Located close to the coast of Southern California, Santa Maria sits in Santa Barbara County and has a population of just over 100,000 residents, making this the largest city in the county.
Situated in wine making country, Santa Maria is known for its wineries, as well as it scenic position in Santa Maria Valley.
This strategic location as well as its proximity to the coast means that there are a wealth of attractions to enjoy in and around Santa Maria, including rolling dunes, parks, seaside piers, and engaging local museums.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Santa Maria:
1. Santa Maria Inn
This historic inn in Santa Maria dates from 1917 and is located in the heart of Santa Maria’s wine country, making it a premium attraction to those visiting this part of the United States.
The inn is known for retaining much of its traditional style and charm, and visitors here can take in a photographic gallery which has a number of pictures that take you through the history of Santa Maria, all the way back to its founding days.
For an afternoon stroll there are also lush rose gardens that surround the inn.
2. Boomers! Funpark
Visitors of all ages will find something to enjoy at Boomers! Fun Park in Santa Maria, which provides a huge range of activities for those looking for some indoor fun.
The park features old school favorites such as arcade games, as well as a miniature golf course and a go-kart course.
If you are feeling athletic then you can have a go at scaling the indoor rock climbing wall, or there are also batting cages if you feel like improving your swing.
3. Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre
The Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre is a must-visit in Santa Maria as it is one of the last of the old fashioned drive-in theatres to exist in the whole of the United States.
The theatre is still a family business that has been run for generations in Santa Maria, and screens all the latest movie releases.
For the ultimate all-American experience, popcorn and other typical movie snacks are served here, and this is not to be missed if you are a movie-buff and want to experience some of the nostalgia and romance of a drive-in movie theatre.
4. Santa Maria Raceway
Santa Maria Raceway is known for its fun-packed races that use a variety of cars as well as bikes to put on an excellent show that racing enthusiasts are sure to love.
While you can’t participate in the actual races, visitors here are sure to enjoy the festivities, and you should check local listings to see which cars are racing when you are in town.
There are also themed nights and holiday related races, so there is always something to enjoy here and speed demons should not miss this fun attraction in Santa Maria.
5. Waller County Park
If you are looking for some green space in the Santa Maria area, as well as a free attraction, then look no further than Waller County Park, a local favorite and a must-visit open space.
The park is covered with hiking and biking trails so that you can make the most of the local scenery, or for something a little different you can go for a pony ride in the park.
There are a range of sporting options here such as a Frisbee golf course as well as an abundance of lawn areas that are perfect for lounging with a picnic or kicking a ball around.
6. Rancho Sisquoc Winery
The Rancho Sisquoc Winery is the place to come for those who love wine and want to sample some of the best in the region.
The Santa Maria Valley is known for its vineyards and high quality grapes that produce some of the best wine in the country.
Rancho Sisquoc Winery sprawls over 300 acres of lush vineyards and have won a number of awards for their wines, and visitors can sample these firsthand as well as buy many of the wines on offer to take home as souvenirs.
7. Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve
The westernmost park in Santa Maria, Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve is located by the coast and is known for its gorgeous untouched dunes.
The park is also a haven for wildlife that inhabits the dunes such as the snowy plover and if you enjoy nature then this is a gorgeous retreat a little out of the center of Santa Maria.
Aside from animal spotting in the dunes themselves, there are also opportunities for whale watching as well as fishing, and there are hiking opportunities aplenty, as well as picnic areas in case you feel hungry.
The park is spread over 500 acres of land, so whichever part you choose to explore there are a huge number of things to see and do here.
8. Santa Maria Museum of Flight
Not to be missed on a visit to Santa Maria is the Santa Maria Museum of Flight which is packed full of aviation related memorabilia and is perfect for those who are interested in anything related to the history of flight.
The museum contains period artifacts as well as a range of historical documents that relate to aeronautical history such as letters and photographs, and there are a range of static exhibits as well as rotating galleries throughout the year.
Aside from the actual museum itself, there are also seminars and tours on offer that are perfect if you want to know even more about the history of flight in the Santa Maria Valley.
9. Mission La Purisima Historical Park
For a day trip outside of Santa Maria, head for the Mission La Purisima Historical Park which is conveniently located just thirty minutes away.
Originally built in 1813, the mission buildings in the park have been lovingly restored for visitors to enjoy, and La Purisima has the claim to fame of being one of the most completely restored missions in the whole of the state of California.
Visitors to the preserved mission will now find original buildings complete with period furnishings as well as churches, shops, a blacksmith’s workshop, and a range of heritage living quarters.
There is also a comprehensive and dynamic visitor’s center that explains the historical significance of the mission and there is a self-guided tour for visitors to follow which gives a fascinating insight into the history of the area.
10. Avila Beach Pier
Thirty minutes outside of Santa Maria lies Avila Beach Pier, a picturesque sight that was first built in 1908. The pier stands over Avila Beach and measures in at an impressive 1,685 feet, and is known as the perfect place to go for an afternoon stroll to take in some bracing sea air.
Other activities from the pier also include fishing, and visitors here can try their luck catching a number of local species that inhabit these waters.
After taking in the pier, visitors can also visit the actual Avila Beach which is a popular attraction all year round due to the pleasant climate here.
11. Santa Maria Museum and Historical Society
The Santa Maria Museum and Historical Society was created in order to preserve the history of the Santa Maria Valley for all to enjoy, and to that end this museum is ideal for those who want to learn about how modern day Santa Maria came to be.
The museum has a huge library and catalogue of historic materials that include literature and photographs of the area, and friendly volunteers are on hand to fill you in on the historical significance and background of this town.
12. Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum
The Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum is dedicated to interactive play and as such it is one of the best places in Santa Maria for younger visitors with inquisitive minds.
The exhibits in this museum aim to teach children all about science using ingenious hands-on exhibits such as The Belly of the Whale, which is modeled on the real digestive system of a whale, as well as other attractions like Simple Machines that Work that teaches youngsters all about engineering.
The museum aims to inspire children to explore the world around them, and families visiting Santa Maria should definitely not miss this quirky and educational activity.
13. Paul Nelson Aquatic Center
The Paul Nelson Aquatic Center is known as the place to splash around in the Santa Maria area and has an Olympic-sized pool as well as a recreational pool for visitors to use.
The center is located within the Abel Maldonado Youth Center and there are a range of attractions inside for visitors of all ages including a toddler pool and a waterslide in the shape of a frog.
There are also water games to enjoy here such as a water umbrella which you can use even if you are not planning on swimming laps.
14. Foxen Vineyard
Foxen Vineyard has been making wine since 1985 and is known for taking a minimalist approach to winemaking that lets the natural ingredients from this part of the world shine.
The winery is now solar-powered and visitors can visit one of two tasting rooms that are open on the property daily.
Some of the wines on offer at the tasting rooms include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Bordeaux, and Foxen Vineyard is one of the most well-loved wineries in the local area thanks to the quality of its products.
Visitors to the winery can also bring a picnic to eat with the wine purchased here.
15. Coldstone Creamery
Coldstone Creamery is a famous ice cream shop, although this one has been in business in the Santa Maria area of over 25 years, making it one of the most loved ice cream havens around.
The creamery has a range of ice creams, smoothies and shakes on offer that are made from their signature product that is made on site, and the creamery is named after its iconic frozen granite stone that is used to prepare all the ice cream deserts for customers to order.