New facility will be almost entirely outdoors, with activities for children of all ages, abilities

By Serena Guentz,

Noozhawk Staff Writer

The Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum broke ground on its future site in Buellton on Oct. 7 in a groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting event, with the goal of opening in summer 2022. 

Founder Ashley Jenkins has been working toward this point, and toward the opening of the outdoor museum, for about four years. To build awareness of the project, the museum held free monthly Discovery Days for children and families last summer at the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden, with activities such as building fairy homes, making adobe bricks or playing with bubbles. 

“It is so magical seeing [the museum] come together,” Jenkins said.

The Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum will be almost entirely outdoors, with several sensory-based activities for children of all ages and all abilities.

“One of the reasons I’m so passionate about the museum and decided to hop on board was the goal of accessibility to every family and child in the community,” board member and volunteer Gerri Massey said. “Not just the child who doesn’t have any needs, but children that have a variety of needs and families, too, that have needs. There will be wheelchair accessibility, bathrooms will have handicap accessibility, and that is something I think is so important and needed in this community.”

The site plan diagram for the future Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum.



















The museum has a fundraising goal of $1.5 million for construction costs and to fund the first year of operation, and it already has the support of several city organizations, such as the Buellton City Council, the Buellton Chamber of Commerce, the City of Buellton Arts & Culture Committee and many more, along with at least 29 individuals and families, according to a list of donors that was on display during Thursday’s event.

The children’s museum also was granted the land for its site, which is on the former Willemsen property, from the City of Buellton. 

The museum has received about $41,000 in monetary and in-kind donations and is awaiting approval for three grants that could total another $400,000, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said an art piece will be installed at the museum commemorating each donor. She said the piece will include a field of sunflowers, with each petal dedicated to the name of a donor.

“We are excited to have so much momentum this early on in our development, and it would not be possible without the contribution of so much time, talent and resources from our community,” said Carolyn Dorwin, program director for the Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum.

The groundbreaking event included a tour of the site as volunteers described the different features that will be built in each area.

The children’s museum will be built in three phases, with the goal of having all programs running by the third year.

The first phase will develop the top portion of the property, with a key exhibit being a recirculating water feature with a shallow wading area.

“One of our cornerstone exhibits that we’re going to put in is this rain gazebo that will have a little riverbed flowing to a small pond, and then it’s going to cycle the water back,” Dorwin said. “It will replicate the water cycle for kids.”

Other features in the first phase include a native plant and herb garden, culturally themed playhouses, a mud kitchen, a spare parts play station and a mini Tonka Truck zone.

In the first phase will also be one of the only interior structures in the museum that will be used for a reading zone and rotating activity tables. The other interior structure will be a small office and check-in kiosk.  

The second phase will develop the lower portion, with slides going down the slope and climbing stations to get back up the hill, as well as more playhouses.

The third phase will develop any more land on the lower portion and have all programs running, with the possibility of creating a curriculum for school field trips.

The Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum also will include a pre-teen and teen program in the evenings, with less structure and more of a safe space for them to hang out, watch movies or create clubs.

Jenkins said the teen and pre-teen program hopefully will start with a couple of nights each week.

“We’ll be providing that safe space for them to just ignite their curiosity,” Jenkins said.

She added that the museum will provide a club system and structure; however, it will allow the older children to drive the focus of the clubs.

The Santa Ynez Valley Children’s Museum will be located at 202 Dairyland Road in Buellton and aims to open with the completion of the first phase in summer 2022.

More information, including information about donating and supporting the museum, can be found on its website at

“It’s coming to life,” Jenkins said. “It’s really exciting.”

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at