Santa Barbara County is a county located in the southern portion of the U.S. state of California, on the Pacific coast. As of 2010 the county had a population of 423,895. The county seat is Santa Barbara and the largest city is Santa Maria.
The Santa Barbara County area, including the Northern Channel Islands, was first settled by Native Americans at least 13,000 years ago. Evidence for a Paleoindian presence has been found in the form of a fluted Clovis-like point found in the 1980s along the western Santa Barbara Coast, as well as the remains of Arlington Springs Man found on Santa Rosa Island in the 1960s. For thousands of years, the area was home to the Chumash tribe of Native Americans, complex hunter-gatherers who lived along the coast and in interior valleys leaving rock art in many locations including Painted Cave.
Europeans first contacted the Chumash in AD 1542, when three Spanish ships under the command of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explored the area. The Santa Barbara Channel received its name from Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino when he sailed over the channel waters in 1602; he entered the channel on December 4, the day of the feast of Santa Barbara. Although Spanish ships associated with the Manila Galleon trade probably contacted the Chumash intermittently during this "protohistoric" period, the Spanish first colonized Santa Barbara County in AD 1769, when the DeAnza expedition explored the area and laid plans to establish a series of missions and presidios (forts). Mission Santa Barbara was founded on December 4, 1786 in what is now Santa Barbara. The county derives its name from the mission.
European contacts had devastating effects on the Chumash Indians, including a series of disease epidemics that drastically reduced Chumash population. The Chumash survived, however, and thousands of Chumash descendants still live in the Santa Barbara area or surrounding counties.
Santa Barbara County was one of the 26 original counties of California, formed in 1850 at the time of statehood. The county's territory was divided to create Ventura County in 1872.