If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, look no further than the Santa Maria Valley. This hidden gem is nestled between the slopes and rolling hill slides of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. The valley offers an array of activities for nature enthusiasts, foodies, and people who delight in rest and relaxation. Just don’t forget your corkscrew!
For those in the Los Angeles area, hop in your car and hit the 101 North freeway. Soak in the lush green scenery and palm trees as you drive along the coast past La Conchita, Summerland, and Montecito. Once you make it to the 154 freeway you’re greeted with several vista points where you can make a pit stop. Bring your camera so you can capture the picturesque mountaintop views and be blown away by nature’s wonders.
Stay at the Historic Santa Maria Inn
A perfect blend of antique and modern; the history of this hotel dates back more than 100 years and is known for having hosted many famous guests such as Charlie Chaplain, Rudolph Valentino, Bette Davis, Bing Crosby, and President Hoover. The hotel offers several warm fireplaces, an outdoor swimming pool, and a wine cellar. Enjoy breakfast, brunch and dinner in the Century Room Restaurant or grab a drink at the pub. The hotel plays 1930’s music softly in the background, which makes for a very charming ambiance. It is also believed that ghosts haunt the hotel. Stories whisper of a sea captain apparently murdered by his mistress and has haunted the hallways of the hotel since 1917, particularly room 210. Alongside the sea captain, the ghost of actor Rudolph Valentino lurks through the Santa Maria Inn and reportedly frequents room 221. Many other spooky incidents have been reported inside rooms and around the hotel grounds. Phenomena such as the piano keys playing on their own, mysterious footprints, the opening and shutting of doors unexpectedly, unexplained perfumed scented smells, and spinning hands on a clock have all been seen by both guests and staff.
For the nature enthusiast
The Oso Flaco Lake California State Park provides everything from lush mountains, to a beautiful lake that leads to the ocean, and sand dunes. Walk or jog over dirt trails, wooded paths and bridges through several diverse natural habitats. Spot the various flora and fauna or bring binoculars for bird watching.
Visit the Dunes Center beforehand to learn about the conservation and restoration of the Guadalupe-Nipomo ecosystem. The center provides general information on local dune access points.
For the foodies
Three favorites that you can’t miss out on
Family owned and operated by the Cadenas family, this colorful restaurant has been serving home style Mexican food for over 53 years. Offering everything from fresh mariscos (sea food) to tamales and award winning menudo, the menu does not disappoint. Walk in during happy hour every day from 2pm – 6pm and spend your day on the patio eating guacamole and chips while sipping on a michelada beer cocktail or fruity margarita. You might even decide to stay and catch the live mariachi band that plays on Friday evenings. Whatever time of day you decide to go in, you’re guaranteed a belly full of authentic Mexican food.
More than burgers. You’ll be surprised to walk into this eatery and feel as if you’ve been transported to a WWII air force base. The truth is, many people are unaware of the military history that surrounds the Santa Maria Valley. The local Allan Hancock College and Santa Maria Airport were once pilot training facilities opened in 1927 and 1942, respectively. In fact, Hancock Field was one of eight civilian aviation schools to provide training to future military pilots. The Santa Maria airfields became training fields for new fighter pilots prior to their immediate transfer overseas. And between 1942 and 1944 the airfield trained 633 fighter pilots that later took these skills to the forefront of battle. As a tribute to the servicemen and local military history, the owners of MOXIE café incorporated an aviation theme to their décor and menu. The B-17 Bomber breakfast burrito and P-38 Lighting breakfast burrito are just an example. The eatery also encourages local food sourcing and provides healthy options packed with veggies and fruit suitable for every dietary preference.
Santa Maria style barbecue. This contemporary California ranch cuisine inspired by local traditions offers an array of barbecue dishes all prepared with fresh flavors from local farms, ranches and vineyards. For dinner, savor the world famous bullseye steak – 14 ounces of signature boneless ribeye. Not a meat eater? No problem! The menu offers the Portobello mushroom option with roasted vegetables and grilled polenta. Paired with your favorite glass of wine – or two – this restaurant makes for a wonderful fine dining experience.
Is it wine o’clock yet?
Known for high quality pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and pinot blanc, the valley offers approximately 40 vineyards spread over approximately 7,500 acres of sprawling land.
Whether you are a wine connoisseur or still deciding if you prefer white or red wine, the expert staff at Cambria Estates Vineyards and Winery is ready to greet you with a warm smile and walk you through every wine tasting. Cambria offers two flight options – the Estate Flight – a deliciously crisp assortment of pinot gris and chardonnay which ends on a rosé pinot noir note. And the Pinot Flight – a tantalizing pinot noir assortment. You can sample wine or purchase a bottle and enjoy a beautiful view of the vineyards that stretch across almost 1,600 acres making Cambria the largest single-location vineyard in the area.
The Strawberry Festival
Last but not least, don’t miss out on the annual strawberry festival, which kicks off the valley’s strawberry season, supports local agriculture and healthy indulgence in strawberries while encouraging communal participation. Here you can sample strawberries from farms throughout central California. Vendors offer delicious creations that range from strawberry nachos to strawberry ribs and everything in between. This event is great for children and adults, alike and offers an array of activities from cooking demonstrations to wildlife showcases and fun carnival rides. This year, the festival took place during the last weekend of April. Check the Santa Maria Fairpark for future dates. Don’t miss out! People travel from far and wide to take part in this festival and accommodation books up quickly.