Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park – Santa Barbara, California - Atlas Obscura

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park

Colorful Native American paintings are hidden within this small cavern. 


Hidden along a narrow, steep, and windy road is a tiny piece of the Chumash Indian history preserved for visitors to view. The state park is small, and doesn’t look like much at first glance. But peek through the bars blocking the entrance to this cave, and you’ll discover striking traces of the past.

This little cave has some decently preserved art from before the Europeans settlers really took over California. The colorful symbols are a bright contrast with the pale sandstone surface.  Though the meaning of the images is unclear, it’s believed the artwork is related to Chumash cosmology.

The age of the rock art is as murky as its meaning. According to some estimates, it may be upwards of 1,000 years old.

There’s evidence that the white settlers have known about this spot for years, as early migrants left their mark in the form of graffiti near the enigmatic indigenous artwork. The bars were installed over the entrance and the area was declared a state park to prevent further damage.

Know Before You Go

While the official address is vague, Google Maps will get you there. Just type in the name of the park. The location is around two miles up on the narrow Painted Cave Road that winds around a hill. It doesn’t really accommodate RVs and other wide vehicles. There are some private residences along the road so expect to encounter at least one other car on your way to or from the location. Also, the trip up the hill includes some great views with some spots to pull off.

The cave is just a few steps off the road. Access to the cave is blocked off by an iron grate, but there’s a big enough opening to view the artwork. The exterior of the cave also has some interesting features.

There are some places to hike nearby, including Knapp’s Castle.