The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History seeks to educate its visitors about the world around them through in-depth exhibits on nature, wildlife, and native cultures. A 72-foot blue-whale skeleton stares down and Chumash Indian relics wait for their secrets to be uncovered. Traverse these halls to see everything from outer space, fossils to bears and a nature trail.
State Street Ballet's lithe dancers gracefully pirouette to classical masterpieces during performances modernized with special effects and digital technology. The season's first show, Starry Night, celebrates Vincent van Gogh's art in a multimedia performance that juxtaposes art, music, theater, dance, and text from the post-Impressionist's recovered Twitter feeds. Choreographed by celebrated dancesmith William Soleau, the ballet aims to mimic the flow of oil paint across a canvas through dancers’ movement as videos project a backdrop of collaged paintings and letters. The surfaces of the recently renovated Granada Theatre are also draped with art, from Moorish-inspired geometric patterns on the golden walls to decorative niches imbued with Old World grandeur.
Family owned and operated since 1923, Metropolitan Theatres unspools blockbuster and art-house independent films at 19 locations in the U.S. and Canada using superior film presentation and digital sound systems. Theatre concession stands dole Coca-Cola products and detonate kernels of popcorn to fill bellies and share with encroaching Godzillas. Snacks in hand, customers sink into seats inside conventional or stadium-style theatres to laugh, gasp, and grimace at star-studded titles, such as The Grey, War Horse, or Hugo. Independent films such as The Artist and The Descendants appease creative tastes.
With a history stretching back more than 40 years, Circus Vargas wows audiences with dazzling acrobatics and rib-tickling clowns under a giant big-top tent. The show eschews animal performers for human-costumed spectacles, showcasing dazzling feats that only a few dexterous humans and short-circuited cyborgs are capable of. The circus's big top, hand-fashioned in Milan from 90,000 square feet of fabric, holds up to 1,500 show-goers in classic, blue-dyed elegance. Early-arriving guests can take part in an interactive preshow, jumping in the ring with ringmaster Jon Weiss as he leads audience members through tutorials that show how to perform stunts such as juggling, feather balancing, and balancing checkbooks with quill pens.
At the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, visitors of all ages delight in newfound knowledge about the community around them, soaking up information from a wealth of permanent collections, artifacts, and art. Guests marvel at beautiful Chumash baskets and stonework, paintings and armor from Spanish settlements, and relics of life in Santa Barbara during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
All 78 acres of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden are bursting with life. More than 1,000 species of native Californian plants and regional flora line its 5.5 miles of serene, public trails, allowing visitors to witness the overwhelming diversity of the Pacific coastline's plant life. Along with stands of oaks and riparian woodlands, botanical collections inhabit precisely arranged landscapes, echoing the founders' goal from 1926 to create a garden that would "unite the aesthetic, educational and scientific." In 2003, Santa Barbara County rewarded the garden's decades of cultural and scientific contributions, granting County Historic Landmark status to 23 of the acres.
The garden's specimens and displays exist just as much for education as they do for appreciation. Guests can gather landscaping ideas from the Home Demonstration Garden, a cottage surrounded with water-conserving plants. The Japanese Teahouse and Demonstration Garden melds traditional East Asian design with California-native flora. Throughout the grounds, tour guides dispense invaluable information on the displays and the retired tree nymphs that tend them. Additionally, scientific researchers use the facilities in their efforts to both study and conserve numerous rare and endangered species.