Santa Maria is a thriving city that sits about 60 miles north of Santa Barbara and 30 miles south of San Luis Obispo in the Santa Maria Valley. It serves as the heart of a rich agricultural region increasingly known for the quality of its grapes and wine. Nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base also hires many Santa Maria residents, as do the energy, aerospace and tech companies that find the area attractive.
With its peaceful streets, mature trees and excellent dining options, Santa Maria appeals to al walks of life, from young families to retirees. Arts lovers delight in the Pacific Conservatory Theatre, one of California's top theater programs. With golden and green hills surrounding the area and the Pacific Ocean only about 12 miles away, Santa Maria offers something for everyone.
Restaurants & Nightlife
Dining out in Santa Maria trends toward the casual. You'll find plenty of Mexican restaurants, Asian eateries and cafes in town, mostly located on or near Broadway. SizzlinGogi claims to be the only Korean barbecue place along the central coast. When you go with a large party, decide whether you want to take advantage of the buffet or order single meals, knowing that either choice keeps everyone happy. Check out the bibimbap, the short ribs and the kimchi pancakes, all local favorites.
The Moxie Cafe serves healthy, organic food that delights your taste buds and wallet at the same time. Try the Tuscan chicken with roasted veggies, the caprese sandwich or the tri-tip chili. For dessert, check out the rotating gelato menu — if you're lucky, you'll find the Guinness gelato waiting for you.
Dining at Shaw's Restaurant on Broadway is like being invited to the home of a great friend who happens to be a world-class chef. Start with amazing sangria or a cucumber martini, then enjoy perfectly cooked steak, whether you prefer New York strip, ribeye, or tri-tip, specialty in Santa Maria. The old-school Western decor and friendly service make you feel as if you've been transported back in time.
Locals in Santa Maria head to a variety of dive bars, Irish pubs and wineries for relaxing evenings and a little bit of fun. At Rooney's Irish Pub, look for the drink specials and seasonal beers, such as pumpkin ale in the fall. Traditional pub food, a DJ spinning hot tunes and a wide selection of beers on tap keep Rooney's popular.
The Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery does a great job of pairing wines with small plates of food, and you can even go into the caves. When you want to dress up a bit, head to the Tap Room at the Santa Maria Inn, where anything from live jazz to DJs spinning hip hop bring the place alive on the weekends.
History & Culture
After changing hands from the Chumash Indians to the owners of the great Spanish ranchos in the 1800s, Santa Maria was formally founded in 1885. Farmers flocked to the region to take advantage of the rich soil after California became a state. While the discovery of oil nearby in the early-20th century brought more people to the area, agriculture still plays a primary role in the local economy.
Santa Maria houses the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum, the Santa Maria Museum of Flight and the National History Museum of Santa Maria. Theater lovers come from miles around to attend performances at the Pacific Conservatory Theatre, which puts on full seasons that typically pair Broadway musicals with more highbrow plays. The professional acting company also hosts a conservatory that many local performers attend.
Because of Santa Maria's relative isolation, most residents choose to drive their own cars to get around town and reach other nearby areas. U.S. Highway 101 runs right through the town, connecting locals to San Luis Obispo and San Francisco to the north, and to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles to the south. In addition, California State Route 1, just to the west of Santa Maria, provides easy access to the beaches of Oceana and Pismo Beach. Free street parking is abundant in the neighborhood.
If you don't want to drive, the Santa Maria Area Transit bus lines connect to Guadalupe, Santa Maria Airport and other spots around town. In addition, a shuttle service runs to Lompoc, Solvang and the Vandenberg Air Force Base. Taxi service can be iffy, and Uber remains limited to San Luis Obispo to the north.
Most of Santa Maria's major roads feature bike lanes, and other roads tend to be bicycle friendly. The city also remains friendly to pedestrians, especially in the small downtown area.
The cost of living in Santa Maria runs 25 percent lower than that of its nearest large neighbor, San Luis Obispo, and 9 percent lower than that of California as a whole. A one-bedroom apartment in town runs about $990 per month, and when you want to stop for a beer at a local bar, expect to pay about $4 to $5 for a cold one on tap.
While you can hop on the Breeze shuttle to Lompoc or Solvang for $2, expect to pay a hefty 18 percent premium for gasoline compared to the per-gallon average for the rest of the country.
Locals who have major shopping to do typically head to the Santa Maria Town Center or The Crossroads at Santa Maria. Santa Maria Town Center features Macy's and Sears, as well as a skate park and indoor soccer field. The Crossroads, a big-box shopping center, features convenient, high-value stores, including Walmart, Home Depot, TJ Maxx and PetSmart.
For more intimate shopping experiences, head to Santa Maria's main streets of Broadway and Betteravia. Locals consider C.B. Hood Diamond Company their your go-to when they need new jewelry or want to get old jewelry repaired, resized or reset. Trained gemologists help make wise choices, and they replace watch batteries as well.
The Bookworm, Santa Maria's independent bookstore, carries new books, used books and even a few collectible editions. Check in for regular events, and make this your first stop when you're looking for the latest young adult title, cookbooks, classical literature or cult favorites.
Grocery shoppers in Santa Maria choose between Albertsons, Vons, Trader Joe's and Walmart. Check out the Santa Maria Grocery Outlet on Broadway for amazing prices on all sorts of food staples, as well as wine, toys and personal grooming products. Leave your shopping list at home to make sure you take advantage of the serendipitous deals you'll find. For fresh, organic produce, go no farther than the Growing Grounds Farm stand on Foster Road. Pick up greens, berries and more, knowing that your payment goes to help the mentally ill locals who experience horticultural therapy by working in the gardens.
Santa Maria contains many neighborhood parks to let locals enjoy the outdoors, exercise and just relax. Waller Park, at the south end of town, features a duck pond, a disc golf course and playgrounds for the kids. The Minami Community Center sports a huge playground, plus tennis and basketball courts for the adults. Head to Maramonte Park or Oakley Park when you want to let the kids play while you walk the dog.