A Solo Woman's Escape to Santa Maria Valley

Sometimes women need quality “me” time. Time to call a girlfriend, reconnect with a journal or book, get exercise, and play.

I admittedly haven’t spent much time traveling around California’s Central Coast. My solo trips usually take me to the Sierra, but the hills were green this spring and I heard the cycling in the area was great, so I headed down to Santa Maria Valley for a few days alone.

Ride your bike through wineries, trail run ridgelines that look out to the ocean, chat up friendly locals at the bar, and catch a sunset (or three) at the beach. Agricultural and unassuming, the area proved to offer far more than I expected in terms of activities and social scene. Here are some tips from my trip:

Activities:

Bring your road bike and your trail running shoes, because the Santa Maria Valley is an adventurers playground.

Pro-tip - Visit in the spring if you can when the hills are bright green and the yellow mustard flowers are blooming. My photos are from a trip in mid-March.

Cycling


The cycling around the area is incredible. With well-maintained roads, long climbs, and epic views of wineries and the ocean, you’ll jump on your bike and end up riding for hours longer than you expected to because it’s that pretty. Roads feel safe with wide shoulders, and the cycling community is abundant and friendly. Try heading out east of Orcutt and ride beside vineyards on the Palmer and Cat Canyon Roads. Whether you're looking for an easy 10-mile ride or you want something longer, there are plenty of options. 


Swing by one of the wineries as you finish up your ride. Presqu’ile and Cottonwood Canyon Winery were two that I enjoyed and were easily accessible along my cycling route. Sit outside and enjoy the views of rolling hills and cottonwood trees!

If you need to rent a bike while you’re in town, check out Main Street Cycles. If you're planning on visiting over the weekend, call a few days in advance with your details and they’ll have your bike ready and waiting for you. Their bikes are solid and the staff is knowledgeable about the area and happy to give route beta. Per their suggestion, I stayed on the southeast side of the valley and had the roads mostly to myself. 

Trail Running / Hiking

Los Flores Ranch Park is an awesome, safe place to trail run or hike. I’m a sucker for ridgeline runs and this park offers 17 miles of trails, most of which are exposed and with views. The park is located on the south side of town and is remote enough to feel like you’ve escaped crowds while being well-used enough to make you feel safe in case something happens while you're on the trails. The views were gorgeous, and I would have come back here to explore more if I had more time. 


The Rice Ranch Trail in Rice Ranch Open Space is a fun park to hike. Wander through eucalyptus trees and snap a selfie overlooking the city. From the top water towers you can even see out to the ocean on a clear day.

Sunsets on the beach:


Pack snacks and a glass of wine and pay the $4 fee to drive your car out onto the sand at the Oceano Dunes just south of Pismo Beach. You’ll find tourists and locals alike hanging outside of their cars enjoying the unobstructed sunset views. Do handstands in the sand, play some tunes, and dance like no one is watching, because you can.

Eating, Drinking, and General Wandering

Arroyo Grande

Plan a trip to Mason Bar and spend time walking up and down the street it is on. With Christmas/outdoor patio lights strung from the trees in the street, it gives off a warm, welcoming, and safe vibe. Mason Bar came highly recommended by several local women I met, and I see why. Enjoy great, creative cocktails, solid food, and friendly, welcoming bartenders. Sit at the bar and if you’re lucky, you’ll get Katie as your bartender. She’s super personable, a creative bartender, and a wealth of information for places to go in town.

Orcutt

Old town Orcutt is a funky town with surprisingly good spots. If you’re familiar with the San Francisco neighborhoods, I would describe the general vibe of the area as what the Outer Sunset was before it became super trendy to live there, but without the super easy access to the ocean. Head to a staple of the area, Far West Tavern, and get your infamous Santa Maria BBQ fix in. Sit at the warm bar and chat up the friendly bartenders as you savor your cut of meat. 


If you’re looking for Italian, sit at the bar or enjoy the outdoor patio at Bello Forno, across the street from Far West Tavern. Food was great and service staff was incredibly friendly; they even gave me lots of good suggestions of places to visit on my own.


There is also a cute and trendy wine bar across the street, Vino et Amicis, that was highly recommended but I didn’t have a chance to try.

Santa Maria

If you’re driving through Santa Maria, enjoy the outdoor patio, a solid cobb salad, and a glass of rose at Moxie Cafe. You’ll meander through what feels like an industrial complex before making your way to the restaurant. Order inside then grab a table on the patio, bring your book or a journal and enjoy some quiet time in the sun.


From 5PM-8PM on Fridays, Santa Maria hosts a lively farmer’s market. With lots of food trucks and a fun, local vibe, it’s a fun way to chat up locals and get acclimated to the energy of the area.

Willow in Nipomo was another great spot for lunch. Sit at the bar and chat with the local bartender, or enjoy the sun on the outdoor patio. The brussels sprouts salad was great.


Avila Beach

Grab a sunset at Pismo Beach then drive 15 minutes north to Avila Beach for a slower paced and more local vibe. Pier Front Wine & Brew was recommended to me by my bartender in Pismo, and it was fantastic. There’s a cute patio and they had local music, great wine, and super friendly locals.


Pismo Beach

There are plenty of places to visit in Pismo. It's a fun town to walk around and window shop. The Boardroom was highly-rated on Yelp, so I gave it a try. With a more sports bar vibe, it had fun energy, friendly bartenders, and a surprising amount of locals.

Where to stay:

This is a personal preference and will depend on the vibe you’re hoping for. If you want to stay by the beach, I’d recommend looking at Pismo or Avila Beach. Pismo has more tourist energy, and you’ll be sure to meet friends at the bar. Avila Beach, about 15 minutes north of Pismo, is low-key with a much more local and quant-yet-trendy vibe.

I ended up staying at the Holiday Inn down in Santa Maria due to its proximity to amazing cycling and trail running. With free wifi and good solid breakfast, it is an accessible and safe place to stay. And bonus, the Santa Maria Levee Trail is super close to the hotel for an early morning run.

What I learned during my time in Santa Maria Valley is that the area has a lot more for me to explore. The outdoor activity playground, cultural diversity, and friendly locals made my trip incredibly memorable. 

Photos courtesy of Josiah Roe.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Kristi TeplitzAdmin

Executive Producer at The Outbound