Monday, January 11, 2016

5 Remarkable Historic Sites You Need to See in Santa Barbara

The city of Santa Barbara has a rich history, dating back to the Chumash Indians who had lived on the land for thousands of years prior to the area’s discovery by Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542. In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino would name the area for Saint Barbara, whose feast day fell on December 4, the day Vizcaino first sailed into the Santa Barbara Channel.

This period of discovery would be followed by the development of missions at the hands of Franciscan monks, along with the influence of American settlers in later centuries. Together, the accumulation of architecture and cultural traditions help make Santa Barbara a historic city with a distinct local flavor. Because of the early historic preservation efforts undertaken by the city, many of Santa Barbara’s most important sites remain intact and open for visitors.

The following five sites located in the city pay homage to a past steeped in many cultures, and provide visitors with an excellent way to spend a day exploring and learning about the city’s history.

1. El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park

Established on 5.5 acres of land, El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park is the site of the city’s fourth and final military outpost constructed by the Spanish. Erected in 1782, the Spanish word “presidio” translates to “fortress” in English, an accurate word for the quadrangle, which is surrounded by an outer wall equipped with two cannons.

Image courtesy user Al R on Flickr

Within the walls of the Presidio, visitors can independently explore restored replicas of buildings such as the Chapel, Padres’ Quarters, and Comandancia, as well as El Cuartel, a guardhouse that is the second-oldest surviving structure in the state of California. The park is open every day from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and charges a $5 admission fee for adults.

2. Old Mission Santa Barbara

The Spanish Franciscans orchestrated the construction of 21 missions in the state of California, and the Old Mission in Santa Barbara was the tenth to be established. The registered historic landmark received a special designation among the 21 as “Queen of the Missions,” and is the only mission in the state that has continuously been run by Franciscans since its foundation.

Image courtesy Wally Gobetz on Flickr

Settled on a hilltop downtown, the mission complex encompasses gardens, a historic cemetery, and a museum, as well as the church itself. The external architecture of the church retains a Spanish colonial style, and the inside is decorated with original paintings and artistic pieces created by the Chumash people. Visitors can choose between self-guided or docent-guided tours of the mission between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily.

3. Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park

Outside of the city, a cave carved into massive limestone boulders offers locals and tourists the opportunity to see paintings of the ancient Chumash people firsthand. Though the exact age of the paintings is not known, academics estimate that that they were created sometime around the early 17th century. The colorful pictures were drawn with paint made from minerals found in the area. After being mixed with a binder, they were then applied to cave walls using fingers or animal-tail brushes.

Image courtesy David Seibold on Flickr

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park is located about half an hour outside of the city, three miles south of the San Marcos Pass. The cave is open from sunrise to sunset each day, and is accessed via a steep and narrow road unfit for RVs or trucks with trailers. Layered clothing is recommended, as the cave’s location within the canyon can make the climate cool year-round.

4. Stearns Wharf

Built by John Peck Stearns in 1872 to help make cargo transfer from ship to land easier in the Santa Barbara Channel, Stearns Wharf is the oldest wooden wharf in the state still in operation. Because of the wharf’s construction, incoming ships were able to anchor offshore at low tide, which effectively solved the problem of Santa Barbara’s inaccessibility due to being surrounded by water and mountains.

Image courtesy user Brian on Flickr

At first, the wharf served predominantly as a transportation hub, but today functions as a popular merchant center, complete with restaurants, museums, and specialty shops.  This historic site is a necessary visit for anyone looking to eat fresh seafood, learn about marine life, and pick up local souvenirs.

5. Casa del Herrero

A sweeping historic estate designed by George Washington Smith, Casa del Herrero was home to George Fox Steedman, the owner of machine shop and foundry Curtis & Co. Translated from Spanish, “Casa del Herrero” means “house of the blacksmith.”

This local landmark is a testament to the period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries when estate owners took it upon themselves to express their artistic tastes through the construction of elaborate homes and gardens. Completed in 1925, the home took four years and multiple architects to finish, with antique pieces such as tiles and furniture imported directly from Spain.

