17 Historical Facts You Might Not Know About Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is known for being an incredible, idyllic destination. Most people know that it’s a beautiful place to visit, but what do you really know about the history of Santa Barbara and how it came to be? Here are 17 historical facts you might not know about Santa Barbara.

  1. An old settlement. Settlers in Santa Barbara date back over 13,000 years ago, with the Chumash tribe. They survived by fishing, hunting, engaging in herbalism, making boats, baskets, and beads that they would trade with other settlers.
  2. The first rudimentary schools. They were arguably also some of the first to bring education here. Schools didn’t exist in the form we have them today, but children in the villages learned by following and observing their adult family members and fellow villagers.
  3. How dolphins came to be. There are stories hailing from the Chumash about dolphins – legend has it that the island was protected by the Earth Mother, known as Hutash. As the island grew increasingly more populated, so did the noise, which bothered Hutash greatly, so she moved the people to the mainland and had them cross a rainbow to get to the other side.But some of the people didn’t make it and instead fell in the ocean waters. Rather than letting them die, Hutash turned them into dolphins, which continue to visit the island and regularly make appearances to this day.
  4. Ancient rock art. The Chumash not only had a rich spiritual and artistic culture, but they left it painted on the rocks of Los Padres National Forest. That fact was virtually unknown until a fire revealed these rocks, making visible the art illustrating spirituality and animals, made with hematite, seashells, and charcoal.
  5. A name over 400 years old. In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno, an explorer hailing from Spain, named the Channel Santa Barbara.
  6. Centuries-old Franciscan leadership. Santa Barbara is the only U.S. mission that has been operated by Franciscans ever since it was founded.
  7. A 300-year old military fortress. Europeans have been permanent settlers here since 1782, which is when the Presidio was built. It was part of a group of Spanish military fortresses present in the area.
  8. Authentic Spanish architecture. The local architecture that is instantly recognizable was built by Spanish settlers. Red tile roofs and white stucco exteriors make up the iconic Santa Barbara style.
  9. A perfect illustration of Neoclassicism. The Old Mission is a perfect example of authentic Neoclassical style, surrounded by beautiful gardens, a fountain, and even a museum.
  10. Destroyed and rebuilt. The mission was ravaged by earthquakes not once, but twice, with much of it needing to be rebuilt. First, in 1812, and then again later, in 1925. It was reconstructed in the same distinct style that we see today and a great deal of care has gone into preserving the authentic design.
  11. Traditional infrastructure. The structure of the mission itself is very interesting, in keeping with traditional infrastructure. The quadrangle is the basis, with granaries, a tannery, and a weaver on site.
  12. A people that loves to celebrate. Like many Spanish heritage areas, Santa Barbara organizes many festivals, many of which go back decades or even centuries.The Summer Solstice festival dates back to the 1970s, which the Old Spanish Fiesta Days have an even longer history, dating back to 1924. The Fiesta is a celebration of Latin culture and heritage in all of its forms, and it takes place annually to the delight of locals from all around the area.
  13. The dawn of the internet. Santa Barbara played a major role in the development of the internet. UC Santa Barbara was among the very first nodes of ARPANET in 1969, together with other major universities like the University of Utah, Stanford, and UCLA.This network of computers expanded and eventually developed into the internet we use today. 50 years later, Santa Barbara is served by 6 major internet providers.
  14. A historic wharf. The oldest wharf in California that’s still in function is Stearns Wharf, in keeping with maritime tradition in Santa Barbara. It dates back to 1872, and it’s a major visitor attraction now.
  15. The birth of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was officially celebrated in Santa Barbara back in 1969. Ever since then, the Earth Day Festival happens every year in April, in Alameda Park, giving way to other similar celebrations not only in California, but also in other areas of the U.S. and across the globe. Globally, Earth Day is on April, 22nd.
  16. The oldest skeleton in North America. Santa Barbara is the home of the oldest skeleton in North America, the Arlington Springs Man from Santa Rosa Island. It was discovered in 1959 by Phil Orr, but it took 40 years for analysts to realize that the skeleton dated back 13,000 years ago. The femur is one of only two remains from the same period found in North America, the other being in Montana, in the Anzick Site.
  17. Movie star quality. Santa Barbara was major on the movie scene in 1912-1917, as one of the world’s biggest movie studios was opened right in Downtown Santa Barbara. Going by the name of Flying A Studios, it was opened in 1912 and operated for five years, time in which they managed to produce a whopping one thousand movies.It is estimated that the studio was producing over 240 films a year at its peak, many of which were short silent films. However, times progressed to longer films with dialog, but the studio did not. It closed in 1917, just in time for Los Angeles to become the new film Mecca. Santa Barbara has strong film ties to this day, with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival taking place here every year.


Final thoughts

As you can see, Santa Barbara has a rich, extensive history dating back more than 13,000 years. It’s an area of California with a beautiful culture that has been preserved and celebrated for generations. From classical architecture to ancient artwork and charming local legends, there is plenty to learn and enjoy about historical Santa Barbara.


By Teresa Bennet, Guest Author

Photo courtesy of Tran Nguyen via Unsplash