We were looking for a nice, relatively inexpensive place to stay on an overnight in wine country (Central Coast – Santa Rita Hills/Santa Ynez). We like places with character and history, so the Santa Maria Inn (www.santamariainn.com) caught our eye. Billed as “the historic” Santa Maria Inn, the original property consisting of 24 rooms, 24 baths, a kitchen and dining facilities was built by Frank McCoy in 1917. Over the years additions were made to where the inn stands today: 164 rooms, including 18 suites, all recently renovated and refurbished in 2000 and 2005.

We opted to stay in the Tower section of the Inn, where the rooms are more spacious than in the Original Inn. Another thing that we learned about the Inn is that the Original Inn is haunted by a number of ghosts. I have to admit that the period decorations in the public spaces on the first floor, as well as the creepy child portraiture throughout the corridors and elevator lobbies create a mood not unlike Stephen King’s The Shining. We did not tell our six-year-old about the ghosts…

The hotel boasts of quite the guest list, featuring Hollywood A-list and International dignitaries alike. Guests such as Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Joan Crawford and Lee Marvin all enjoyed the one-time luxurious accommodations. Other notable guests included President Herbert Hoover as well as William Randolph Hearst himself (along with Marion Davies). Cecil B. DeMille also stayed in 1923 while filming the Ten Commandments in Guadalupe. Many of the rooms in which the rich and famous of yester year stayed are now marked with a star on the room’s door displaying who has previously stayed there. A neat piece of folklore…

There have been numerous reports of various ghostly, unexplained paranormal activities throughout the Inn, although most of the reports seem to contain the activity to the Original Inn and the surrounding gardens. The most famous ghost is that of Rudolph Valentino, who is said to enjoy playfully scaring guests in room 221. There is also the ghost of a sea captain, murdered by his mistress, who appears to like room 210. A lot has been written about the ghosts, but we can thankfully say that we saw nothing untoward during our visit. By the way – references to a piano playing without a player were easily explained – it’s a digital player baby grand – no ghost involved.

We dined in the Garden Room restaurant and had a lovely meal – classic, continental cuisine with a very nice wine list of local offerings. Service was impeccable – attentive without being intrusive. All of the staff was very friendly and there was ample parking in front of the Inn.

We certainly would entertain staying at the Inn again, especially if we were looking for someplace close to Central Coast wineries, The Hearst Castle, Solvang or any of the other wonderful destinations in that area.