Mountain lions and giant squid and bears, oh my! There's just enough to explore at this manageable museum located just behind the Old Mission. Housed in low-slung Spanish-style buildings, eight halls of permanent exhibits range from marine to mammal, paleontology to mineral and gem. All ages can ramble through without suffering museum overload. You could breeze through in 1½ hrs. or so, but it's best to allow 2 hrs. or even more to linger on the lovely oak-studded grounds. A life-size 72-ft. blue whale skeleton greets you at the entrance. From there, duck into halls of specimens and dioramas, and don't miss the intriguing glimpse into Chumash Indian life. Ooh and aah at scheduled shows in the Gladwin Planetarium (note that an extra fee applies). The nature trail along Mission Creek behind the museum is a good energy-burner and snack spot. Look for special summer exhibits such as 2014's "Butterflies Alive," held in a giant flower-filled greenhouse with more than 1,000 freely fluttering butterflies.

The Museum also owns and operates the Ty Warner Sea Center, a museum dedicated to the Santa Barbara Channel's marine life and conservation, on Stearns Wharf at the end of State Street. Special passes are good for two days of access to both locations.