A Toast to the Land in Santa Maria Valley

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

1. The Foxen Canyon Wine Trail

Why go: Drive or bike along this 30-mile wine trail dotted with 16 wineries. It connects Santa Maria Valley and Los Olivos, providing visitors with an insider's glimpse into California's famed wine scene. Some offer drop-in tastings and others require advanced reservations.

Tip: Join CORE Winery winemaker and former semi-pro cyclist Dave Corey on one of his Bike + Bottle mapped appellations tours that can include behind-the-scenes tours at wineries and breweries.

2. Far Western Tavern

The rustic dining room of the Far Western Tavern

The rustic dining room of the Far Western Tavern

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. Or if you're looking for Italian food, sample wine at Vino et Amicis and order food from Pizzeria Bello Forno next door. For beer, head to Naughty Oak Brewery.

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

The beautiful pool area at the Santa Maria Inn

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

Stroll through a California vineyard.

Go vineyard hopping without driving.

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 trolley follows the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail and runs Memorial Day through Labor Day. The schedule and starting point varies, so go online to santamariavalley.com for details.

5. The Lost City

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Ian Shive/USFWS via Flickr

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. 

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.

Twelve miles north, 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.

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