SANTA MARIA VALLEY
MORE THAN CALIFORNIA’S BBQ CAPITAL
Grape growing dates back to the 1830s Mexican Colonial period. In 1960, Uriel Nielsen and Bill De Mattei planted the first commercial vineyard in the Tepusquent region.
The vineyard was the only source of grapes in the Santa Barbara county post-prohibition. Established in 1981, it was the first to be recognized as an official American Viticultural Area in the northernmost region of the county. It is bounded by the San Rafael Mountains and Los Padres National Forest to the east and to the west by the Solomon Hills and Santa Maria, awarding it numerous microclimates. Funnel in shape, it opens west to the Pacific Ocean. This peculiar shape pulls cool air from the Pacific Ocean to the Valley floor, preserving the grapes’ natural acidity.
Their star varietals – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other exotic perfume and rich complex flavors – is a testament to the vineyard’s rich soils. The soils are free of adverse salts and range from sandy, clay to loams. The long growing season gives the grapes extensive time to build flavors on the vine. This contributes to the growing recognition gained by the Rhone/Spanish varietals like the plush Syrahs and juicy Grenache.
My Babito and I have been visiting the Santa Maria Valley for over 15 years. 30 of our friends would rent a school bus, hire a driver and tour the local wineries. We were0 fresh off our ears in our knowledge of wine, all we knew was red and white. As we made our yearly pilgrimage filled with memories, our palates grew as well. We owe a great deal to the Santa Maria Valley for our introduction to the holy grail of varietals and the regions bewitching Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.
Rich in its Mexican heritage history, the valley is globally renowned for its Santa Maria Style BBQ, but that’s not all there is to it. Santa Maria Valley is equally distinguished as one of the largest producer of fine wines. Though the main city of Santa Maria is may not exactly be a picture of romance, this picturesque wine country town still holds a few surprises.
SANTA MARIA STYLE BARBEQUE
Visiting the Santa Maria Valley is a feast for the senses. Cruise down Broadway on any weekend, and it’s the mouth-watering aroma of barbecue will greet you. Barbecue is the authentic taste experience of Santa Maria and a major California attraction. Sunset Magazine describes this sumptuous feast of barbecued sirloin, salsa, pinquito beans, toasted French bread, and green salad as “the best barbecue in the world.” In fact, Santa Maria is known nationwide as the “Barbecue Capital of the World.”
Santa Maria Valley is not shy to fantastic foods, but if licking your fingers and smoke in your hair is not your thing, head over to the charming little town of Orcutt for a slice of Italy.
LUNCH AT TRATTORIA ULIVETO
Trattoria Uliveto whose name roughly translates to “olive grove” is an exceptional trattoria in the heart of Old Orcutt – an unincorporated town in the Santa Maria Valley. Chef and owner Alfonso Curti have designed the first-rate menu of traditional Italian cuisines from locally sourced seasonal ingredients, handmade pasta, home-made Italian sausages, meticulously baked pizza from their wood-burning pizza oven, and home-made desserts, inspired by his Mamma and Nonna. Full Article & Interview with Chef ALFONSO CURTI
A stone’s throw from Trattoria Uliveto is a must-stop for expertly curated Pinot Noirs, Cnagy (SEE-NAY-GHEE) Wines tasting room. Clarissa Nagy is a force to be reckoned in these parts, she’s been making wines with focus since 1995. However, it wasn’t until 2005 the Valley was finally graced Nagy’s own brand. Free run Pinot Noir Juice, aged in new French oak, evoking brooding luscious dark fruit, smoke, toast, round body, savory acid, and mineral structure.
Santa Maria Valley is bubbling with numerous wineries. Their wineries each have their own tasting rooms that require no appointments prior to tasting. One of such wineries is the Imperative Fox Wine Trail. It’s scenic, enchanting and stands out among the other that grace the wine country.
But the sensational part of visiting different wine regions is the hidden gems that do require an advance appointment. The reason is, they will often have you barrel taste, privately tour their property, often by the winemaker and get to taste wines not easily allocated, such as the next two trailblazing wineries… Scar of the Sea and Piro Wine Company
Santa Maria City is limited in recommended options over an overnight stay, but by far the most storied and must reservation should be the famous and historic Santa Maria Inn
THE SANTA MARIA INN
The Santa Maria Inn, a north county institution since 1917, was the brainchild of Frank J. McCoy, one of Santa Marias most esteemed citizens. McCoy was born in 1879 while the family was on a visit to Ireland. He largely grew up in St. Louis, and then attended the University of Missouri for two years before ending up in San Francisco in 1900. In 1901, he accepted a position with the Union Sugar Company in Betteravia. He steadily rose through the ranks, and, after making a profitable investment in ranch land, he left the company in 1916.
