Santa Barbara County
Cities and Towns

Source: Wikipedia

Santa Maria

Santa Maria is a city in Santa Barbara County, on the Central Coast of California. Santa Maria's estimated population in November 2008 was 111,972 and has surpassed that of Santa Barbara, making it the largest city in the county. The estimated population of the area is about 161,227, which includes the Santa Maria Valley, the city of Guadalupe, the unincorporated township of Orcutt. Nipomo is also considered part of the Santa Maria area, as it is adjacent to Santa Maria on the north in San Luis Obispo County. The city is notable for its wine industry and Santa Maria Style Barbecue.


In 1769, the Portola exploration party came through the Santa Maria Valley on its trek up the coast of California to find the Monterey Bay. After Mission San Luis Obispo was established in 1772 and Mission La Purisima was established in what is now Lompoc in 1787, settlers were attracted to the Santa Maria Valley by way of the gold fields elsewhere in California. Rather than rich soil, they were attracted here by the possibility of free land. In 1821, when Spain granted Mexico its independence, mission lands were made available for private ownership.

Before the Spanish cattle grazing explorers and settlers came to the Santa Maria Valley, it was a stretch of sagebrush, deer, bears and rabbits stretching from the Santa Lucia Mountains toward the Pacific Ocean. The Chumash Indians made their homes on the slopes of the surrounding hills among the oaks and sycamores where there was more moisture and shelter, and along the beach areas. In the 1800s, when California gained statehood (in 1850), the rich soil drew farmers and other settlers, and the Santa Maria River Valley became one of the most productive agricultural areas in the state. Agriculture is still a key component of the economy for the city and the entire region.

Between 1869 and 1874, four of the valley's prominent settlers, Rudolph Cook, John Thornburg, Isaac Fesler, and Isaac Miller, farmed the land that today corners on Broadway and Main Street. The townsite map was recorded in Santa Barbara in 1875. The new city was first called Grangerville, then Central City. The city's name was changed to "Santa Maria" on February 18, 1885, because mail for the community was being sent by mistake to Central City, Colorado. "Santa Maria" comes from the name that settler Juan Pacifico Ontiveros had given to his property 25 years earlier.

The Santa Maria Valley saw oil exploration begin in 1888, leading to large-scale discoveries around the turn of the century. In 1901, Union Oil and a number of smaller companies began pumping for oil. By the end of 1903, Union Oil, the major player in the region, had 22 wells in production. Several significant discoveries followed. For the next 80 years, thousands of oil wells were drilled and put into production in the area. Oil development intensified in 1930s, spurring the City's growth even further. By 1957 there were 1,775 oil wells in operation in the Santa Maria Valley, producing more than $64 million worth of oil.

Today, the Santa Maria Valley remains a major agricultural hub in California and the city of Santa Maria has continued to add major "destination" retail outlets to its existing retail offerings. Santa Maria is the leader in Santa Barbara County in terms of retail sales growth.

Geography and climate

Santa Maria is located at 3457'5?N 12026'0?W.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.8 square miles, of which, 19.3 square miles of it is land and 0.4 square miles of it (2.23%) is water.

Santa Maria is situated north of the unincorporated township of Orcutt, California, and south of the Santa Maria River (which serves as the line between Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County). The valley is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the San Rafael Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The city of Guadalupe, California is approximately 9 miles to the west of Santa Maria.


Agriculture plays an important role in the city's economy. The Santa Maria area is home to an increasing number of vineyards, wineries and winemakers and is centrally located to both the Santa Ynez and Foxen Canyon areas of Santa Barbara County's wine country, and San Luis Obispo County's Edna Valley-Arroyo Grande wine country.

The agricultural areas surrounding the city are some of the most productive in California, with primary crops including strawberries, wine grapes, celery, lettuce, peas, squash, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli and beans. Many cattle ranchers also call the Santa Maria Valley home.

In recent years, other industries have been being added to the city's agricultural and retail mix, including: aerospace; communications; high-tech research and development; energy production; military operations; and manufacturing.


According to the 2000 census, there were 77,423 people, 22,146 households, and 16,653 families residing in the city. The population density was 4,005.8 people per square mile. There were 22,847 housing units at an average density of 1,182.1/sq mi. The racial makeup of the city was 66.0% White, 1.87% African American, 1.78% Native American, 4.74% Asian, 0.18% Pacific Islander, 28.02% from other races, and 5.36% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 47.3% of the population.

