Weekend Getaway: Santa Maria, California.
Life is funny sometimes. Growing up, I lived on California’s Central Coast for quite a few years (Solvang, in particular) and while I felt like there was not much to do living there, I especially did not think much of nearby Santa Maria, California. About an hour north of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, to many, may just seem like your typical farming community. While Santa Barbara and it’s nearby cities of Goleta and Carpinteria have much of an eco-friendly, laid back vibe, Santa Maria is much more known for its agricultural lands and oil pumping ways. I only ever thought of Santa Maria as a “destination” when we needed a Target instead of Walmart, or when I worked at PCPA theatre productions.
Well, fast forward, and LA living Mary was thrilled to go on an excursion with The IFWTWA to see just what Santa Maria is REALLY all about and let me tell you: There were many moments that I found myself thinking, “I never knew Santa Maria was so cool.” With Summer starting and road trips being planned, read on to discover some of my favorite restaurants we had the pleasure of dining at, as well as our cozy stay at The Holiday Inn.
If you find yourself thinking that Santa Maria is also a terrific wine region, rest assured as a guide to their wineries and vineyards is also coming soon!
If you are a lover of tri-tip (or, a reluctant carnivore like me), you have come to the right place. Santa Maria is one of the top tri-tip producers in the USA, and how the community of about 105,000 got its humble beginnings. We began our afternoon at Moxie Cafe on McCoy Lane. This, right out the gate, had me confused as most in the area know that McCoy is mostly made up of industrial and office buildings. Turns out, that is exactly why Moxie Cafe opened. When a medical supply company moved in a few years back, their CEO sought out to find somewhere his employees could have a wholesome, nutritious meal on their lunch breaks rather than the nearby junk food and drive thru offerings.
At Moxie, everything is local and fresh. The only oils used are olive or coconut oil and butter. They use no fryers, triple filter their water in addition to using charcoal to ensure you’re receiving the freshest, most pure H2O and, of course, they are extremely Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten free friendly. With their signature dish being the tri-tip chili, I decided to get myself a bowl and, let me tell you: It was the real deal. I have just started re-introducing meat back into my diet, and you can truly taste the difference to the smoky, bold flavors in their meat and chili. A secret family recipe, this is the chili that began it all for the now-Moxie Cafe back at a Santa Maria chili cook off.
Visit them during breakfast or lunch time, and Moxie offers counter service while dinner time is full service, and, if you are there Wednesday through Friday, you get to catch some live music, too.
Since I most likely struck your tri-tip fancy, let me tell you about Shaw’s Restaurant. Shaw’s is an un-assuming, intimate steakhouse on Broadway (Santa Maria’s “main drag” and Downtown district). A bit old-fashioned, and nothing too fancy, Shaw’s shines where it is important: with their beef. Also known for their Cadillac Margarita, I could not resist and had to try since a great Margarita is my absolute favorite cocktail. Let me tell you: One will make you very happy. Strong and mighty, it certainly is a great and refreshing concoction to go with your plate.
With family sized, sharable portions, Shaw’s recommended several of their most beloved appetizers and we were all most intrigued to try their linguica. With a spicy and savory sauce made in-house, the meat melts in your mouth and is tender and decadent even without the sauce. Add the sauce on, though, and it manages to take it over the top with bursting flavor.
If a day of so much great food and wine has you tired, head over to The Holiday Inn of Santa Maria. Also on Broadway, this hotel has recently been renovated, and feels fresh and new upon arrival. While it can be hard to get my other work done on these travel excursions, The Holiday Inn made it incredibly easy and inviting to be productive with their kitchenette, office space and desk. Perfect for brewing some coffee and writing before heading out! My bed felt brand new, and with them now serving breakfast at their lobby restaurant, it was great to get a start to my day with a perfect omelette, potatoes and OJ.
If you want to take advantage of Santa Maria wine tasting and enjoying all they have to offer, I highly recommend leaving the transportation to a pro. IFWTWA was treated to a deluxe bus courtesy of Santa Barbara County’s Gold Coast Limousine and everyone was fabulous. Able to answer questions we had about the city, give recommendations and get us back and forth to our stops in one piece, Gold Coast offers Cadillac’s, Suburbans, Mercedes and more. Perfect for a traveling group or event!
ONE MORE STOP….
One of the trip’s highlights was one lunch at Rooney’s Irish Pub in eclectic and funky Orcutt (next door to Santa Maria). While I have never been a huge fan of pub food (breaded fish and chips? Beer?!!) I was so excited that not only does Rooney’s specify GF dishes, and offer gluten-free beer, but, as soon as our rock star waitress, April, heard I am allergic, she quickly noted for the chefs to switch their gloves while they prepared my food. My plate of choice? One of their famous dishes…their fish tacos.
I was just as perplexed as you must be right now. Amazing fish tacos at an Irish pub. Owner, Tim Rooney, loves to keep the atmosphere as fun as he does their menu selections, and prides himself on their beloved dishes, many not as “traditional” as you may think (they even have some Thai inspired plates!).
And, what’s a pub without some music? Rooney’s hosts several bands (including local favorites, 80’s cover band The Molly Ringwald Project) throughout the month in addition to their great playlists going during the day; while we were there, it was a terrific 90’s invasion of old classics from the likes of The Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20.
Next time you want to hit the road, head on up to The Santa Maria Valley. Next up, stay tuned for my favorite wineries we visited! xo
(*Disclosure: I attended a media hosted trip to Santa Maria, California, on behalf of this feature. All opinions are my own.)