Whether you’re visiting for spring break, winter break, or just to take a break, Santa Maria Valley’s wide-open spaces and unforgettable activities are the perfect ingredients for a family getaway. With mild temperatures all year-round and attractions that won’t break the bank, plan on feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and reconnected after a family-vaca to our one-of-a-kind valley. Browse our favorite family attractions below, and start planning a vacation your whole crew can get behind.
1. Get some fresh air: For a hidden hideaway or a place to view unique wildlife, Oso Flaco Lake is an ideal setting to put the cell phones away and find your family time along the 1.5-mile boardwalk. On the pristine Oso Flaco Lake (meaning “skinny bear”), you can relax under a canopy of trees and hanging Spanish moss as you enjoy incredible views of the nearby Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. If you make the full trek to the end of the boardwalk, you can see the entire San Luis Bay, from Point San Luis in the north to Mussel Rock in the south. Oso Flaco Lake is open daily from sunrise to sunset. There is a $5.00 per-vehicle charge for entry.
2. Visit the Dunes: You can cosplay like Luke and Leia at The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. As you drive in, the dunes feel like an ideal scene to dock Captain Jack Sparrow’s pirate ship (yes, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was filmed here), with their saturated red hue and distinctive rolling hills of sand.This National Natural landmark features 18 miles of remote and largely undisturbed dunes with habitats including open sand, back dune, coastal dune stretch, and several wetland types, among other environments. You will see rare plants and animals, and can explore opportunities for undisturbed ATV-riding with views of the Pacific Ocean in your sight.
3. Explore the Discovery Museum: The Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum is a place of exploration and education. Located in what was once an old Coca-Cola bottling warehouse, the museum caters to all ages and provides opportunities for tons of interactivity. Find out about the migratory habits of whales while standing in The Belly of the Whale, learn about paleontology in Trouble in the Tar Pits, see the importance of engineering through Simple Machines that Work, or indulge artistic impulses at the Creation Station. Located at 705 S. McClelland Street, (805) 928-8414.
4. Eat Up: There’s no better place than Santa Maria to get your barbecue on. A trip to the area wouldn’t be complete without a taste of our signature Santa-Maria style barbecue, a tradition that includes red-oak barbecued tri-tip (and one that dates back to the 19th century). The Hitching Post, Jocko’s Steak House, and Shaw’s Steak House are just a few establishments where you can experience our iconic barbecue in all its glory.
5. I scream, You scream: Devour good old-fashioned ice cream at Doc Burnstein Ice Cream Lab, an authentic parlor serving up original handcrafted, glorious ice cream. Try the award-winning vanilla, or get crazy with creations like the Elvis Special, Merlot-Raspberry Truffle (made with a hint of real Central Coast wine), and the popular Motor Oil, which was originally custom made for the Pismo Beach Car Show. Located at 168 W. Clark Avenue in Old Orcutt, (805) 614-7644
6. Try your hand at climbing: Get out of the car and get active at The Pad Climbing Gym, with 5,000 square feet of bouldering terrain, yoga classes, a weight room, and more. Part of SLO Op Climbing, LLC, a nonprofit social club, The Pad is a perfect place to embark on new activities with the ones you love most. Located at 2399 A Street, Santa Maria, (844) 254-6287
7. Dive deep into history: The Natural History Museum of Santa Maria is a small museum housed in the historic Hart House, across from the Santa Maria Public Library. Exhibits include displays of birds and animals from woodlands, the Pacific flyway, coastal sea life, a bat barn, and fossils. Beautiful seating areas are set into the recently planted Native Garden, and there is also a small amphitheater for groups. Located at 412 S. McClelland Street, (805) 614-0806
8. Skateboard indoors: The One Way Board Shop is the only indoor skate park on the Central Coast, located at the Santa Maria Town Center Mall. Located at 250 Town Center East, (805) 347-3323.
9. Skateboard outdoors: For outdoor skateboarding, head to Fletcher Park, a three-acre park with a playground, covered picnic area with two barbecue pits, a basketball court, a rock climbing apparatus, and, yes, an awesome skate park with fun-filled skate ramps.
10. Go Paintballing: It’s “game on” at The Shack Paintball Field, a course located at the Santa Maria Elks-Unocal Event Center’s Gate 3, offering up the only legal paintball course in Santa Barbara County. Located at 4040 S. Highway 101, (805) 737-9600.
11. Bowl with the gang: Roll with the family to Rancho Bowl, equipped with 32 lanes, couches and coffee tables, LCD touch screen consoles with integrated cameras, LCD flat screen TVs, eight 120-inch projector TVs, and a restaurant and lounge. Located at 128 E. Donovan Road, (805) 925-2405
12. Take a swing at our batting cages: The On Deck Batting Cages feature indoor training for baseball and softball. All skill levels are welcome. Hitting and pitching instruction is also available for the family. Located at 263 Town Center East, (805) 354-0870
13. Go for a dip: The Paul Nelson Aquatic Center offers an Olympic-size competition pool, and a recreational pool with a fan-shaped zero-depth entryway. The frog-shaped waterslide and water umbrella are favorites for non-swimmers and the little ones. Open for recreational swim from April-October. Located at the Abel Maldonado Youth Center, 600 S. McClelland Street, (805) 925-0951, ext. 252
14. Treat the family to a drive-in movie: Enjoy starry nights, delicious popcorn, and memorable movies at the Hi-Way Drive In movies. Watch a double feature from the comfort of your car alongside your loved ones. Call for showtimes and movie information. 3170 Santa Maria Way, (805) 937-3515.
15. Go Roller Skating: Practice your “roll bounce” at The Central Coast Sports Arena, a fun-filled public roller skating rink. Located at 937 S. Thornburg Street, (805) 739-0920.