A Toast to the Land in Santa Maria Valley

By Tori Peglar ,

In the heart of the Santa Maria Valley wine country, here are five authentic things not to miss.

1. Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab

Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab

Photo courtesy of Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce

Why go: Owner Greg Steinberger likes to tell his new employees, “We are not in the ice cream business. We are in the memory business.” Truer words have rarely been spoken. Stop at this charming ice cream parlor in Orcutt for small-batch flavors.

Tip: Try the Merlot Raspberry Truffle made with real Merlot, swirls of black raspberry and soft chocolate chunks.

2. Far Western Tavern

The rustic dining room of the Far Western Tavern

Gloria Wadzinski

Why go: You can’t visit Santa Maria without eating Santa Maria-style BBQ. This upscale restaurant features a mahogany bar and cowhide curtains. The restaurant has been run by three generations of Minettis.

Tip: Don’t follow your GPS to the tavern as online maps often bring travelers to the restaurant’s former location in Guadalupe, Calif. The “new” location is in Old Town Orcutt at 300 Clark Avenue.

3. Historic Santa Maria Inn

The beautiful pool area at the Santa Maria Inn

Tori Peglar

Why go: Built in 1917, this historic inn features modern amenities, including creative food in “The Century Room” lined with hip gray booths.

Tip: Bring your bathing suit because the outdoor hotel pool and hot tub are gorgeous.

4. Santa Maria Valley Wine Trolley

Go vineyard hopping without driving.

Photo by Jeff Dow courtesy of Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce

Why go: Leave the driving to someone else as you explore a handful of Santa Maria’s gorgeous wineries, including Costa del Oro, Cottonwood Canyon Winery and Riverbench Winery.

Tip: The wine trolley runs Saturdays and Sundays, every 75 minutes from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting at Town Center West. The wine trolley will also run one additional route from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., but will exclude Cottonwood Canyon and Riverbench wineries. Check for updated schedules online.

5. The Lost City

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. 

Photo by Ian Shive/USFWS via Flickr

Why go: Drive west of the Santa Maria area to see an extraordinary movie set being unearthed from the sand.

When filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille built the largest set in movie history in 1923, it included 21 giant sphinxes lining a path to an 800-foot-wide temple. The set was for the black-and-white silent film The Ten Commandments, which was filmed in the sand dunes of Guadalupe, Calif.

But after the movie was filmed, DeMille did a strange thing, perhaps driven by the cost of removing the enormous set. He ordered the entire set to be secretly buried in the sand.

Tip: Visit the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, 1065 Guadalupe St., in Guadalupe, to find out how film buffs discovered the set in the sand in 1983 and the subsequent efforts to bring artifacts like massive parts of a sphinx to the surface. You also can learn about the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, which stretch across 18 miles of coastline and are one of the largest intact coastal dune ecosystems on Earth.

For more information:
Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce
(800) 331-3779
614 S. Broadway, Santa Maria, CA 93454
SantaMariaValley.com

Central Coast Tourism
www.centralcoast-tourism.com