The following article was posted on November 23rd, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun – Volume 21, Issue 39 [ Submit a Story ]

The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] – Volume 21, Issue 39



Canceled holiday travel plans got you down? Local food and drink attractions can bring you back up this winter season


Home for the holidays” may be taking on a more serious tone this year with many people’s travel plans in limbo, but there’s one thing that won’t be canceled no matter how hard the ’rona tries: holiday feasting.

That feasting may look different this year, but from drive-through holiday dinners to festive wine pairings, the foodies of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties are bringing creative cheer this season to keep everyone jolly and, most importantly, well fed. 

Meals with a side of history

The History Center of San Luis Obispo County is holding a drive-through holiday barbecue on Dec. 6 and encouraging people to take advantage of a free walking tour of SLO’s historic Eto Park and Brook Street area.

The History Center of San Luis Obispo County is taking a page out of Santa Maria’s historical cookbook with a drive-through holiday tri-tip dinner on Dec. 6. While the origin story of the Santa Maria steak has a few different tellings, it’s safe to say that Central Coasters know how to cook their tri-tip.

The History Center is hosting the event at Villa Automotive on South Street in SLO, and Sid’s Redneck BBQ will be whipping up meals big enough for four hungry eaters. A $50 ticket will get you a full tri-tip, loaf of French bread, salad, and beans.

The ticket also includes access to a self-guided walking tour of the historic Eto Park and Brook Street neighborhood. 

“For a long time, it was Japantown, a place where especially people of Japanese ancestry lived in the first half of the 20th century,” History Center Executive Director Thomas Kessler said.

But following the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 came the U.S. internment policies, where Japanese-American citizens were forcibly taken from their homes and incarcerated in camps, Kessler said. The city opened Eto Park to memorialize the Japanese heritage of the area that was destroyed by this discriminatory policy.

The event pays further homage to this history by hosting the barbecue on Dec. 6: the day before the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. 

“It’s really an ominous date, knowing what would eventually be done to the American citizens of Japanese descent who lived in this neighborhood,” Kessler said. “We thought it was appropriate to recognize that.”

Fair treats year round

Riverbench CEO Laura Booras said a great way to celebrate the holiday season is with a glass of sparkling wine.

Funnel cakes and kettle corn might not scream “holiday season,” but the Santa Maria Fairpark says it doesn’t have to be summertime to enjoy these treats. The Fairpark’s Festival of Lights drive-through light show held from Dec. 4 to 6 will also feature a holiday market and food vendors. 

“We wanted to have a Fairpark food drive-through, because we weren’t able to have the fair,” Donna Moore, the Fairpark’s manager of admissions and tickets, told the Sun

Grab a bag of G. Brothers’ kettle corn for something sweet, or opt for one of Fanny’s Fabulous Funnel Cakes’ fried fair classics. If you’re looking for an entree—after dessert, of course—local food truck favorites like The Shift and Lidos will be there.

Presale admission to the Festival of Lights costs $25 for a car of up to nine passengers, and $35 for more than nine. But if you’re just in a food mood, entrance to the vendor area is free of charge and a Festival of Lights ticket isn’t required to buy food.  

“The vendors will be here from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., basically all day,” Moore said. “So even if you’re not coming to the Festival of Lights, you’ll be able to enjoy the food trucks.”

Nothing to wine about

Allan Hancock Viticulture and Enology Program Coordinator Alfredo Koch (pictured right) encourages the community to take advantage of Hancock’s wine offerings.

Holidays are typically a boozy time of year, but those who indulge might want a little something special at the end of 2020 to wash down the pandemic blues. 

“I know for me personally, I’m going to drink a lot more sparkling wine this year, because I’m going to celebrate even if I’m just at home with my fiancé,” Riverbench Vineyard CEO Laura Booras said with a laugh. “We have to celebrate the little things at this point.”

Booras said Riverbench’s blanc de noir sparkling wine pairs particularly well with “all the sides” at a Thanksgiving or holiday dinner table. 

“I’m Southern, so there have been years where we fried our turkey, and it’s pretty darn good with a fried turkey too,” Booras added. 

The most traditional holiday pairing, Booras continued, is “of course, pinot noirs.” And if you want to experience a little international taste in lieu of traveling, Booras’ family always drinks Beaujolais around the holidays, a wine named for an area of France that uses gamay grapes for its viticulture. 

If you want to spice up your holiday meals at home, Riverbench’s website has dozens of food pairings and recipes to try. With pinot, the winery recommends a wine country turkey brine or spicy pork chops. With sparkling, try a croissant bread pudding or a caramelized onion quiche. 

Ever wondered why pinot noir pairs well with turkey, or sparkling wines with delicate desserts? Alfredo Koch, program coordinator for Allan Hancock College’s Viticulture and Enology Department, said it’s a combination of food chemistry and personal preference.

