President/CEO Luke Swetland, Grassini Family Vineyards Event and Donation Manager Autumn van Diver, and Board Chair Brad Willis | Credit: Gail Arnold

On June 25, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History held what Executive Director Luke Swetland aptly called a “tub of love” — its annual Santa Barbara Wine + Food Festival, which was back for the first time since 2019.  The sold-out crowd of 1,000 museum supporters enjoyed wine and food from 100+ purveyors, all of whom donated their offerings. The event raised $170,000 for the museum’s nature and science education programs.

Set amid the museum’s spacious, picturesque oak-shaded grounds, the event is a favorite among wine enthusiasts and foodies, with tickets selling out several months in advance. It is also beloved by winery owners, winemakers, and chefs, who enjoy chatting with guests about their creations.

Hitching Post Wines Co-Owner/Co-Winemaker Gray Hartley shared how he and his team go to events all over California and beyond, but the one closest to their hearts is this one “because it has the soul of our community — our friends and all those who come and participate are bringing their very best food and their very best wine for those who are fortunate to come…you would have to drag me kicking and screaming to not support it.”

A thoughtful layout and spacious grounds allowed for a festive atmosphere without being crowded. Guests got to stroll among dinosaurs sporting wine glasses and butterflies peacefully fluttering in their pavilion. As always, there was happy energy everywhere.

Brander Vineyard Winemaker Fabian Bravo, who has been doing the event for 15 years was back again, alongside proprietor Fred Brander who has participated from the start. Bravo shared that it is one of his favorite events because of the concept of putting food and wine together, the beautiful venue, and the guests who turn out. Lucas & Lewellen owner Mike Lewellen related how the winery has participated for many years and he enjoys supporting the museum and sharing their wine with an appreciative crowd at the same time.

The absence of Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen, who passed away last year, was felt. Clendenen had missed only two events since its inception in 1982 and had called this event the most beautiful tasting he does anywhere in the country.

Staffing shortages led to fewer food purveyors this year, but there was still an impressive lot. Culinary highlights included Cuyama Buckhorn’s Cuyama Valley lamb chili with cornbread, Little Dom’s Seafood’s cured and cold-smoked albacore pastrami with green goddess tahini sauce, and Convivo’s raw ahi tuna with citrus and avocado.

The museum offers an array of programs for youth, including camps, after-school programs, and in-person and virtual visits. The introduction of virtual programming with the pandemic enabled the museum to extend the reach of its programming beyond its historical tri-county demographic to schools across the country and even to a school in Indonesia. All of its in-person education programs have an indoor and outdoor element, taking advantage of the museum’s 17-acre campus to get kids out in nature. 

When asked about the museum’s education programs, Swetland talked passionately about piquing kid’s curiosity regarding the natural world and getting them to understand, with age-appropriate conversations, the need to take care of the planet. “If we can get kids to not be afraid of the natural world and be curious about it, that curiosity will stay with them for life,” and that is what is necessary for them to become the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Swetland explained that the museum starts by grabbing people’s hearts, and then their heads follow because they will say “wow, that is cool, why does it do that?” and then they want to learn.  What the museum does, according to Swetland, is fun, simple, and profound.

For adults, Science Pub at Dargan’s Pub resumes in person on July 11, and for the whole family, free daily planetarium shows begin July 1. The next monthly Star Party is July 9.  

Its Butterflies Alive! exhibit allows guests to wander through a beautiful garden with nearly 1,000 live butterflies fluttering around. The Rare Earth exhibit, according to Swetland, is blowing people away. It shows how amazing the 200+ crystals, minerals, and rock formations in the exhibit are in their natural state.  Both exhibits run through September 5.  

The museum, renovated in 2018, has 3.5 million + specimens of natural history, covering mammals, birds, marine life, geology, astronomy, paleontology, anthropology, and more.  For more info, go to

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Hitching Post Wines Co-Owner/Co-Winemaker Gray Hartley and Oat Bakery Owner Louise Fontana | Credit: Gail Arnold
Kimsey Vineyard Owners Bill and Nancy Kimsey with Adam Simmons | Credit: Gail Arnold
Lucas & Lewellen Estate Vineyards Owner Mike Lewellen and Nurit Ruckenstein | Credit: Gail Arnold
Brander Vineyard Winemaker Fabian Bravo and Event Committee Member Tama Takahashi | Credit: Gail Arnold
Cuyama Buckhorn team: Marketing & Operations Manager Savannah Fox, Executive Chef Daniel Horn, and Proprietor Ferial Sadeghian | Credit: Gail Arnold
Boardmember Susan Parker, Bill Klansek, and Sheri Eckmann | Credit: Gail Arnold
Guests enjoy the VIP reception. | Credit: Gail Arnold


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