The house is done in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, and features white stucco walls, many arches, intricate tiles, and ornate ironwork. Additionally, the lush gardens that extend behind the main house are among the most breathtaking in the city, punctuated by tiled pools, outdoor rooms, and decorative benches. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

You Need to Know about These 5 Awesome Local Arts Programs for Kids

Santa Barbara’s eclectic nature is influenced by its multicultural heritage, commitment to sustainability, and promotion of the arts through the hosting of events like the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Known for having California’s second-highest number of nonprofits per capita, the city focuses on providing amenities that benefit the local groups most in need.

Among these groups, children are the focus of most of the community’s resources. Along with programs designed to help them learn about civic involvement, socialization, and safety, there are many organizations that focus on the development of creative abilities through art programs, including the following five groups.

1. Music Matters

A program hosted by the Community Arts Music Association of Santa Barbara, Music Matters is an outreach initiative that teaches fourth through sixth graders classical music appreciation. Beginning in 2003 at a local elementary school lacking musical education opportunities, the program has continued to develop ever since. Today, Music Matters leads classes for students at 13 schools in the county.

The central themes of the curriculum taught by Music Matters include music in relation to the imagination, emotions, nationality, and creativity. In an age when most popular music has electronic or synthesized elements, instructors help instill an interest in classical music through techniques that improve listening skills. Students are exposed to various music pieces, and are then asked questions that require them to use emotional intelligence.

Education professionals interested in bringing the Music Matters initiative to their schools can do so through inquiry on the program’s website at

2. Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara     

Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara, a program presented by the University of California, Santa Barbara, is focused on arts that are relevant to Latin American heritage. In an effort to provide a diverse cultural education to 15,000 local children and their families, Viva el Arte provides the community with free Latin music and dance performances.

Along with community presentations, the group also performs at local schools, hosts weekend workshops, and offers music lessons. These experiences are an excellent way for children to learn about cultural traditions and connect with family members across multiple generations.

Run by volunteers, Viva el Arte is a nonprofit organization funded by grants and donations. To stay up to date with group performances and events, visit its Facebook page at

3. ArtVentures at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Students in the city can participate in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s ArtVentures, a creative after-school program that hosts classes and workshops teaching basic visual art techniques. Children learn skills such as drawing, painting, and understanding color and composition, and projects within the curriculum connect with current museum exhibits.

In order to inspire confidence and build visual thinking skills in students, ArtVentures instructors lead them on a visit to the museum, where they are able to view and find inspiration in professional artwork. All classes and projects are held in an offsite facility, the Ridley-Tree Education Center. Registration for the museum’s camps, after-school program, and workshops can be found on the official website,

4. Incredible Children’s Art Network (iCAN)

The Incredible Children’s Art Network (iCAN) is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide students in Santa Barbara County with a professionally taught, quality arts education. The network focuses on providing these programs at schools and centers within communities that are economically disadvantaged and the least likely to have access to an education in the arts.

Programs hosted by iCAN include subjects within music and the visual arts, and each year they serve nearly 3,000 children at nine sites across the county. With a teaching staff of 32 instructors, iCAN instructs children in art production, perception, and reflection. Participants of the music programs initially learn about choir and violin, and earn the ability to pursue a wind or brass instrument once they reach the fifth grade.

Both music and visual arts students also become involved with the community, participating in exhibitions, art shows, and concerts, which give them the opportunity to showcase their newly acquired artistic skills at various points throughout the year.

5. Girls Rock Santa Barbara

Girls Rock Santa Barbara provides girls and women in the city with a unique opportunity to participate in music lessons, camps, and year-round programs that help them learn about music performance. With subjects including performance, production, photography, filmmaking, and journalism, most programs are geared toward girls between the ages of 6 and 17, though programs for adult women ages 18 and up also exist.

Opportunities for girls include the program After School Rock Band, where students pursue one of many instruments, form a band with other girls, and work together to compose an original song. At the end of the 12-week program, all bands perform their song at a community showcase. Students are not required to have any prior musical knowledge and are provided with instruments by the Girls Rock Santa Barbara organization.

The mission of the program is to use music as a tool to inspire women and girls to feel confident, challenge gender stereotypes, and make friends in a supportive and safe environment.