There were 22,146 households out of which 42% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.4% were married couples living together, 13.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 24.8% were non-families. 20.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.40 and the average family size was 3.85.

In the city the population was spread out with 31.6% under the age of 18, 11.6% from 18 to 24, 29.5% from 25 to 44, 15.9% from 45 to 64, and 11.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females there were 103.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 101.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $51,739, and the median income for a family was $48,233. Males had a median income of $28,700 versus $22,364 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,780. About 15.5% of families and 19.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.5% of those under age 18 and 7.7% of those age 65 or over.

Law and government


Santa Maria is home to one of two official Superior Court locations in Santa Barbara County, with the other courthouse located in Santa Barbara.


Santa Maria is split down the middle of the political spectrum as compared to Santa Barbara, which tends to lean on the more liberal side of the spectrum. Perhaps due to this political division, along with irrigation and water-supply issues, many attempts have been made to split the county in half, with the northern portion of the county (roughly from Point Conception north) to be named Mission County. Over the course of many years, however, this secession movement has proved unsuccessful.

Law Enforcement

As the primary law enforcement agency for the City of Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Police Department handles approximately 130,000 calls for service each year. The Santa Barbara County Sheriffs Department also operates within the city and in the surrounding communities. The SMPD is administratively divided into the three divisions, Administration, Operations, and Support, and has 112 sworn officers and 51 full-time support personnel.



U.S. Route 101 (PCH), runs through the middle of the Santa Maria Valley and is the main expressway connecting many west coast cities. It has been improved to freeway status (meaning all at-grade intersections have been eliminated) within the city of Santa Maria itself. There was recently a widening project that expanded the freeway from four to six lanes between Santa Maria Way and the Route 135 overcrossing. The $32 million project was completed in late 2008 / early 2009.

State Route 1 runs around the western edge of the city and connects it to nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc. The section of 101 in the city is a freeway, and a small part of a nearby section of Highway 1 that runs between the city and the base is also a freeway, but the two freeway segments do not directly connect to each other.

State Route 135 is considered to be the major artery through the city. It comes from Los Alamos, a town to the south of Santa Maria, and it enters Orcutt and Santa Maria as an expressway. The expressway runs all the way to Santa Maria Way. Highway 135 then turns into Broadway and runs through the heart of the city and all the way up to the Santa Maria River and U.S. 101.

Along Foxen Canyon Road. This route provides a link between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys


Santa Maria Public Airport offers regular commercial flights to Los Angeles by United, Las Vegas by Allegiant Air. Alternative airports are found at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Municipal Airport in Goleta.


The Santa Maria Valley Railroad (SMVRR) is a shortline freight railroad to Guadalupe. Main business includes storage of railroad cars when northern California and southern California storage area are full.

The nearest train station with long-distance Amtrak service is in Guadalupe, to which Amtrak provides bus service from Santa Maria. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner provides twice daily service in each direction, running to Paso Robles to the north and to San Diego via Los Angeles to the south.

SMAT, Santa Maria Area Transit, is a local bus service provided by both city and county-run lines, it has recently expanded its services during the evening that stretch to 10:15 P.M.

San Luis Obispo RTA also runs the line 10 that travels between Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo primarily on weekdays, with three trips in each direction on Saturdays & Sundays. It costs $1.75.

The Breeze Bus provides service to Lompoc, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Santa Maria.

Long-distance intercity bus service is provided by Greyhound Lines.


The Ethel Pope Auditorium at Santa Maria High School

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District (SMJUHSD) is the oldest high school district in the State of California and runs the 3 primary public high schools in the area, including Santa Maria High School, Pioneer Valley High School, and Ernest Righetti High School. There are also two notable private high schools in the valley, St. Joseph High School, a private Catholic high school, and Valley Christian Academy.

Also included in the city is Allan Hancock College, a two year community college known for its distinguished athletic programs which have included former head football coaches John Madden and Ernie Zampese, as well as Gunther Cunningham. The college also home to the PCPA, one of the state's finest theatre programs. The Orcutt Union School District operates six elementary schools and two junior high schools: Lakeview Junior High School and Orcutt Junior High School. In August 2008, Orcutt Academy Charter School will open with two campuses; a K-8 grade school located in Casmalia and a high school in Old Orcutt.


