With Wines, Vines and Bucolic Vistas, Santa Maria Valley Is a Sight to See. By Donna Polizzi

Having lived on the Central Coast since the mid-1980s, I’ve come to realize that every city in our region has treasures to be enjoyed. That is if you know where to look.

Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo have always received favorable recognition for many reasons, and justifiably so. What many people don’t realize, is that Santa Maria is evolving and you don’t have to look hard to be impressed.

Majestic mountains surround the Santa Maria Valley in the heart of the Central Coast. How could anyone tire looking at the mountain range with billowing clouds peeking out in the morning sunlight?

The rolling hills are amazingly picturesque as you drive east of Highway 101 on the outskirts of Santa Maria. I encourage you to take a scenic ride; it’s a photographer’s dream.

You’ll be delighted to find that the winding roads take you past vineyards, beautiful foliage, farm houses and rustic barns that look like a stiff wind would blow them over.

Santa Maria is also home to several fantastic wineries.

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, at 6020 Foxen Canyon Road, is one of my favorites, and is well known for its chardonnay and pinot noir. The tasting room and the back patio are part of an inviting and beautiful, 1920s-style cottage with white roses on a property that can soothe your soul.

“Our wines are made to showcase our vineyard, which is a perfect place to grow grapes,” said Laura Booras, Riverbench’s general manager. “The Santa Maria Valley is an exceptional place to make wine.”

Riverbench also has a tasting room at 137 Anacapa St. in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

In a 10-mile radius there are numerous wineries and wine tasting rooms, from humble places to palatial estates.

Presqu’ile Wines sits on a hilltop overlooking the valley, and the views are spectacular. Located at 5391 Presquile Drive, this is one of the most impressive facilities you will find on the Central Coast. Spend an afternoon sipping wine or picnicking at Presqu’ile. It will feel like a mini-vacation.

I took my family and a few friends to Rancho Sisquoc Winery for my daughter’s 21st birthday for her first wine-tasting experience. The friendly staff showed her the proper way to swirl, sip, savor and enjoy.

The setting is calming and energetic at the same time. The wines were excellent, and the back patio is covered in a trellis that is laced with deep red vines.

You’ll be surprised, delighted and your time will be well spent in Santa Maria. I have been to Napa, and I can still say that wines in our region are truly remarkable.

I hope that you’re convinced to move away from the desk, or to get out of the house and enjoy the best that Santa Maria has to offer.

If you are driving from outside the area, the view on the road to Santa Maria is sure to wow you. Traveling on Highway 101 from north or south is a gift in itself.

Expect to see everything from crashing ocean waves, longhorn cattle, horses, livestock chutes and vineyards in colors so vibrant that they look Photoshopped. It’s eye candy!

Not big on driving? Santa Maria has a convenient airport. If you fly in to the Santa Maria Public Airport, the Radisson Hotel Santa Maria‎ is right next door 3455 Skyway Drive.

The historic Santa Maria Inn, 801 S. Broadway, is very charming and the food is delicious. The Huevos Rancheros was the best that I’ve ever had.

Old Orcutt is on the southern edge of Santa Maria on Clark Avenue. This area has fantastic restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My family loves the gluten-free pizza at Patricio’s Pizzeria at 156 Broadway St. The famed Far West Tavern, 300 E. Clark Ave., is a great place for a nice steak dinner in an old Western setting.

Trattoria Uliveto, 285 Broadway St., is a classy and relaxed Italian restaurant with a cozy bar that the locals frequent. Some friends and I met there on a recent Sunday night. If Sofia Polanco Hollum was bartending, ask her to make you something special. You won’t regret it.

Santa Maria is the perfect place to stay in the heart of the Central Coast. It’s a short drive to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Avila Beach, Pismo Beach or Paso Robles.

Santa Maria also is a great place to live, work and play, especially if you love natural beauty, golf, fantastic weather and really good wine. It’s in close proximity to countless things to do and, of course, very friendly people.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at news@noozhawk.com. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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