I just keep pinching myself! Blown away by how impressive my home state of California really is. My recent trip to Santa Maria Valley in Central California did not disappoint!
The Santa Maria Valley is located along California’s Central Coast—an easy 4-hour drive from the Bay Area and a 3-hour jaunt from Los Angeles. Known for their incredible wineries and BBQ, I was excited to explore a destination new to me.
Driving into Santa Maria Valley, the rolling hills flanking the 101, the lush greenery is inviting. One winery… two… five… did I just drive past what seemed like ten wineries? Probably!
If you’re looking for a great weekend getaway or even midweek escape, the Santa Maria Valley should be added to your list. Here are a few of the highlights from my recent visit.
All about the outdoor experiences…
Oso Flaco Lake is a must-visit in the area. A California State Park, it is one of the most scenic areas known for the views of the dunes, but also views of the lake from a cute boardwalk and a lush, wooded trail. You might see locals fishing, and you’ll certainly see a lot of local wildlife. At the end of the boardwalk, there are views of the entire San Luis Bay from Point San Luis in the north, to Mussel Rock in the south.
A perfect trail to explore and start off the day. About 8 miles of hiking, equestrian, mountain biking trails, the park offers guided docent tours and local environmental educational programming. Be sure to leave time to explore a few of the vista points and the Native Garden by the visitors center.
Oh but yes! Did you know that Luffas grow on trees? Ok, not quite trees, but on vines like other gourds. A highlight of my trip was visiting the Luffa Farm to learn all about these natural sponges. Not only do you learn all about the various uses of luffas, but you can buy one of five to take home. These are certainly the real deal. The Luffa Farm is one of the few luffa farms left in the U.S. Definitely take one of the free tours they offer. Call ahead to book.
Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve
The Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserves make you feel as though you’ve been transported to another planet. Dunes for miles and miles along the coastline, this is such an iconic destination in the area. Be sure to bring a camera. You’ll want to document it!
Now for the wine…
Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery
I immediately fell in love with Cottonwood Canyon. A stunning wine tasting paired with beautiful views from the top of a hill, and a visit to one of their caves is a must. Their caves are the first of their kind to be built in Santa Barbara County. Why caves, you ask? This is where they store and age their wine, efficient in terms of energy, water, and space. Even the cave door has a story… custom made from a 200-year-old redwood tree from an old bridge in Ohio
Another stunning vineyard and winery, Rancho Sisquoc. A visit here is all about the outdoor dining and wine tasting. Drive two miles in through the vineyards to get to the main building. Tucked away from everything in the heart of their 300 acre-property, you’ll enjoy trying a few of their small-batch red and white wines. With many awards under their belt, you’re bound to find an exceptional bottle to suit your preferences.
Of course, there are so many more vineyards within the area. If you’re a true wine enthusiast, I recommend making it a long weekend and exploring the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. You’ll visit the famed Foxen Vineyards as well as others, such as Koehler Winery, Riverbench Vineyards, and Andrew Murray.
Where to nibble…
The Hitching Post is noted as one of the top 10 Best Barbeques in the USA. As much as Santa Maria is known for their vineyards, they are also known for their barbeque. What makes Santa Maria Style Barbecue different? It focuses on slow cooking with indirect heat over an open wood fire of red oak coals and typically features the large tri-tip beef roast. For barbeque fans, it can best be described as a melding of Argentinean style cooking and Southern Barbeque. Capturing the essence of the Old West, the Hitching Post has a bit of Western nostalgia in a noteworthy 100 year old building. Casual, it is worth the visit.
Cute and cozy, Cups and Crumbs is a perfect breakfast spot. From various avocado toasts to breakfast crepes, you can dine in the back (like we did) or grab your breakfast to-go from their Homestead food truck parked right out front.
Located right in Nipomo, California, Willow is the place to grab a bite to eat. With a large patio and an impressive menu, I enjoyed their famous Grandma Ellen’s Beet Salad and a veggie pizza. Judging by the line out the door for lunch, the rest of their menu seems to be a crowdpleaser as well.
Right in the middle of downtown Orcutt, Bello Forno is always bustling—and rightfully so. Known for their amazing wood-fired pizzas and great service, this should make it on the shortlist for dinner when you are in the area.
And where to stay…
This boutique hotel in the middle of Orcutt offers a cozy, luxury experience central to all the vineyards and restaurants. Book in advance to score one of their 12 rooms, all of which are decorated to reflect the local area. Even if you don’t stay overnight, visit their lobby bar called Vintage Room. All the award-winning wines from the area make the menu. And the views of the nearby rolling hills aren’t too shabby!
I was really impressed with my first visit to Santa Maria Valley and can honestly say I’m looking forward to coming back to explore even more local vineyards and activities. It’s such a great weekend getaway option that is convenient and unique.
Oh California, you have my heart.