Exploring Lompoc, CA
When I recently attended Wine & Fire it was my first visit to Lompoc. Long familiar with the Santa Ynez Valley I somehow had never wandered west to explorer the historic town just over the Santa Rita Hills. I aimed immediately to remedy that and any moment I had free from the festival I used to explore the area. What I found was a delightful town filled with history and a true devotion to the land.
Because I was covering the wine event I received complimentary lodging at Holiday Inn Express Lompoc. I must admit when I was first informed of where I would be staying I was a little concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve stayed in several Holiday Inn Express locations throughout my travels but, as with all chains, they can be hit or miss. Luckily, the Lompoc location is a definite hit.
Located conveniently on H Street in the center of town it’s a modern facility with every latest amenity. Upon my arrival I found my room to be well appointed and spotlessly clean and never wanted for anything during my stay. The staff was friendly, the bed was comfy and the continental breakfast was plentiful; what more could I need?
As it was, I was rarely in the room because there was so much to do. After attending Wine & Fire Friday evening I returned to town to find the Summertime Old Town Market underway. Held Friday evenings in the summer months it brings vendors, dining and entertainment to the old town area. The town was abuzz and I used the time to stroll around and check it out.
I love this beautiful building in the heart of town. Initially built in 1894 with a Deco era remodel it’s been home to several stores throughout it’s long history. It’s but one of several historic buildings and I’m happy it still remains to this day.
As I wandered downtown in the chilly evening I came upon several of the town’s famed murals.
Lompoc is a town filled with murals. In 1988, the downtown area was, sadly, in a state of decline. Inspired by a community in British Columbia that had used art to revive their dying town a group of residents formed the Lompoc Mural Society. Today there are 35 murals scattered around the area covering various themes from history to culture to fantasy. Searching for the murals is a fun treasure hunt and I enjoyed coming across them during my explorations. My favorites were the hilarious Temperance (about the destruction of a local saloon by an early temperance group) and the beautiful Flowers of the Valley.
Long before the murals Lompoc was known for its flower fields. Located in a valley just a few miles east of the Pacific Ocean the area is ideal for agriculture. At the turn of the 20th century it was also found to be ideal for growing flowers and a seed industry soon flourished. The area became known as the Flower Seed Capital of the World and visitors would come from all over to view the fields in bloom. As what happens in most industries times changed and eventually the area stopped producing flower seeds. There are a few fields left growing flowers for cutting and I made sure to seek them out.
Though it was late in the season, I headed west early one morning and came across a couple of fields still in bloom. It was an incredibly beautiful sight and I can only imagine how it must have been at the height of the industry.
Lompoc has an interesting history that is thankfully chronicled at the Lompoc Museum. I made my way there one afternoon to look around.
Housed in a former Carnegie Library it’s an old fashioned museum housing a treasure trove of objects. The top floor is devoted to Chumash Indians and houses an extensive collection of artifacts. Downstairs are exhibits related to area history and here I made a fascinating discovery.
Nestled among historic artifacts was a small iPad. Curious about this piece of modern technology surrounded by decades old pieces I took a look. It turns out that in the 1970’s the historical society embarked on an oral history project. Deciding that the aging members of the population would have a wealth of information to impart they began to record interviews with them (just like my beloved StoryCorps). These interviews were transferred to digital files and are now housed on the iPod just waiting to be listened to. I ended up spending a long time down there in the basement listening to history unfold through the stories of folks long departed. I learned all about the Honda Point Disaster of 1923 (the largest peacetime naval shipwreck that happened just outside of town) and the 1927 Lompoc earthquake. I learned how the town coped with World War 1, the Depression and World II and I learned about the everyday lives of its past citizens. One of my favorites was Annie Scolari Calvert who, with her husband founded, the Lompoc Theatre and the Valley Drive-in.
Both remain standing today although neither are in use. I did hear there is an effort to restore and reopen the Lompoc Theatre and I certainly hope they succeed. I walked around the building and it’s a beautiful piece of history that is well worth saving.
As Lompoc is a town rich in history it’s only natural that it’s home to some long time restaurants and I made sure to stop by a couple. One evening I had dinner at Alfie’s Fish and Chips, serving the community since 1969.
Originally a franchise location of a much larger chain it’s outlasted its parent company. Locally owned and operated since 1972 it’s an old fashioned homage to swingin’ London. Always ready for a batch of fish and chips I wasn’t disappointed with the generous portions.
Sometimes you just need a bit of fried goodness. Speaking of fried…the next morning I decided to indulge in some fried rice at the Rice Bowl.
The Rice Bowl is one of the most fantastic restaurants I’ve ever been in. Serving Lompoc since 1946 the interior remains much as it was the day it opened. Meticulously clean and in amazing condition it’s an honest to goodness time machine.
Sadly, on my visit I was the only customer. I was a bit nervous about the food due to the lack of business but I needn’t have been. Ordering the lunch special Almond Chicken and Fried Rice I was served a gigantic portion of some truly tasty Chinese food.
The Rice Bowl is a true treasure and I wish it had more business. I fear what the future may bring but I’m happy I had a chance to eat at this wonderful spot.
Another wonderful spot lies just outside of town, La Purisima Mission State Park.
I’ve been to many missions over the years and La Purisima is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever visited. It’s also one of the largest encompassing almost 2,000 acres.
It’s a California State Historic Park and has several hiking trails including the Vista Del La Cruz Trail that extends 1/4 mile uphill to a cross overlooking the mission. I decided I had to complete it and on my last day in town I headed out bright and early to conquer it. What I didn’t know was that it’s 1/4 mile of loose sand. It was quite a challenge and I took many breaks but I made it to the top.
From there I was treated to the most beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding hills and valley.
It was a moment of pure bliss.
I soon headed back to the mission to explorer its many buildings.
Beautifully restored it was a wonder to explore and made a fitting end to my visit to Lompoc. Over the weekend I fell in love with the area. With its natural beauty and fascinating history it’s a truly special corner of California. I can’t wait to return.