Travel + Leisure: Santa Maria Valley is a must-visit
Travel + Leisure recently included Santa Maria Valley in this roundup of “The Best Towns to Visit on a Road Trip Down California’s Central Coast for Incredible Food, Wineries, and Hotels!”
Excerpt: Venture northward out of Santa Barbara and you’ve got an immediate choice to make; both of them fantastic. You can keep hugging the coastline on Highway 1 to Gaviota State Park — at which point you stay with US-101 up to Los Alamos. Or you can crest the Santa Ynez ridge line on highway 154 and then connect with highway 246 for a drive through the Danish wonderland known as Solvang, with perhaps a stopover to feed the massive flightless birds populating Ostrichland USA.
Either way, you’ll eventually want to break off the highway just before Santa Maria and beeline straight to the charming Wine Stone Inn at the edge of downtown Orcutt. Spacious rooms with balconies start at just $169 per night. This hidden gem is a fantastic springboard from which to dive into the under-explored magic of the greater Santa Maria Valley. And yes, there will be wine.
In fact, there’s a whole dedicated wine trolley to take you around the local producers of the AVA. Beginning each May and running through to the fall, the $15 shuttle carries drinkers to a half a dozen destinations continually throughout weekend afternoons. Hallmark varieties in this part of the world include chardonnay, pinot noir, and syrah.
For a markedly more rugged way to explore the vines, saddle up to Presqu’ile Winery’s estate tour by horseback. The $250 experience includes an hour-long ride through the 400-acre property, during which you learn all about the grape growing heritage of the region. You’ll marvel at sweeping panoramas of the neighboring San Rafael Mountains before heading back to the tasting room for a flight of the local juice, paired with garden-fresh appetizers from chef Julie Simon.
At sunset, make your way to the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve. The sloping sand forms an ideal vantage point from which to admire the open sky as it fractures into pigments of pink and purple. When it’s dinner time, you’ll find a bevy of options to suit any culinary desire. The Hitching Post in Casmalia is as classic a California barbecue experience as you’ll find anywhere. Prime cuts of filet and sirloin sizzle atop an open flame, directly adjacent to a boisterous, Western-themed dining room. Head back to downtown Orcutt and you’ll encounter some flavorful options within an easy stroll of the hotel. The Cubanissimo Cafe is a local favorite focusing on artfully rendered Cubanos and puercofrito from husband and wife co-owners, Arqui and Chrystal Trenado. If you want to keep it even more casual, you can grab some pints of heavily hopped IPA over at Naughty Oak Brewing and BYOP from Pizzeria Bello Forno directly across the street.
Meanwhile, on the northern side of downtown Santa Maria, there’s a whole other set of wineries worth checking out on the following day. Laetitia Vineyard holds pole position on that list. “I lived here all my life and am still in awe of everything we have to offer in a 10-mile radius,” observes Eric Hickey, chief winemaker for the 40-year-old producer. “We have hiking trails, beaches, water sports, fishing, and great food and drink. It doesn’t hurt that the microclimate — cool in the mornings, warmer during the day and cool again when the fog rolls back in — is ideal for methode champenoise sparkling wine, which we’ve made at Laetitia for over 40 years. Visit the winery and enjoy the bubbles and the ocean view.”