He saw that automobile travel was increasing yearly in California and felt that a well-run hotel in the Santa Maria area would have great appeal to those making the long trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles. He purchased a property on the southern edge of Santa Maria with substantial highway frontage and, on May 19, 1917, the Santa Maria Inn opened for business.
Since 1917 this hotel enshrouded with history, intrigue, romance, and stories from the golden
Hollywood era. Celebrities, such as John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe as well as presidents and dignitaries have to stay on the property. It is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Santa Maria minutes away from surrounding wine trails. With over a hundred years in existence, the hotel is reportedly home to many ghosts according to hauntedrooms.com. My Babito and I have been staying here for over 15 years, the ghosts are friendly as is the staff and the hotel offers many exciting amenities without ever leaving the grounds.
There is a lovely pool, spa, coffee shop, salon and barber and a warm and welcoming reception lounge with a cozy fireplace. Just wandering around admiring its original facade, asking yourself if walls could talk, your room may be one of the many with name of the celebrity who actually stay in there! If feeling thirsty for some libations head over to the Old English Tap Room, built-in 1941.
For a real treat and some of the hotel’s hidden gem, make your way to the bottom level to The Wine Cellar & Martini Bar.
They serve deliciously crafted cocktails and local wines as well as international brands by the glass. However, the evening would not be completed without booking a reservation at The Century Room, for an intimate and imaginative California Cuisine dinner.
Voted Most Romantic Restaurant by the Santa Maria Sun
One tip if fine dining isn’t in the plan – the Old English Tap Room will accommodate a full-service meal crafted from restaurant menu as well as small bites. They also have a happy hour menu and an outdoor patio with a flat-screen to enjoy your favorite sports.
With a full day at the hotel, you can pretend to run into Rudolph Valentino in the elevator, before saying goodnight. A stay at Santa Maria is a time capsule and will allure you to stay time and time again.
Address: 801 South Broadway, Santa Maria, California 93454
THINGS TO DO IN SANTA MARIA, CA
Santa Maria is a beautiful vacation destination in the foothills of the Sierra Madres, minutes from pristine beaches such as Avila Beach, parks, mountains, championship golf courses such as Black Lake Golf Resort, and scenic hiking trails and the Chumash Casino. An award-winning wine-growing region, Santa Barbara County is home to 58 wineries nestled in miles of picturesque countryside. The Central Coast town is also well-known for its food culture, so leave some time for eating and drinking.
One restaurant Institution that is imperative on your vacation, loved by locals and visitors alike
TAG LINE…WELL FED
The steakhouse is known for its laid back atmosphere and generous portions for oak-grilled meats
Sit at the bar and without exaggeration, some have been coming weekly for 50 years or drove 4 hours to devour their succulent steaks.
During Prohibition One of Emery Knotts eight sons Jocko began the legacy.
I wouldn’t doubt the rumors of home brewing White Lightning and sell out of the trunk of his car, are true…I would too!
Sometime during 1925, Jocko and BullTognazzini (who owned Bulls Bar and Restaurant in San Luis Obispo) opened a saloon/watering hole at one end of the garage called Jockos Cage. During the flapper forties, there were slot machines placed periodically in the bar. For about a month, there was a card room for poker playing. Jocko ran the bar very successfully until he died in 1952.
Jockos restaurant, first conceived and operated by his sons George and Fred, is now operated by Fred and Sandys children. They carry on the tradition and the name that had brought modern-day fame to Nipomo.
Address: 125 N Thompson Ave, Nipomo, CA 93444
Reservations can only be made by phone
Sunset Magazine named Santa Maria BBQ one of the “Top 100 Culinary Voyages in the West”.
Explore the many exciting things to do in Santa Maria, CA. Join them for the Strawberry Festival at the Fairpark in the spring. A feast for the eyes is the summers annual Santa Barbara County Vintners Festival.
The Autumn sports a spectacular Air Fest weekend. Nothing could be more magical than the Santa Maria Holiday Extravaganza.
You will be making memories with your family for years to come.
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