Santa Barbara Museum of Art

I've lived in Santa Barbara for 12 years now, and with kids for 6 years, yet I'd never been to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. I knew of it, of course—you can't walk down State Street without noticing it—but I always pushed it off as something to visit "one day."

It's only in the last couple of months that I came to realize what a great resource it is for family-friendly activities... I can't believe it took me that long to know that. And it makes me wonder, how many other parents haven't given it a shot yet?

With their current exhibit on picture book artist David Wiesner, it's the perfect time to visit with kids.

Kid Events at SBMA

I never knew SBMA had activities for kids until recently. I found some advertisement about it somewhere—and now I don't remember from where—about a kid-friendly watercolor activity for "Studio Sunday on the Front Steps" and I figured we'd try it. Apparently, this is a thing that happens every other Sunday and I had no idea this whole time. It's even totally free! It was raining when we went, so they were hosting it indoors instead of the front steps. They had three tables set up for three different activities, and my 6-year-old and I spent an embarrassing amount of time there doing all three.

I see many more Studio Sundays in our future.

While we were there, I noticed pamphlets about science-themed classes (also free) and signed us up for those. We attended one themed around the color black. Loree Gold, SBMA docent and teaching artist, made "black ice cream" by mixing in coconut ash, and then showed us how to make black paint using three different methods (tempera, oil, and watercolor) combined with vine charcoal. We were then assigned to paint three paintings, one using each of the paint types, inspired by one of the art pieces in the gallery, "Steaming Streets" by George Bellows. And of course, we got to taste the black ice cream before we left!

At the second class I attended with my daughter, which was about liquids and solids, guest chocolatier Maya Schoop-Rutten of Chocolate Maya (lower on State Street) showed us how she makes her chocolates. Tina Villadolid, SBMA teaching artist, showed us a video about how bronze statues are made, and then she talked about how she made little Ganesha figurines out of beeswax which we all got to decorate with more colored wax.

Sadly, what I didn't realize is that those two classes were the last two of a series of three (I'm starting to notice a trend with threes!). I asked about it and they said it was a new series that they were trying out and considering to attempt again in the future. So if it sounds interesting to you, contact the museum and let them know!

In the meantime, consider checking out the Sunday Studios on the Front Steps. For the next one on February 12th, you get to make an accordion book and paint a watercolor story inspired by David Wiesner's book Tuesday.

Additionally, the museum offers Free Thursday Evenings, every Thursday from 5 to 8 pm. It includes access to the museum gallery, docent talks, and also an art activity for kids.

Kids & the Museum Itself

So I've discussed events, but is there anything for the kids inside the museum itself? The quick answer is yes.

With a museum of this size, it's easy to walk through it with kids without testing the limits of their patience, no matter what is on display. But on top of that, here's a couple of things that should help...

Art by David Wiesner

Art by David Wiesner

As previously mentioned, the current exhibit (through May 14th) features artist David Wiesner, master of wordless storytelling. If you have kids of picture book age, you're probably already familiar with his books... My favorites are Mr. Wuffles! and Art & Max. There's actually a large number of pieces from him on display, more than I was expecting, and my 6-year-old and I enjoyed walking through and seeing some pieces we recognized and some we did not.

Something else I discovered on my visit last weekend, the museum offers What If Family Guides. I found them in brown envelopes inside one of the galleries. The envelope contains multiple cards that encourage you to visit certain pieces in the museum and consider a related question. We didn't have time to try this activity on our last visit—we were there 20 minutes before closing time—but we will next time! 

Itinerary Ideas

If you're local to Santa Barbara, then you already know. But if you're coming from out of town, here's what else you can do within a couple of blocks.

Right next door is the Central Library, which has a large and recently-renovated children's section in the basement. There are books, of course, but also computers and toys, along with a lot of events. So if you need a cool place to get out of the sun and relax for a bit, that's the place to go.

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is just one block over. It's always beautiful, and its clock tower offers great views of the city. Strangely, it's one of my kids' favorite activities in town.

For food, you can't really go wrong with anything within the La Arcada shops located on the same block as the museum and the library. Especially Danish pastries at Andersen's or French chocolates at Chocolats du CaliBressan. Or consider walking a couple of blocks to the Santa Barbara Public Market to find plenty more tasty options.