Before the Spanish 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. 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 ,settlers were attracted to the Maria Valley in the beginning because of the famous California Gold Rush but were also attracted when Spain granted Mexico its independence and mission lands were available for private ownership. The new city was first called Grangerville, then Central City and finally Santa Maria on February 18, 1885, to distinguish it from Central City, Colorado. Today, Santa Maria is the largest city in Santa Barbara County, with an estimated 90,518 residents. Santa Maria is a thriving community that is proud of its heritage and engaged in progressive development for its residents and visitors alike.
Santa Maria has a rich and interesting history, beginning with the famous Legend of Zorro that was based on the life of Solomon Pico, who was reported to be a murderous bandit who camped in the Santa Maria hills. To this day, people climb the Solomon Hills looking for treasure that Pico allegedly buried. In 1923, Cecil B. DeMille filmed his silent movie, The Ten Commandments, in the Guadalupe/Nipomo Dunes Preserve. The set was gradually buried beneath the sand due to weather and wind, however, an effort is being made to begin its excavation. The Santa Maria Valley town of Guadalupe is also home to the oldest Buddhist temple in California.
The city has a well-known reputation for its Santa Maria Style Barbecue that entices travelers to come by the thousands, seeking a taste of this local specialty. On a typical Saturday, you will see clouds of fragrant smoke billowing through the air, leading you to numerous barbecues throughout the city. They range from outdoor feasts along Broadway sponsored by schools and local charities, to restaurants offering a more formal dining experience, to backyard cookouts where families enjoy their own recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Santa Maria's city community also supports vibrant parks and recreation facilities. It operates over 234 acres in 26 facilities including community centers like the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, the Hagerman Softball Complex, Paul Nelson Aquatics Center, Elwin Mussell Senior Center, Veterans’ Memorial Center and other community centers. The department provides programs in aquatics, youth and adult sports, therapeutics and senior services, Special Olympics, community classes and events, youth and teen programs, and Families For the First Decade programs. It also runs the City’s Urban Forest Program. They offer various sports, aquatics, child care, arts, special interest classes, senior services and parks or facilities rentals. Parks in the area include Adam, Alice Trefts, Armstrong Maramonte, Pioneer, Rice Sierra Vista, Stanley and Westgate, just to name a few.