Santa Maria Valley's Hidden Hollywood

August 12, 2020

The King of Pop. President Ronald Reagan. The gifted Robin Williams. Teen heartthrob, Zac Efron. They’ve lived here. Eaten the iconic Santa Maria Style barbecue. And studied theater here.

The Santa Maria Valley and its neighboring Central Coast areas are Hollywood’s home away from home. The region is a well-known getaway destination for celebrities to escape the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles area.

The iconic Santa Maria Inn was the hottest spot to stay if you were traveling along the El Camino Real from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Many famous guests, including President Herbert Hoover, Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Doris Day, Clark Gable, Gregory Peck and John Wayne stayed at the Inn. When Marilyn Monroe lived in Santa Maria with foster parents when she was a young girl, they frequently dined at the Inn’s restaurants.

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 Burgers.

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.

Many acclaimed actors, including Robin Williams, Kathy Bates and Zac Efron, studied and performed at PCPA’s Pacific Conservatory Theater.

In 1923, the legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille built an epic Egyptian scene for The Ten Commandments. It is said that after the filming, 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. The “Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille” has been excavated little by little, and some artifacts are displayed at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.

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!

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In Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. Hit the road and explore it all with our 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, seven unique AVAs, 13 beaches, and a growing selection of local breweries, all within a beautiful 30-minute drive. There is no need to venture far if you are looking for sand dunes, cycling and authentic Santa Maria Style dining. You’ll find it’s the perfect home base, where you can eat, drink and do more for less.

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