Santa Barbara's Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park preserves centuries old Native American artwork that adorn the side of a sandstone cave in the mountains above the city. Vivid red and black designs cover one wall of the cave. The smooth and irregularly shaped shallow sandstone cave contains numerous drawings apparently depicting the Chumash cosmology and other subjects created in mineral pigments and other media over a long period ranging from about 200 up to possibly 1000 years or more. Anthropologists speculate that one of the dark circles on the cave wall may represent a solar eclipse that took place in 1677, but it is not actually known when the cave paintings were created, or what their significance might be.
The sign by the parking area explains: "We know the artists were Chumash - the people who have lived in this area for thousands of years. They were probably shamans or priests who came to this cave seeking power or spiritual strength as they tried to influence supernatural beings and forces to intervene in human affairs. They used charcoal, red ochre, and powdered shells for their paint, but the meaning of the images they created was lost with the destruction of their way of life. These paintings are a tangible connection that ties us with out ancestors."
Alaxuluxen, the Chumash name for the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park is situated on the edge of the traditional Barbareño Chumash territory, which ranged from the local coast to the southern slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains. With a population of over 15,000 before the Europeans arrived, the Barbareño Chumash were one of the largest and most influential tribes in California. The current city of Santa Barbara, at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, was the capital city of the Barbareño, then called Syukhtun.
This park is one of the few providing open access for viewing original rock art of the Chumash people in person. There is evidence of graffiti beginning with early white settlers, which eventually led to creation of a protective physical barrier and State Historic Park status. In 1972 it was added as Site #72000256 on the National Register of Historical Places.
Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park is a very small park with no facilities. The trailhead about 5 miles from U.S. 101 and is just two miles from California Route 154 on Painted Cave Road. The cave is adjacent to the left side of this narrow one-lane mountain road, with a slightly widened shoulder that provides parking for one or two vehicles. The drive is not appropriate for trailers and RVs, due to some very tight turns and steep sections. The cave is visible from Painted Cave Road, a short distance up a short trail. An iron gate crosses the opening of the cave to protect the artwork but there are a couple of openings in the door to get a good look inside and that allow you to take photos unobstructed.