The traditional cornucopia of plenty could well be the symbol for Santa Maria Valley. Both the climate, community and the land appear to supply all with bountiful abundance.
The Valley leads in the growing of strawberries. Its historic cattle ranches, prolific crops from beans to broccoli are grown on nearby farms and most recently of all are miles of wine grape vineyards.
For places to go, vistas to see, and things to do, there is much to offer the visitor. This Writer's recent wanderings in the Valley and vicinity offered a little of everything.
Our headquarters was the historic Santa Maria Inn. It has been serving the famous since 1917. From Charlie Chaplin to Walter Matthau it was been a favorite of Hollywood stars for several decades. For us we felt the Inn was especially appropriate since the City of Santa Maria is celebrating its Centennial this year and the City was only 12 years old when the Inn first opened.
Through the years the Inn has had many expansions and renovations including a six floor tower but the charm and decor of earlier decades is still there to enjoy. The Tower offers 18 luxury suites and there are now a total of 164 rooms plus a covered parking garage. Amenities abound with both indoor and patio dining serving a California cuisine, a pool, spa, and wine cellar featuring vintages produced in the Valley.
The City of Santa Maria has played many roles in its 100 year history. It has been a railroad town, experienced an oil boom and now is in the midst of the biggest building expansion ever with new housing tracts in every direction and Shopping Malls in bountiful supply.
For wine buffs there is the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. We took this road on a wondrous Spring day with wild flowers lining the road in lush profusion. If possible take this trail on a weekday as we did for full appreciation of its rural character. With 13 wineries en route plan on a full day for this excursion to visit and taste the vintages.
Name your varietal and one of the wineries is sure to have a bottling. From favorites like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay, there are other lesser known varietals like Pinot Gris, Viognier, Syrah, Sylvaner, Roiusanne and Mourvedre. Most of the wineries have tasting rooms and some offer beautiful picnic areas as well. The Foxen Canyon Road is a delight as it winds its way through hillsides covered with majestic oaks, cattle grazing here and there and then the carefully attended vineyards.
Guadalupe, west of Santa Maria, is a picturesque town where time appears to have stood still. Its charm and ambiance, unchanged from an earlier era, has made it an ideal location for many movies.
It is also the place to start when you explore the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, the largest and most impressive Coastal Dunes in California. Originally San Francisco's Sunset District had these impressive dunes as did El Segundo in Los Angeles. But they are now gone, disappeared in tracts of houses in San Francisco and under Los Angeles International Airport.
In the last two decades the State of California Parks and Recreation and the Nature Conservancy have done a wonderful job of protecting this State treasure and in some areas restoring the habitat after decades of misuse.
In 1996 the Nature Conservancy Dunes Discovery Center was opened in Guadalupe as a visitor, education and research center for the Dunes
We had the opportunity of exploring the Dunes. We watched the bird life on Oso Flaco Lake, a fresh water body of water that is part of the recreation area. Incidentally in Spanish Oso Flaco means lean bear. Gaspar de Portola, leader of the first Spanish land expedition in California in 1769, named it.
The Dunes are home to many species of bird, animal and reptile life. All of which explained at the Coastal Dunes Center in Guadalupe. It is located at 951 Guadalupe Street which is also Highway One.
We learned of the fine bass fishing offered in Oso Flaco Lake as well as the surf fishing along miles of beach.
We also visited the new Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, a Santa Barbara County Park. Here is an 18 mile stretch of sand dunes, extending from Pismo Beach to Point Sal. Rancho Guadalope provides both recreation as well as protection for two birds under the Endangered Species Act. They are the Western Snowy Plover and California Least Tern. At the beach is a new paved parking area, picnic tables and rest rooms.
The beach stretches for miles for walking, fishing or just to watch the surf. Areas protecting the birds are carefully marked.
For some time away from the hectic pace of modern living we recommend a visit to La Purisima Mission State Historic Park. Operated by the State Department of Parks & Recreation it is the only California Mission that still includes all the buildings that supported the Missions and their inhabitants.
At La Purisima tallow vats, the main church, shops and artisans quarters, the Padres residence, the blacksmith shop as well as the pottery shop, grist mill and kitchen are all shown as they were used over two hundred years ago.
Also to be seen are the domestic animals that were a part of all the early California Missions. This is a delight for children as they can view chickens, turkeys, burros, sheep, goats, horses and cattle in the Mission corrals.
La Purisima Mission is located four miles northeast of Lompoc on Purisima Road and about 15 miles west of Highway 101 at Buellton on Highway 246.
Plan on plenty of time for La Purisima. We picnicked under stately California oaks and wished for time to wander on some of the 25 miles of hiking trails in the Park. There is also a new Visitors Center. The handsome building is complete but currently funding is lacking for the exhibits which will one day tell the story of the Chumash Indians and the Mission.
In Santa Maria we visited the Valley Historical Society Museum which has exhibits tracing the history of early pioneers of the region as well as artifacts of earlier eras. It is located at 616 S. Broadway, open Tuesday through Saturday from Noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
We also wandered through the Heritage Walk Farmers' Market, located downtown, where the region's strawberries, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and other goodies can be purchased directly from the farmers every Wednesday.
Don't even think of visiting Santa Maria without trying its world famous Barbecue. Santa Maria Barbecue has been served to the Governors of all 50 states as well to organizations from almost every part of the U.S. Several restaurants in the area feature the Barbecue as part of the regular menu.
As part of the Centennial Celebration special events are being scheduled throughout the year. To find out more check the web at www.ci.santa-maria,ca.us. For general information on Santa Maria including accommodations, restaurants log on at www.santamaria.com.
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