Learning Moments Made Fresh Daily for 23 Years

The mission of the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum is to foster family and youth-inspired learning by creating experiences to explore ourselves, our valley, our world and beyond. The museum’s exhibit and program-based “please touch” atmosphere engenders the best in self-discovery for children and their families. Now in our 23rd year as the only children’s museum in Santa Barbara County, we currently serve more than 34,000 children and their families every year and we continue to grow in service and demand.

The Discovery Museum first opened its doors in 1996 in a small strip mall in Santa Maria. In 2004, the museum completed a capital campaign, renovated a space in an historic commercial building in the heart of downtown, installed hands-on learning exhibits for children and opened its new doors to the community in January of 2005. This 13,000-square-foot facility now has more than 25 exhibit areas.

In May of this year, we opened the Central Coast Makerspace,  a hands-on community makerspace initiative in partnership with Allan Hancock College and the Santa Maria Public Library. We also launched the Vandenberg Launch Experience in partnership with the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and received CREF Funding for an marine-themed exhibit planned for installation in 2019.

Other new exhibits include the Discovery Reading Tree, Discovery Farms Produce Truck, Catching Air, Moxie Cafe and our “Recycling is Fun” kiosk. Our museum exhibits are expanded and supplemented for the visitor through our weekly enrichment and education programming. Our Tuesday Tales, Preschool Patrol, Passport Thursday, Fit Friday, Science Saturday, and Sunday Funday programs grew so much in popularity over the past two years, we added a second afternoon session so that more families can participate. These much-loved programs are now offered at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., six days a week.

Along with the development of a Maker Lab adjacent to our Creation Station, we have added another weekly program we call Brain Builders. Kids are immersing themselves in “maker” activities that demonstrate the power of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) by programming robots, extracting DNA from fruit, designing bridges, and other interactive hands-on experiments.

In addition to these programs, we offer summer camps for school-aged children that focus on robotics, engineering, art, and music.  Our Robotics and LEGO Maker camps sell out ever summer. We also continue to develop community-based special events, like our Free Family Kite Festival, which was offered free to more than 2,000 families at Rotary Centennial Park in April. Other free days include Nat Fast Children’s Arts Day, which this year attracted hundreds of people from the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, and R.H. Tesene Family Day at the Ranch. These free events reduce barriers to museum access and participation for as many children and families as possible.

In the last five years, the museum leadership spearheaded a comprehensive revitalization effort that has led to the cultivation and installment of a highly capable, multifaceted Board of Directors and museum staff. Together with our funders and other supporters, the group has successfully restructured museum operations; grown museum memberships, field trips, and overall admissions; and developed, designed, and installed a collection of modern, hands-on exhibits geared toward teaching 21st century skills to our community’s children and their families. We have expanded to an annual visitor rate of 26,000 guests in 2015 to more than 34,000 last year. School field trips from Santa Barbara County make up approximately 20 percent of our visitor-ship annually and youth-focused social service agencies accounted for nearly 2,000 adults and children in 2017-2018. This dramatic increase in admission is the best possible metric of our success in growing our footprint in the community.

The Discovery Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving schools, families and youth groups from all over the Central Coast of California.

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