Santa Maria was discovered at the same time as São Miguel, around 1427, and was also one of the first islands to be settled, especially by colonists from the Alentejo and Algarve regions in the south of Portugal. Even today, the typical Alentejo chimneys atop traditional houses are a testament to this fact.
The current population stands at 5587 inhabitants (2001 census). The economy of Santa Maria is largely based on the same sectors as the rest of the archipelago. Wine-growing on terraced hillsides is particularly important in many areas, including the beautiful bay of São Lourenço. In the past few decades, tourism has grown considerably and it is now possible to find persons from many different places in this the easternmost island of the Azores.