SANTA MARIA VAL­LEY

Eat, drink and slow down

2017 Travel Guide to California - - SANTA MARIA VALLEY - BY JILL K. ROBIN­SON

CAL­I­FOR­NI­ANS KNOW HOW to re­lax and en­joy the best of the land, whether that’s food, drink or stun­ning views. In Santa Maria Val­ley, the coastal cli­mate, out­door spa­ces, sen­sa­tional bar­be­cue and lus­cious wine all com­bine to make it an ideal des­ti­na­tion for those look­ing to adopt a few of the lo­cals’ best habits.

On the north­ern perime­ter of Santa Barbara County, the Santa Maria Val­ley is an un­com­mon trans­verse val­ley, which means that it runs west to east, counter to Cal­i­for­nia’s Coastal Range. The val­ley’s ori­en­ta­tion chan­nels cool ocean air di­rectly into the val­ley, re­sult­ing in one of the state’s long­est grow­ing sea­sons for vine­yards. Grapes pro­duced here in one of the six fed­er­ally rec­og­nized Amer­i­can Viti­cul­tural Ar­eas (AVAS) within Santa Barbara County are of­ten a lit­tle more com­plex, bal­anced and fla­vor­ful.

Sweet & Smoky Bar­be­cue

What cui­sine do you want to en­joy with your wine? If you like bar­be­cue, you’re right at home. In the mid 1800s, lo­cal rancheros were known for host­ing Span­ish-style bar­be­cues, and that tra­di­tion con­tin­ues to­day. Santa Maria-style bar­be­cue is fo­cused on beef tri-tip com­bined with a sim­ple sea­son­ing of salt, pep­per and gar­lic salt. The meat is cooked di­rectly over the coals of lo­cal red oak, giv­ing it a sweet and smoky fla­vor. Tra­di­tional ac­com­pa­ni­ments in­clude pink pin­quinto beans, fresh salsa, tossed green salad and grilled French bread with melted but­ter. Try it at The Hitch­ing Post, Shaw’s Steak­house, Jocko’s Steak­house, and Far Western Tav­ern.

No Dress Code

A spe­cial key to re­lax­ation: It doesn’t have a dress code. In Santa Maria Val­ley, you can sip your wine or beer while wear­ing worn-in jeans, and if you get a lit­tle drop on your clothes, no­body will mind. In fact, you might get a nod of ap­proval for blend­ing in so well.

Get out­side and en­joy the fresh air after (or be­fore) your meal. Me­an­der­ing roads, beau­ti­ful scenery and tucked-away vine­yards are fea­tures of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, con­nect­ing Los Olivos and Santa Maria Val­ley. It’s ideal for a great bi­cy­cle ride, or even a slow drive in a con­vert­ible. Head to the beach to spy the sec­ond-largest stretch of dunes in Cal­i­for­nia. Span­ning 22,000 acres and 18 miles, the Ran­cho Guadalupe Dunes Pre­serve fea­tures tow­er­ing 550-foot-high sand dunes. It’s also a great spot for bird­ers, as mi­grat­ing birds along the Pa­cific Fly­way stop here on their jour­ney.

A STROLL IN THE VINE­YARD, above; Santa Maria Val­ley’s fa­mous bar­be­cue, be­low.

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