7 Hidden Gems of the Santa Maria Valley


1. Swirl ‘til you spill. We’re not pretentious about our Pinot Noir.

Because the coastal climate is one-of-a-kind with its rare “transverse” geography, the Santa Maria Valley is one of the coolest wine-growing regions in California. The unique topography and climate makes for an ideal environment for classic grape varietals – those with complexity and depth. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah excel in the area. Explore these varietals along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Many of the varietals are composed of well-drained soils that also contribute to exceptional fruit intensity and flavor concentration. The winemakers here aren’t just a name on a label – they’re present, accessible and welcoming when you come by for a tasting.

2. Grub down with a 150-year old barbecue tradition.

A perfect complement to Santa Maria Valley wines is Santa Maria-style barbecue, which centers around beef tri-tip or sirloin combined with a simple seasoning, grilled over red-oak wood. Traditional accompaniments include pinquito beans, fresh salsa, tossed green salad and grilled French bread dipped in sweet melted butter. Santa Maria-style barbecue stems from a tradition shaped by decades of history, generations of locals, and, of course, the perfect mix of native flavors. The origins of Santa Maria-style barbecue date back to the mid-1800s, when local rancheros would host Spanish-style barbecues every spring for their vaqueros, or cowboys. Under the trees in the picturesque valley, they would savor feasts consisting of beef barbecued over earthen pits filled with red-oak coals.

3. Allow yourself to do things unscripted. Just the way Hollywood likes it.

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge has been home to many Hollywood films including the 1923 epic The Ten Commandments, with parts of the movie set still buried deep in the sands, and other modern Hollywood favorites including Hidalgo; G.I. Jane; and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. The Legend of Zorro was based on the life of Solomon Pico, a murderous bandit who camped in the Santa Maria hills. To this day, people climb the Solomon Hills looking for treasure that Pico allegedly buried. Even parts of the movie, Sideways were filmed in the Santa Maria Valley, including spots such as the Wine Merchant, Orcutt Burger and Foxen Winery.

4. You’re in for a berry good time.

There are more than 10 strawberry varietals in the Santa Maria Valley. The cool coastal breeze and ocean fog make for an exceptional environment to grow all-things tasty. When you’re here, you will find fresh-picked strawberries, and you will discover fresh produce in a number of places from farmers’ markets, produce stands and charming marts chock-full of the season’s best fruits and vegetables. The best part, though? It’s all picked fresh just for you, by farmers who are like family. The Santa Maria Valley has deep roots in tradition and family history that truly define what it means to savor fruits and vegetables that are locally sourced.

5. Spot a rockin’ robin. Or many other cool birds.

The Santa Maria Valley is located in the heart of the Pacific Flyway, the path that migrating birds follow along the Pacific coastline of the United States and Mexico. The Santa Maria Valley Christmas Bird Count regularly ranks among the top 100 birding places in the United States. Local-area birders often refer to the Santa Maria Valley as the “frontier” since only a few local birders work the Santa Maria Valley area, in spite of the numerous local birding opportunities. The city of Santa Maria is 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, ten miles from oak woodland habitat and lots of grassland and sage habitat in between provide a varied habitat that attracts birds during all seasons and from everywhere in the nation. The area is not just for the birds. The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge is a location to learn more about and observe whale migration, and threatened and endangered species such as northern elephant seals and California red-legged frogs.

6. Find your inner peace in oh-so beautiful spaces.

Oso Flaco Lake is an ideal place to stretch your legs, view unique wildlife, and find your serenity along this 1.5-mile boardwalk. On the pristine Oso Flaco Lake, meaning “skinny bear”, guests can take in the canopy of trees and hanging Spanish moss as they enjoy incredible views of the nearby Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. If you make the full trek to the end of the boardwalk, visitors are rewarded with sights of the entire San Luis Bay, from Point San Luis in the north, to Point Sal Beach Park in the south.

7. You’re in for some really good theater.

The PCPA, Pacific Conservatory Theatre, has been presenting professional theatrical productions for more than 52 years in the Santa Maria Valley, producing a rich mix of plays from Broadway musicals to Shakespeare and everything in-between. PCPA offers year-round entertainment in two venues: the Marian Theatre, a 448 seat theatre with a thrust stage, and the Severson Theatre, a flexible black box theatre with seating up to 188. In the summer months, PCPA also presents in the 700-seat outdoor Festival Theatre in Solvang. The Santa Maria Valley is chock-full of arts and culture treasures. Visitors can also enjoy the cooperative art galleries of Betteravia Gallery North and Betteravia Gallery South, and events such as the Guadalupe summer Obon festival at the oldest Buddhist temple in California.

California’s Central Coast consists of:

VENTURA REGION: Ventura County, Camarillo, Conejo Valley, Heritage Valley, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Simi Valley
SANTA BARBARA REGION: Santa Barbara County, Buellton, Carpinteria Valley, Goleta, Lompoc Valley, Los Olivos, Santa Maria Valley, Solvang, Santa Ynez Valley
SAN LUIS OBISPO REGION: San Luis Obispo County, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Cambria, Cayucos, Grover Beach, Harmony, Morro Bay, Nipomo, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, San Simeon
MONTEREY BAY REGION: Monterey County, Santa Cruz County, Carmel, Gilroy, Hollister, San Benito

About Central Coast Tourism Council

The Central Coast Tourism Council (CCTC) is a non-profit organization comprised of Destination Management Organizations (DMOs; Convention & Visitor Bureaus, Chambers of Commerce, etc.) throughout the California Central Coast. Comprised of tourism and hospitality professionals, the mission of CCTC is to jointly promote the entire California Central Coast as a destination. The four regions that comprise California’s Central Coast include Monterey Bay, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. The CCTC also serves as the Central Coast’s voice in Sacramento, and as a partner with Visit California’s global marketing and advertising campaigns.