The Santa Maria Experience

In America, the last weekend of May is about BBQs, family, friends, and most importantly paying respect to the sacrifices made by our armed forces in the name of sweet freedom.  For my own Memorial Day Weekend, I found myself in Santa Maria, California for the 2012 edition of the West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nationals. Now that may be the official name, but to the regulars the shindig is simply known as “Santa Maria”.

I’ve covered this event on Speedhunters a couple times before, but for this year I decided to approach things a little differently.

Instead of just visiting the main event at the Santa Maria Fairgrounds, I decided to head into town a day earlier this year to take in some of the pre-show festivities. As I would find out soon, this turned out to be a wise decision.

After a pleasant drive up California’s scenic Highway 101, I rolled into Santa Maria early on Friday afternoon and headed to the Historic Santa Maria Inn on Broadway. This is the official hotel for the Cruisin’ Nationals and the hub of activity for the weekend. I found that dozens of cars had already gathered in the hotel’s parking lot for a relaxed day of hanging out in the sun.

There was a bit of a breeze blowing off the nearby ocean, but otherwise the weather couldn’t have better. It was picture perfect California weekend.

Besides the main hotel, the parking lots of the surrounding businesses were also packed full of custom cars. The entire city is overrun with cars for the weekend, and the local businesses and law enforcement seem to accept them with open arms. It’s very cool to see.

One of my findings from Friday afternoon was this twin cab VW Transporter slammed to the ground and wearing some old school Hawaiian license plates. VWs aren’t officially included in the Cruisin’ Nationals, but this thing was as tough as it gets.

The streets are filled with cars as well. You can’t go more than a few seconds without looking up and seeing a bitchin’ old car drive by with the sound of a hot V8 or maybe even an inline six breathing through straight pipes.

But that was nothing compared to what happened later in the evening when the Santa Maria Police Department shut down a stretch of Broadway in the middle of town and opened it up to show participants for a night of cruising.

For two solid hours the street was a non-stop procession of custom cars rolling slowly through the evening. Spectators and locals bundled up and lined the streets to soak in the rolling display of machinery.

For me, this informal part of the event was just as fun as the main show itself. As made my way down Broadway I caught this ’64 Impala parked along a side street, Lowrider all the way.

I ended up shooting so much of the cruising that I decided to dedicate a separate post to this, which you can expect soon.

The next morning it was off to the fairgrounds for the “official” Cruisin’ Nationals event. As I’ve come to expect,  this one of the world’s greatest gatherings of both custom cars and the rich culture that comes with them.

I always enjoy checking out the indoor displays at the Cruisin’ Nationals, which are full of of pinstripers, clothing, car parts and all that good stuff.

These artists came all the way from Japan to do their thing in Santa Maria. Each year it seems the international following at these events grows and grows. Japan in particular has a custom culture scene that has exploded in popularity over the last few years.

A new addition for this year was a display of customized vintage style bicycles. The work and creativity put into some of these bikes is downright amazing and in some cases could rival the cars parked outside.

Back outside, a nice example of a ’60 Ford coupe done in mild custom style. Shaved door handles, a trick grille with hideaway headlights and custom paint are the keys here.

Pickup trucks always make a up a significant part of the showing in Santa Maria. The dumped stance doesn’t hurt, but like a lot of the vehicles in the show, it was the paintwork that took center stage.

Just focusing on these different takes on paint and bodywork is enough to keep your eyes occupied at the Cruisin’ Nationals. From show quality designs that cost untolds of amount of money, to homemade jobs – the colors of Santa Maria are rich and diverse.

While the Cruisin’ Nationals are more known for lead sleds, customs, and Lowriders, Hot Rods are not left out on the fun. This ’34 Ford Coupe was representing the Satan’s Angels Car Club out of the SF Bay Area.

Powered by a flathead with Sharp heads and Stromberg 97 carbs, the Coupe did a fine job of representing for the Hot Rod crowd in Santa Maria.

But again, it’s the amazing selection of customs that the show is known for, and this year’s event did not disappoint.

All types of the breed could be seen, including early type cars like this 1950 Oldsmobile Coupe. This is traditional custom style at it’s very best.

Everything on the car is period correct, from the mildly smoothed bodylines to the Caddy hubcaps and wide whitewalls.

On the other hand, you have this Chevy fastback that’s done with more of a 1970s era lowrider vibe sitting on Daytons with low profile tires.

Just another one of those mindblowing paintjobs…

Car club representation is massive in Santa Maria, with different groups assembled across the fairgrounds.

Due to Santa Maria’s convenient location along the California’s Central Coast, the event is able to draw equally from both the SoCal and NorCal scenes, not to mention the Central Valley.

But that doesn’t mean that every car was wearing California plates. Some came from quite far to be part of the Santa Maria action. This stunning ’57 Cadillac for example made the voyage all the way from Austin, Texas.

I’m going to wrap up my first post from Cruisin’ Nationals here, but there’s much more to come from Santa Maria.

I’ll of course have more scenes from within the show itself…

…along with much more from Friday night’s amazing cruising session.

Stay tuned.

-Mike Garrett

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I could stare at the paint on that fast back for days and not get bored.


gorgeous, all of it. too pretty to park!


i just wanna know. what's the thing that differentiates hot rods and customs? 


That last pic is money.


 @yanes33537 Hotrods are for going fast. Customs are for picking up girls.


 @yanes33537 Hotrods are for going fast. Customs are for picking up girls.


Amazing cars and great photos! The rear 3/4 shot of the purple lowered car is just wicked nasty!


Amazing cars and great photos! The rear 3/4 shot of the purple lowered car is just wicked nasty!


straight to the point and helping. thanks! :)


Tail fins on these classic rides are great, love 'em. Amazing photos as always, thansk!


Tail fins on these classic rides are great, love 'em. Amazing photos as always, thanks!


Good coverage.  I would like more specifics on the cars though, is it sectioned, chopped, bagged?


Close.  Customs are for picking up girls, hotrods are for getting rid of them.