During the mid-1800s, 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 valley. Longtime keepers of the tradition include Far Western Tavern, The Hitching Post and Jocko’s. But there is so much more to this valley than a time-honored culinary tradition.

Experience an affordable getaway while enjoying award-winning wine, legendary barbecue and the outdoors. Here are six authentic things not to miss.

1. Far Western Tavern

Santa Maria BBQ at the Far Western Tavern

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.

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.

2. The Foxen Canyon Wine Trail

Biking along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Santa Maria Valley

Biking along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail

Drive or cycle along this 30-mile 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 varietals ranging from Pinot Noir and Syrah to Chardonnay and Blanc de Blancs. Or join CORE Winery winemaker and former semi-pro cyclist, Dave Corey, on one of his Bike + Bottle mapped appellations tours, which include behind-the-scenes tours at wineries and breweries

3. Your Wine Getaway in Santa Maria Valley

Santa Maria Valley Wine Trolley

Santa Maria Valley Wine Trolley

Extend your recreation dollars further with a two-night getaway from $500 or less. 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. 

4. Secrets of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes

Dune buggy at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

Dune buggy at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area

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 in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, leading 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

The beautiful pool area at the Santa Maria Inn

The beautiful pool area at the 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.

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

Central Coast Tourism

Wine Country