Tri-Tip and Santa Maria Style BBQ

Santa Maria is perhaps most notable for an excellent variety of barbecued meat. The tri-tip steak has its roots in Santa Maria. Tri-tip is a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin. It is a small triangular muscle, usually 1.5 to 2.5 lb (680 to 1,100 g) per side of beef. In the United States, this cut was typically used for ground beef or sliced into steaks until the late 1950s, when it became a local specialty in Santa Maria. "Santa Maria Style" barbecue is usually used in reference to the seasoning of tri-tip or other meats (most notably top sirloin, or "top block") when rubbed with salt, pepper, and spices and cooked whole on a rotisserie or grilled over local red oak wood. The side dishes complimenting a typical "Santa Maria Style" barbecue generally consist of garlic bread, pinquito beans, and a salad.

Wine: Santa Maria Valley AVA

Santa Maria, along with the neighboring Lompoc, Los Alamos and Santa Ynez Valleys, combine to create one of the nation's largest wine-producing regions, referred to the Santa Barbara Wine Country.

The often foggy and windswept Santa Maria Valley is the northern most appellation in Santa Barbara County. The region’s first officially approved American Viticultural Area (AVA) enjoys extremely complex soil conditions and diverse microclimates. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are two varietals which especially benefit from the ocean’s influence, and are the flagship wines of this appellation.

"No viticultural region in America has demonstrated as much progress in quality and potential for greatness as... the Santa Barbara region, where the Burgundian varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are planted in its cooler climates." - Robert Parker Jr., "Food & Wine."

The quality of Santa Maria Valley grapes is so widely recognized that the fruit is not just used in winemaking at wineries in the appellation. Santa Maria Valley grapes are also used by wineries throughout Santa Barbara County and at many wineries outside of the county. The Santa Maria Valley name is used on labels from wineries that are based far away from the Santa Barbara County sunshine. The Santa Maria Valley appellation is bounded by the San Rafael Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest to the east, and by the Solomon Hills and the city of Santa Maria to the west.

Some of the valley's notable table wineries include: Au Bon Climat, Foxen, Cambria, Byron, Rancho Sisquoc and Bien Nacido Vineyards.


Santa Maria's Allan Hancock College is the home of The Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA), a highly touted theatrical school and production company. Notable alumni include: Robin Williams, Kathy Bates, Kelly McGillis, Mercedes Ruehl, and Zac Efron.

An additional PCPA theatre is located in Solvang, California in the Santa Ynez Valley.


The Santa Maria Valley has long been a major filming location for Hollywood. Some of the films shot in the valley include:

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, (2007)
Voodoo Moon, (2007)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, (2006)
Sideways, (2004)
Hidalgo, (2003)
Rockets Red Glare, (2000)
Rocky & Bullwinkle, (1999)
Cowboy Up, (1998)
The Odd Couple II, (1997)
G.I. Jane, (1996)
Amelia Earhart, (1993)
Barton Fink, (1991)
LA Story, (1991)
The Rocketeer, (1991)
The Spirit of St. Louis, (1957)
The Ten Commandments, (1923)
Titus (tv sitcom), (2000)

Cafe Fx

Santa Maria is home to Cafe FX; the award-winning feature film visual effects facility which has provided the special effects for many films, some of which include: Pan's Labyrinth, Iron Man, Spider Man 3, King Kong, Sin City and Hellboy.

Notable residents

Jane Russell, Actress
Chris Lambert, Musician
Aurora Snow, Actress
Chuck Negron, Singer and founding member and of Three Dog Night
Robin Williams, Actor and former PCPA student
Zac Efron, Actor and former PCPA student
Kathy Bates, Actress and former PCPA student

Gunther Cunningham, former head football coach of the Kansas City Chiefs
Doug Bernier, Major League Baseball second baseman for the Colorado Rockies
Ozzie Smith, Hall of Fame Major League Baseball player
John Madden, Hall of Fame NFL football coach / commentator
Ken Zampese, NFL football coach
Ernie Zampese, NFL football coach
Robin Ventura, Major League Baseball player
Jimy Williams, Major League Baseball manager
Mark Brunell, NFL football player
John Marshall, NFL coach
Bryn Smith, retired Major League Baseball pitcher. Pitched for Santa Maria High School and Allan Hancock College.
Carlos Diaz (pitcher), retired Major League Baseball pitcher.
Marla Runyan, marathon runner
Jim Lonborg, MLB player for the Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies.

Auto Racing:
Blaine Johnson late NHRA Top Fuel driver, killed in an on-track accident in 1996

Abel Maldonado, California State Senator

Owen W. Siler, 15th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard (1974-1978)
Richard Perkins, Former Speaker of the Nevada Assembly


This page was last updated July 19, 2009.