Santa Maria - California

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The Santa Maria Valley

Located in the northern end of Santa Barbara County, the Santa Maria Valley is just inland from the Central Coast, 270 miles south of San Francisco, and 170 miles north of Los Angeles. The city of Santa Maria is reached by taking Highway 101 or State Route 1 from the west.

The city and valley are relaxed places, largely ranching country with the Los Padres National Forest providing many recreational opportunities. With the ocean only 15 miles away, Santa Maria makes a good place to base a Central Coast vacation. Founded as Grangeville in 1874, the name changed to Central City when four ranchers donated land for a townsite. But, because local mail often wound up in Central City, Colorado, the name was again changed -- to Santa Maria -- in 1882. The name stuck and the town has grown to a population of 68,000.

The valley is well known for its mild, Mediterranean climate. Summer mornings are often foggy, as the cool ocean air blows into the valley. The average temperature is 69 degrees F.

The city has regular air service (United Express).

What to See & Do

Santa Maria and the valley have a wide range of annual events. These include the International festival (February), The Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival (April), held at the local fairgrounds, the Elks Rodeo and Parade (June), Community Block Party (July), The Santa Barbara County Fair (mid-July), the Autumn Arts Festival and Grapes & Grains Festival (October), and the annual Christmas Parade (December).

Ongoing events appeal to visitors to the valley. On Tuesdays, the Orcutt Farmer's Market is held at the Oak Knoll Shopping Center (South) at the south corner of Clark Avenue and Bradley Road, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For information, call 343-2135.

The Central City Farmer's Market is held in Santa Maria, at Heritage Walk, Broadway & Main, on Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m..

Tours of nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base are available on Wednesdays, but advance reservations are required. For information and reservations, call 734-8232 ext-63595.

Pismo Beach (15 miles northwest) is a favorite place to see the ocean and enjoy the wide beach on which you can drive your car. The larger city of San Luis Opispo is nearby. As well as the beach, and the state off-road vehicle park, you'll see monarch butterflies in their winter residence during February in Pismo Beach. Tours are available. For information, call 773-4382.

Other Nearby Attractions:

Solvang, the fascinating Danish town is found off Highway 101 south of Santa Maria. The picturesque community is filled with charming restaurants, bake shops, and boutiques.

Guadalupe, on Highway 1, is a small agricultural village with a lot of history. Guadalupe also features barbecue on occasion. The town is set in a large farming area, and the economy is based on large packing operations. You can take a short cut from Santa Maria, on State Route 166.

Point Sal State Beach is found west of Guadalupe. This is a remote natural area with huge dunes.

Just north of Santa Maria is State Route 166. This very scenic road crosses the Sierra Madre Mountains, through the Los Padres National Forest. The Hog Pen Springs camping area is on the eastern side of the crest, via a short access road.

La Purisima Mission State Historic Park takes a half-hour drive from Santa Maria, but is well worth visiting. Drive south to Lompoc and turn east onto State Route 246 to reach the old Mission.

Santa Maria Barbecue

For many, Santa Maria's top claim to fame is the famous Santa Maria Style Barbecue. The tradition goes back to the early 1800s when vaqueros, California's first cowboys, held large beef barbecues following cattle roundups.

This culinary tradition has been kept alive throughout the generations by local groups who make the barbecue a part of virtually every major event in the city. On almost any weekend, you'll fine one or more community groups staging an outdoor barbecue -- featuring 3-inch slabs of top sirloin or "tri-tip", with side dishes of pinquito beans, green salad, macaroni and cheese, French Bread, salsa, and ice cream.

You can also order Santa Maria barbecue in several restaurants -- in Santa Maria and Guadalupe -- although the true barbecue experience is in enjoying the ambiance of the community group dinners.

The local barbecue is a fine experience for gourmets and gourmands alike.

Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

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