Introduction to Santa Maria, California
Located in the center of California's Central Coast in Santa Barbara County, the city of Santa Maria lies 270 miles south of San Francisco and 170 miles north of Los Angeles. It is one of three communities comprising the Santa Maria Valley, the others being the city of Guadalupe (9 miles to the west) and the unincorporated community of Orcutt (7 miles to the south). U.S. Route 101 runs through the city, and California State Highway 1 runs along the coastline to the west of the city. State Highway 166 provides the principal route eastward, eventually intersecting Interstate-5 in Bakersfield.
Incorporated in 1905, the city was originally called Grangerville (named after the town's first store, the Grange), then Central City. But in 1885, after it was discovered that local mail was mistakenly being routed to a city in Colorado with the same name, the city's name was changed (for the final time) to Santa Maria. In 1904, oil was discovered in the valley when an exploratory drilling a few miles south of the city of Santa Maria produced a huge gusher that was affectionately christened "Old Maud". For the next 80 years, the oil industry flourished but recent decades have seen a return to agriculture as the predominant natural force in the valley. Over the past 30 years, the Santa Maria Valley wine country has flourished as a major attraction, driving local tourism while attracting investment from Kendall-Jackson, Robert Mondavi, and other giants of the industry. The "Santa Maria Style Barbecue", whose origins go back 150 years to the early ranchos, has also become a signature attraction during this time. Other industries which have become predominant in recent years include aerospace (aided by the presence of nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base), communications, and high-tech research and development.
Santa Maria Arts & Culture
The Santa Maria Valley is noted for its rich soil, but its richness is also reflected in the variety and quality of its cultural offerings, a few of which are listed here:
- Santa Maria Museum of Flight: displays of aircraft and artifacts from World War II to the present.
- The Natural History Museum: rock/fossil exhibits, native bird displays, an extensive shell collection, and more.
- Santa Maria Valley Historical Society Museum
- Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum
- Santa Maria Valley Railway Historical Museum
- Santa Maria Museum of Flight
- Motorcycle Museum
- Chapel San Ramon: a century old church and cemetery.
- Broadway Gallery: exhibits from local artists including watercolor, oil paintings, stained glass, pottery, and garden art.
- The David Ryan Gallery: one of the largest fine art galleries on the Central Coast.
- Allan Hancock College Art Gallery
- Dunes Center (Guadalupe)
- Guadalupe Cultural Arts and Education Center
- The Loading Dock (Orcutt): a funky furniture/antique shop which doubles as a contemporary art gallery and espresso café.
- Culture Corner Gallery (located at the Town Center Mall in Santa Maria)
- Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) Theaterfest: nationally acclaimed world-class performances year round.
- Santa Maria Civic Theater: oldest theater group in the region.
- The Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville: stages authentic turn-of-the-century style shows.
- Santa Maria Philharmonic Orchestra
- Coastal Voices
Pro sports fans willing to take a two-hour drive eastward along highway 166 to Bakersfield can see the Bakersfield Blaze (a Minor League Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers) or the Bakersfield Condors of the East Coast Hockey League. Los Angeles is about a three-hour drive away (south on US Highway 101), but hosts a number of pro teams, including the Dodgers (baseball), Clippers and Lakers (NBA basketball), Kings (NHL hockey), Riptide (lacrosse), Galaxy (soccer), and Avengers (Arena football).
More locally, fans of semi-pro baseball can watch the Santa Maria Indians Baseball Club, California's oldest semi-pro club with more than 53 years of continuous service. Sports fans may also be interested to learn that famed NFL commentator John Madden started out as head coach for Santa Maria's Allan Hancock College football team in 1962-1963.