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Exploring Santa Barbara’s Old Mission and New MOXI Museum

Santa Barbara’s Old Mission and new MOXI Museum make an interesting and fun day. Photo by Greg Aragon / Beacon Media News

By Greg Aragon

My recent trip to the Belmond El Encanto hotel (belmond.com) in Santa Barbara was highlighted by more than a luxury hotel, hidden in the hills; the getaway also introduced me to the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara and the new MOXI Museum.

Founded by Spanish Franciscans on Dec. 4, 1786, the Santa Barbara Mission (santabarbaramission.org) was the 10th of 21 California Missions created by the Spanish Franciscans monks. The Old Mission sits on 13 acres overlooking the ocean, and today, more than 200 years later, the Mission continues to be the chief cultural and historic landmark in the city of Santa Barbara.

To get to the mission, a friend and I walked about 10 minutes from our room at the Belmond El Encanto hotel. The walk took us through a beautiful neighborhood in the hills above the city. When we arrived at the mission we were instantly struck by the structure’s towering spires, classic Spanish California architecture with white clay and red tile roofs, and its commanding position overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean. It was easy to see why it has been called “Queen of the Missions.”

To begin my exploration of the Mission, I paid the $9 adult entry fee and took a self-guided tour. The grounds are highlighted by the beautiful Mission church, Historic Cemetery and Mausoleum, and multiple lush gardens, including La Huerta Historical Garden, which features authentic and ancient Mission-era plants, trees and paintings.

My first stop was the Mausoleum, which is situated in the center of the cemetery and surrounded by 200-year-old sandstone walls. Since 1893, this simple structure has served as a final resting place for Franciscan friars and a number of prominent citizens who were part of the early history of Santa Barbara. In 2011 the building underwent a massive renovation that included the addition of a columbarium with niche spaces for inurnments of cremated remains. 

The Mission also houses a nine-room museum of historical artwork and artifacts, which includes the Chumash Room, featuring Native American artifacts,  along with traditional crafts and tools; a re-creation of a 17th century kitchen with original 1790’s adobe wall and 1805 front stone wall; a Padre’s bedroom with chess set, Bishop’s glasses, staff and desk set; and a Trades room with agricultural, blacksmithing, and weaving tools, as well as historical mission-era photos.

After touring the Old Mission, I drove to the MOXI Museum (www.moxi.org), Downtown Santa Barbara’s newest hands-on destination for families and curious minds of all ages. “MOXI is a place where you can explore and discover new things about the world around you, ask questions, seek answers and have a blast doing so,” says the museums website.

The three-level museum building is filled with interactive experiences, organized around seven themes that all relate to science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The first thing people see when they enter the main lobby is the Sheldon Family Handprint Globe, a giant, hanging, light-filled globe that guests can put their hand prints on and see them projected on a screen.  

Another cool exhibit is Sound Track, where visitors can journey inside a Giant Guitar to learn about how famous guitar riffs are created. Guests can then take control of the Reactable, part digital DJ table, part futuristic musical instrument. They can also experience Hollywood magic and step into Foley Studios to create their own sound effects for a popular film clip.

At the Innovation Workshop, kids can imagine, design and test their own creations using a wide variety of technologies and tools – from the low-tech popsicle sticks and glue to the high-tech 3-D printer and laser cutter. In the Fantastic Forces Courtyard, they can learn about gravity, magnetism, propulsion, centripetal force and more. Visitors here can conduct test flights in the Wind Column Workshop, launch an air rocket and discover the power of magnetic fields on Magnetic Islands.  

Other fun exhibits at the MOXI include Speed Track, where kids can build their own race car and send it down a test track; Light Track, where lights, colors, shadows and technology meet in creative, visual arts and expression; and the Sky Garden, a rooftop garden with great views and lots of information on how wind, sun and humans power our planet.

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