The King of Pop. Former President, Ronald Reagan. The gifted Robin Williams. They’ve lived here. Eaten the iconic Santa Maria Style barbecue. And studied theater here.
The Santa Maria Valley and its neighboring Central California Coast areas are Hollywood’s second home. The region is both a getaway destination and home to many of Hollywood’s A-Listers.
In 2004, a little movie called Sideways gained critical acclaim. The area’s wine region starred in a supporting role, and many local establishments were part of the storyline’s backdrop. One of the first stops in the movie was the Hitching Post II, where Miles and Jack sit down for a glass. The story’s plotline also included Santa Maria’s Foxen Winery and Orcutt Burger.
Johnny Depp and friends enjoyed Santa Maria Style Barbecue at the Far Western Tavern while filming Pirates of the Caribbean 3 in the nearby Guadalupe Dunes. The Legend of Zorro was based on the life of Solomon Pico, a murderous bandit who camped in the Santa Maria hills. To this day, people climb the Solomon Hills looking for treasure that Pico allegedly buried.
In 1923, the legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille built an epic Egyptian scene for The Ten Commandments. The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center has unearthed more sphinx heads (and bodies), artifacts from the Hollywood movie scene. It is said that after the filing, the set was too expensive to move and too valuable for others to poach. So, DeMille pushed 21 sphinxes into a trench and buried them. And there it lay, forgotten, for the next 60 years. It still sits there, buried in the sand, known as the “Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.”
In 1983, a group of determined film buffs, inspired by a cryptic clue in DeMille’s published autobiography, located some of the remains of the set. In 2014, archaeologists excavated a plaster sphinx. It was partially excavated in 2012 until funds ran out. In that same expedition, a hind leg and a paw of another sphinx were unearthed. Historians believe now that the sphinxes were in the exact location they were when they were filmed.
Most recently in November 2017, a team of archeologists and Art Deco restorers unearthed another remarkably intact 300-pound paster sphinx head. The fingerprints of 1923 Art Deco artists were still visible in the plaster sphinx, as well as pieces of horse hair that had been used as a binding agent. While most of the items previously found have been white or light peach in color, a prop choice thought to be made to accommodate the film’s black and white filming, this head is a bright terra-cotta orange.
A unique and fascinating exhibit is displayed at The Dunes Center, featuring a variety of artifacts from the both the set and the people who were working on the production. A short film shows the recovery effort of the set, and the people involved in that process.
The (heads) and tales of the hidden sphinxes truly gives “heads-up” a whole new meaning in the sand dunes of Santa Maria Valley.
Santa Maria Valley is the perfect destination and ideal home base for those looking to enjoy the rich history of California’s Central Coast. You’ll find the area nestled amongst rolling rows of produce and the foothills of Santa Barbara Wine Country. The wide variety of affordable and convenient lodging options makes it easy to access beautiful beaches by day and indulge in the iconic barbecue by night.
This is just part of the wonderful and unscripted history of the hidden Hollywood in Santa Maria Valley’s central coast. For more information on the top five films made in the Santa Maria Valley, visit the IMDb page. And, get the popcorn popping!