This California town will pay you to visit

A small town set amid the sprawling ranchland on California’s Central Coast wants you to come visit — so much that it will pay you.

Santa Maria, known for its barbecue and wineries, is offering a $100 Visa gift card for use toward a minimum two-night qualifying hotel stay. You can also use the credit in neighboring Orcutt.

While the state continues to discourage nonessential travel to any destination that’s 120 miles or more from one’s home, Governor Gavin Newsom lifted the stay-at-home order for all regions across the state last week, allowing hotels to reopen to tourists and restaurants to offer outdoor dining with safety measures in place. After a major widespread shutdown in the winter, the state is slowly beginning to reopen.

“Santa Maria Valley has maintained an open-for-business approach and inviting attitude throughout the pandemic,” said Jennifer Harrison, director of tourism for Visit Santa Maria Valley. “Our destination is less crowded than other California destinations, and offers more for less to budget-conscious travelers during a time of economic rebound. We intend for the travel stimulus to help our local businesses while ensuring our experiences are safe and memorable for everyone who travels here.”

Sunset magazine has called Santa Maria’s barbecue the best in the Western United States. The area has its own way of cooking up tri-tip by seasoning it with black pepper, salt and garlic before cooking it over branches from local native oak trees.

Touted as the first oakwood barbecue restaurant on the central coast, the Hitching Post, opened in Casmalia in 1952 and is serving barbecue steak, chicken and even quail at outdoor tables. The Garey Store in Santa Maria is also dishing up its sandwiches piled high with tri-tip. (Find more restaurant suggestions from the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce.)

Other tourist attractions in the Santa Maria area include wine-tasting at nearly three dozen tasting rooms in the area, beaches and sand dunes and hiking trails.

The offer, that’s being called “stimulus money” by the Santa Maria Valley Visitors Bureau, is valid for reservations made between February 4 and March 31, 2021. There are two dozen qualifying hotels, including the Holiday Inn and Suites in Santa Maria, the Historic Santa Maria Inn and the Wine Stone Inn in Orcutt.

Santa Maria is a four-hour drive from San Francisco and three-hour drive from Los Angeles.

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