So you’ve never been to Lompoc? Neither had I until this past spring — and I’ve lived in California for 30 years — and in LA for 20 of them! If you’re looking for winding back roads hemmed in by neon-green hillsides flecked with wildflowers, cows and weathered barns; miles of rainbow-colored fields of commercial flowers; drop-dead-gorgeous beaches set in secret coves backed by neon-green hills of wildflowers; historic lighthouses overlooking crashing waves; a wild horse sanctuary with Robert Redford on its board; an artisan craft wine trail located in an industrial park; several farm-to-table and sea-to-table restaurants that serve awesomely creative fare, and a colorfully downtown that’s literally paved with murals done by local artists, you’re home. Here are 7 reasons to visit this artsy town surrounded by flower fields, and located about 90 minutes north of LA. www.explorelompoc.com
Starting in May and lasting through August, you’ll see spectacular patches of blooms when the region’s commercial flower fields erupt in a riot of color. Known as the flower seed capital of the world, Lompoc’s vast fields of larkspur, stock, delphinium, bells of Ireland, sweet pea, sunflowers, bachelor’s buttons, marigolds, Queen Anne’s lace and alyssum carpet the slopes, providing about 40 percent of the country’s cut flower crop. Even some of the veggies grown here (lettuce, celery, beans, artichokes, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and wine grapes) contribute to the show by putting out pretty buds and blossoms. The town of Lompoc celebrates the annual eruption with a hometown Flower Festival the last week in June complete with a flower parade, flower queen and her court, food and craft booths, carnival, live entertainment, and much more. The year’s 64th annual festival will be held Saturday, June 27 at Ryan Park. For more info and a touring map of the flower fields, visit www.Lompocvalleyfestivals.com/flower-festival.html.
All that fresh produce grown in the fields of Lompoc makes its way to the town’s quaint farm-to-table restaurants. One of the best is Scratch Kitchen, a Ma-and Pa eatery and Lompoc’s newest restaurant featuring farm-to-table meals from scratch, highlighting the best culinary elements of the Lompoc and Santa Ynez Valleys. Don’t miss the goat cheese mashed potatoes, sautéed asparagus, green beans with sweet pepper gremolata and the pan seared herbed ahi tuna. And check out the wine bar for the best local wine to enjoy with your meal. You’ll also want to try Nikka Fish Enterprises for the best fresh fish in town — caught just a few miles away. Don’t miss the (local) halibut tacos and check out one of the craft beers made locally. There’s also a fish market inside the restaurant where you can purchase anything from salmon to mahi-mahi. www.scratchkitchen.com, www.nikkafish.com
Lompoc’s Dare 2 Dream Farms hosts a variety of events throughout the year including farm-to-table events, farm tours, educational workshops, and work-exchange days where you can “learn by doing” in exchange for a farm-to-table meal. Learn how to organic garden, raise chickens, can veggies and more. www.dare2dreamfarms.com
Jalama Beach County Park is accessed via a wildly beautiful winding back road that looks like its on loan from Big Sur. The barely two-laner threads between rolling green hillsides flecked with wildflowers, cows and horses, passes by beautiful weathered barns, and leaves the best for the end: a gorgeous county beach tucked in a beautiful cove where you can park your RV, pitch a tent or rent a cottage and enjoy beach-combing, swimming or fishing the surf or rock outcroppings for perch, bass and halibut. As long as you’re here, don’t miss the Jalama Beach Store and Grill. Hunker down for one of their world-famous jalama burgers, a bowl of their homemade clam chowder or a sizzling plate of their homemade chile verde, and save room for Aunt Ruth’s Raw Apple Cake for dessert. For more info, visit www.countyofsb.org/parks/parks06.aspx?id=9186.
At Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary, a 300-acre sanctuary for about 400 wild horses and burros, you can journey into the world of wild horses and experience total immersion in the herds of wild horses and burros. Learn how you can adopt a horse or burro and personally help protect one of these beautiful creatures from the systematic capture and slaughter that is ongoing in the American West because of pressure from ranching, hunting, mining and other special interest groups. Or bond with a horse and get insights into yourself by attending one of the sanctuary’s special programs. Visit www.returntofreedom.org for more info.
One of the coolest things about downtown Lompoc is its massive, eye-popping wall murals. They practically turn the walls of several downtown buildings into an art museum! Each of the 30 murals was drawn by a local artist to represent something about Lompoc’s history and culture, and a new one is commissioned every year. For more info and a tour map of the murals, visit www.lompocmurals.com.
The Lompoc Wine Ghetto!
Forget about grand estates, sweeping vineyard vistas and vine-themed boutiques. The Lompoc Wine Ghettos features substance over style, but a peek inside its metal roll-up doors and concrete architecture in Lompoc’s Sobhani Business Park reveals an unexpected treasure: Some of Santa Barbara County’s most talented winemakers are crafting wines in this raw industrial space with 19 tasting rooms. Check out award-winning pinot noirs, Bordeaux and more and don’t be surprised if the person pouring the wine also created it. The ghetto has become a mecca for world-class artisan wine production. For more info, visit www.lompocwine.net.