A Day at the Santa Maria Discovery Museum: Exploring California With a Toddler

The Santa Maria Discovery Museum is a hidden gem on California’s Central Coast. The exhibits are interactive and encourage open ended play, making it the perfect place to visit for kids of all ages!

We have been to the Discovery Museum before , but it was when Aaliyah was still barely walking. While we did have fun, I was looking forward to a birthday party we were attending at the center now that she is older. It was definitely a completely different experience! There was so much to see and do we stayed and played for 3 hours.

About the Discovery Museum

The museum first opened 22 years ago in a small strip mall. It has since grown into a 13,000 square foot space and added many new exhibits at its new location. The Discovery Museum is the only children’s museum in Santa Barbara County, making it a unique experience for central coast toddlers.

Things to Know Before You Go

  • Cost: $6 for adults and children over 2
  • Open every day but Monday’s
  • Free parking
  • Food and drink are not permitted
  • “Screen Free” and they ask you only use your phone for pictures

Exploring the Exhibits

There are over 25 exhibits in the Discovery Museum! The large open space makes it easy for your little one to navigate the exhibits and interact with them as they please. I won’t be going through each exhibit but I will be highlighting some of our favorites!

Tot Spot

As the name suggests, this area was geared towards kids 0-3. There were bead mazes, sensory bottles, and stackable plush shapes. This was the first that she walked into because of the bright colors!

Discovery Tar Pits

Dinosaurs bones, hard hats, and sand… need I say more? This exhibit is perfect for little ones who love to dig for cool treasures like the various metal dinosaur bones buried in the sand pit! The walls are decorated to look like an archaeological dig, making it an engaging experience.

Moxie Cafe

Aaliyah loves playing with play food so we spent a ton of time here! The whole exhibit is focused on healthy eating, and has a magnet board showing how to eat the rainbow! There are bins in colors that we sorted the food into and then she cooked up some of her delicious recipes. They even had a scratch and sniff fridge with fruit scents in colorful water bottles!

Discovery Reading Tree

This was the cutest treehouse that I would love to move into our backyard! Underneath it had stacks of books, and inside there were bean bags and cushions to sit on. Next to the tree house there was a large blue fairy tale chair and chest of story time hand puppets! We had fun putting on a puppet show and reading stories together.

Vandenberg Launch Experience

I loved that they had an exhibit that was unique to the area! This exhibit was interactive with screens, games, and recordings of the United Launch Alliance Control Center. The exhibit was created with a partnership with the Air Force at the Vandenberg Air Force Base. There was even a little rocket ship for her to ride!

Catching Air

This was by far our favorite exhibit!! Focusing on movement and and air, the entire wall is covered with pneumatic tubes. She could pick a soft ball or scarf from the bin and then put it inside and watched it travel through the tubes and then come flying out the top! You can open and close different vents so that the path changes each time.

There were so many other exhibits including a planting station with a tractor and plants you can take home, a boat and whale slide, block building, rock climbing wall, and a maker space! The Santa Maria Discovery Museum is definitely worth visiting and you and your little one will have fun playing and exploring together! This was also the perfect place to have a birthday party and I am definitely thinking about having Aaliyah’s there! The birthday girl enjoyed herself and I was able to make her a custom doll for a birthday gift!

Have you ever visited a children’s museum? What’s your favorite exhibit?

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5 Comments

  1. Sounds like fun, wish we lived closer!

  2. This place looks wonderful! I can’t believe it opened 22 years ago. We have a discovery museum here in Utah and it looks very similar. I love them! They’re so much fun. She looks like she’s having so much fun! The best part is watching them have fun.

  3. This looks like such and awesome place to visit. I love going places that offers hands on activities for kids. Looks like everyone had a great time/

  4. Wow! This looks like a fantastic place to take children. Wish we lived closer. There is a Children’s museum about 1-2 hours away from us- defined going to plan a trip in the near future for my family 👍

  5. This museum is perfect for Toddlers! Where exactly is it in Cali? I would love to visit with my 2 year old!

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