In the Santa Maria Valley, sweet strawberries are the perfect complement to sizzling barbecue. Indeed, no Santa Maria BBQ meal is complete without being punctuated by a dessert made with fresh local strawberries.

Now it’s time once again to celebrate and savor the valley’s signature berry as the annual Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival arrives at the Santa Maria Fairpark on April 23-25. As always, this berry bash will feature strawberry varietal sampling, strawberry desserts, educational exhibits and old-fashioned carnival entertainment.

The Santa Maria Valley is renowned for the rare quality of its strawberries, which, like wine grapes, thrive in the region’s uniquely moderate coastal climate. The recently released Santa Barbara County Crop Report reveals that more than 7,500 acres of strawberries were harvested in 2009 (with the vast majority of that acreage being in the Santa Maria Valley), and that the total value of the county’s harvested strawberries for 2009 was more than $344 million.

Now is one of the best times of year to enjoy local strawberries at their best, and the Strawberry Festival is your ultimate ticket to indulge in this sweet local sensation.