“Light meals usually go with lighter wines, because if you put something really strong with something really weak, the strong side overpowers and takes everything,” Koch explained. “There’s not much interaction.”

However, he added, “it depends on what you like, on the person.”

Koch recommended Hancock’s Sensory Evaluation of Wines courses, which he said will be offered in the spring, for those interested in learning more about pairings—the perfect holiday gift for the wine lover on your list. Or, just buy them a bottle from Hancock’s on-campus winery, available online

Send holiday cheer to Staff Writer Malea Martin at 

Central Coast spiritual leaders ask community to keep hope and faith during the holiday season


Sometime in between worrying about COVID-19, the election, work, family, and the holidays, Rabbi Micah Hyman want you to do one more thing.

Each year during Hanukkah, observers light a menorah in Mission Plaza. While the community struggles with a pandemic this year, local religious leaders emphasize the importance of remaining hopeful.


“It’s so important, feeling the fullness of breath, trusting the air around you,” said Hyman, the rabbi and executive director at SLO Hillel, a hub for Jewish life at Cal Poly.

In the midst of dark and stressful times, it’s hard to slow down, breathe, and keep the faith. But these simple practices, more than anything else, are what Hyman is preaching as the community heads into this holiday season.

Stop the “doom scrolling”—or scouring social media for the latest bad news—Hyman said. Take a deep breath. Find the light, even if it’s a small sliver.

“Do not believe we’re just spiraling down,” he said. “All it takes is just a little bit of light to illuminate our future. You see it in our world with vaccines. You see it with our children who are so resilient.”

From a spiritual perspective, the religious holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas are stories of miracles. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the son of God in human form. Hanukkah remembers the Jewish people overcoming persecution—symbolized by a menorah that miraculously burned for eight straight nights on minimal oil.

Underlying these holidays are messages of hope and perseverance—themes that local spiritual leaders plan to tap into this year to help the community cope with a relentless pandemic and divided society.

“Within the Judeo-Christian narrative, there’s a very strong theme of things going extremely badly and then something new, something different being born out of that,” said Rev. Caroline Hall, leader of the St. Benedict Episcopal Church in Los Osos. “Perhaps when things are at their darkest can we expect God to show up.”

But miracles don’t often occur suddenly or out of thin air, Hyman said. Observers of Hanukkah practice this concept every year by lighting only one candle on the menorah each night.

It’s an “incremental light,” Hyman said. The same is true of gifts during Hanukkah—they slowly build over the eight days.

“It’s not a big reveal as much as the accumulative effect of faith,” he said.

In Hyman’s interpretation of Hanukkah, the story of the burning menorah is not really a story about the endurance of a magical oil. It’s about the endurance of people banding together with hope, discipline, resourcefulness, conservation, and a sense of purpose.

“That’s what a miracle is,” Hyman said.

As he offers spiritual guidance to the community this year, Hyman goes back to those fundamentals of hope, hard work, and patience. Taken together, they create “the opportunity for something entirely new to happen.” 

It requires our active participation, though.

“Most important is doing the work,” he said. “I’m certainly not waiting for God to shine a miracle cure. Those cures are miracles, but that takes Pfizer; it takes government; and it takes big, big vision.”

Similarly, Hall encouraged individuals to cultivate hope by “identifying those places where God is present”—whatever God means to you. It could be out in nature, within yourself, in a friend or family member, in art and music, or elsewhere.

“The energy of the universe is one of love and gratitude,” Hall said. “The more we can draw on that, and embody that and share that, the more the universal flow of spirit moves through us.”

As Hall leads church services during the holiday season—outdoor or virtual—she will continue reminding members that the world offers inherent beauty and hope.

“I’m going to encourage people to listen to carols, just surround themselves with beautiful music,” she said. “Enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. We are so fortunate to live somewhere so extraordinarily beautiful.”

At the same time, Hall also thinks it’s critical to honor the difficulty and pain we’re going through.

“It’s important to acknowledge that being human right now is not that great. It’s easy to get happy-clappy,” she said. “But also, that’s the way it’s been for humanity a lot of times. There is always a light in the darkness.”

Hall called special attention to the virtues that Jesus showed at a moment when hate and antagonism seemed to permeate society. We should emulate those values to persevere through another divisive time.

“Jesus did talk about loving our enemies and also about how the way we think is as important as how we act,” she said. “I encourage people to pray for people who are really getting up their noses and not harbor judgments against others but find a way to forgiveness.”

Whether it’s these spiritual practices or simply taking a breath, Hyman and Hall want you to do something to make these holidays have hope and possibility.

“We are still alive, with loss, but we are here and have faith in the future,” Hyman said. “Just when you think it’s over, it ain’t over.” 

New Times Assistant Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at