Santa Maria Valley
Wine, wilderness and barbecue
RESIDENTS OF THE SANTA MARIA Valley know how to enjoy the best of the land, whether it’s food, drink, outdoor activities or simply taking in the stunning views. Many of California’s top qualities— coastal climate, intriguing outdoor spaces for adventure or relaxation, famous barbecue and sensational wine—all combine here to make Santa Maria Valley an ideal destination for adopting a few of the locals’ best habits in pursuit of the relaxed California lifestyle.
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. A transverse valley (which runs west to east), the orientation of the Santa Maria Valley channels cool ocean air directly into the valley, resulting in one of the state’s longest growing seasons for vineyards. Get a taste for yourself while on a tour with the Santa Maria Wine Trolley, which runs from late May through early October, or any time of year at 34 winery tasting rooms, bars and restaurants.
If you’re a fan of barbecue, you don’t have to go to the South to get it. In the mid 1800s, local rancheros were known for hosting day-long Spanish-style barbecues, and this California specialty continues today. Santa Maria-style barbecue is focused on beef tritip seasoned only with salt, pepper and garlic salt. The meat is cooked directly over the coals of local red oak, on a grill that raises and lowers the meat to flame. Traditional accompaniments include grilled French bread, green salad, salsa and locally grown pinquito beans. Taste it at The Hitching Post, Shaw’s Steakhouse, Jocko’s Steakhouse and Far Western Tavern.
Trails and Beaches
Get outside in the Santa Maria Valley and find your favorite way to be active. Meandering roads, beautiful scenery and tucked-away vineyards are features of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, connecting Los Olivos and Santa Maria Valley. The 30-mile road is ideal for a great bicycle ride, or even a slow drive in a convertible, and 16 wineries along the way mean that you can stop whenever you like. Spanning 22,000 acres and 18 miles, the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve features towering 550-foothigh sand dunes. Birders add to their life lists here, as well as at the Santa Maria River Estuary, and enjoy sights of migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway. Each year, thousands of monarch butterflies seek shelter in the eucalyptus grove of Monarch Dunes Butterfly Habitat, and visitors get up close to branches dripping with the elegant creatures from late October to February.