kiddos (and us!) would definitely dig it. Thanks for helping me find a treasure in my own backyard 🙂

  4. This looks like a great place. We have on our list the WWI Museum here in Kansas City which is supposed to be an “unexpected” good place to go with kids. My favourite from last year was our trip to the Arbor Day Farm. I posted some pictures from that trip for Frugal Friday but didn’t talk much about the trip itself. The forrest there and all the exhibits were spectacular. It was a slow paced, interactive, very relaxing family vacation. We loved it and will go back again and again 🙂

    1. @Sarah @ Mum In Bloom, we never made it to the WW1 museum when we lived in KC. But, Union Station was a favorite hang out. Sometimes we just went to walk around. But, we also bought bouncy balls from the Candy Caboose and bounced them in the lobby outside Science City. Perfect place for bouncing and running! lol. But the Caboose is gone, so take your own bouncy balls. 😉

  5. Cool! Looks like fun. As you know, there are so many great things to do here in San Diego. Tonight we met a bunch of friends from twitter at a tavern in south park – and it totally has a little playground for the kids. My son LOVED it & did not want to leave, even after two hours of playtime. The food was good, too. Highly recommend (I can list the name if you want, but didn’t want to sound like I’m spamming them).