If you’re looking for an affordable getaway with access to unique outdoor activities in the heart of wine country, head to Santa Maria Valley, which is just 20 minutes inland. Its storied roots stretch back to the mid-1800s when ranchers in the rolling hills of the Santa Maria Valley threw Spanish-style barbecues, cooking meat over the hot coals of live oak trees in earthen pits. There was a certain culinary magic in their seasonings, slow-cooked meat, salsas and pinquito beans. Nearly 200 years later, you can experience this legendary Santa Maria Style barbecue centered around tri-tip, simple seasonings and flavorful sides when you visit the region. Here are the top 6 things to do in Santa Maria.
1. Far Western Tavern
You can’t visit Santa Maria without eating Santa Maria-style BBQ. Longtime keepers of the tradition include Far Western Tavern, The Hitching Post and Shaw’s. At Far Western Tavern, this upscale restaurant features a mahogany bar and cowhide curtains. The restaurant has been run by three generations of Minettis. 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. But, you can also
experience a burgeoning diversified foodie scene with places like Trattoria Uliveto, Cubanissimo Cuban Coffee House & Cafe and The Homestead, a deli where you can sit down or get sandwiches to go in old town Orcutt, adjacent to Santa Maria.
2. The Foxen Canyon Wine Trail
Spend a day driving, touring or cycling along the 30-mile Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, which is peppered with 14 wineries. It connects Santa Maria Valley and Los Olivos, providing visitors with an insider’s glimpse into California’s Central Coast wine scene. Expect to try award-winning varietals ranging from Pinot Noir and Syrah to Chardonnay and Blanc de Blancs.
3. Your Wine Getaway in Santa Maria Valley
Extend your recreation dollars further by staying in Santa Maria’s affordable hotels. Sit back and relax on the Wine Trolley while visiting local wineries every weekend from May through October. Tickets are $10 for the day. Use your hotel key card to enjoy a free tasting at participating wineries. End your day with a heaping plate of Santa Maria-style barbecue, a 150-year-old barbecue tradition that is centered around tri-tip, simple seasoning and flavorful sides. NOTE: the Santa Maria Wine Trolley did not run in 2021 because of COVID-19 precautions. Check with the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce for up-to-date information.
4. Secrets of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes
Visit the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, one of the world’s largest intact dune ecosystems, which stretch across 18 miles of coastline. At the Dunes Center, learn about filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 set from The Ten Commandments. When 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. 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. The set, which is currently being unearthed, includes 21 giant sphinxes buried in the sand.
Speed it up 12 miles north and rent dune buggies at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Don’t miss a beautiful stroll along a 1.5-mile boardwalk at Oso Flaco Lake. Parking is $5.
5. Hike in the Santa Maria Valley
With 24 hiking trails and 15 beaches around Santa Maria Valley, it’s the perfect home base to explore the outdoors in the Central Coast. Head to Oso Flaco Lake for an easy, 1.7-mile boardwalk trail that leads straight to the Pacific Ocean. If you’re looking for
a little more adventure, the Point Sal trail near Casmalia is a 9.8-mile hike that climbs over rolling hills before descending 1,200 feet to a secluded beach below.
6. Historic Santa Maria Inn
Built in 1917, this historic inn features modern amenities, including creative food in “The Century Room” lined with hip gray booths. Bring your bathing suit because the outdoor hotel pool and hot tub are gorgeous.
For more information:
Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce
614 S. Broadway, Santa Maria, CA 93454
Central Coast Tourism