Lots to Love in Lompoc

Fine wines and food, beautiful murals, an historic mission like no other, excellent birding – and aerospace. The town of Lompoc, a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles in the Santa Barbara wine country, is a weekend vacation waiting to happen. --Story & photos by Barbara Beckley

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For wine-lovers like me, Lompoc’s stellar location – at the base of the award-winning Santa Rita Hills wine region – makes it a perfect base of operations for wine tasting.

I arrived on a recent weekend, checked into the year-old Hilton Garden Inn Lompoc – a wine-country chic new-build and home to one of the area’s newest farm-to-table gourmet restaurants – and got right to work.

Award-Winning Wines

The nearby Pali Wine Co. tasting room was first on my tasting schedule. “The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is known for pinot noir and chardonnay,” Aaron Walker, head winemaker at the Pali Wine Co., explained, as I sipped the delicious five-pour tasting flight of both, amid the room’s hundreds of wine barrels.  Next, I took a short drive into the Santa Rita Hills to the legendary Sanford Winery & Vineyards. The picturesque winery is a must-visit. First, because it boasts Santa Barbara County’s oldest pinot noir vines – at 40 years – which result in amazingly delicious wines. And second, because it was featured in the 2004 California wine movie Sideways!

Lastly, I hit the “Lompoc Wine Ghetto,” a clutch of some 20 artisanal wine facilities and tasting rooms housed in former warehouses. Flying Goat Cellars’ adorable label (a goat of course) caught my eye first. Good thing, because its pinot noir, pinot gris and “Goat Bubbles” sparkling wine, made in the traditional methode champenoise, were excellent. Palmina, Zotovich Vineyards Tasting Room and Stolpman Vineyards Tasting room were also five-star in my opinion.

Sensational Cuisine

Foodies will also find much to love. The Valle Eatery + Bar at the Hilton Garden Innis helmed by local celebrity chef Conrad Gonzales. His “big city flavors and seasonal, local produce” are cutting edge. The Scratch Kitchen is another Lompoc standout. Chef-owner Augusto Caudillo packs the restaurant with his everything-made-from-scratch rustic interpretation of modern American cuisine.

Eye-Catching Attractions

Lompoc also offers plenty of interesting attractions. Outdoor murals are the eye catchers in Old Town Lompoc. They’re not just wall paintings. These are gigantic works of art, with beautifully detailed scenes, that reflect Lompoc’s history, lore and simply fun subjects. More than 36 decorate prominent buildings, alleyways, street corners and even the crosswalks. Guided tours can be arranged through the Lompoc Mural Society. Self-guided maps are available at the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center.

I paired mural viewing with shopping at Lompoc’s intriguing boutiques. At A Little Something Special and More, I fell in love with the beautiful hand-painted “gourd art” by local artist Thea DiNuzzo. She turns gourds of all shapes and sizes into whimsical creatures from penguins to Day of the Dead skulls.

Living History

A few minutes outside of town, time seemed to stand still at the La Purisima Mission – the 11th of the California missions founded in 1787. Unlike most of the missions, La Purisima retains its 18th century setting — surrounded by hills and open fields. It’s one of the few places where you can stand on the original El Camino Real road, a simple dirt path paralleling the mission’s front buildings.

“We’re literally stepping back in time,” Parker Grand, my 19-year-old mission guide, explained as we walked across 18th century floor tiles. Turns out, we also were following in the footsteps of Parker’s great, great, great, great grandfather, who was a Spaniard and designed and oversaw the construction of the original mission! Parker’s passion for his ancestor’s work made the edifice come to life as he led me through the furnished rooms and vaulted chapel, which look as they did in 1820, even though the mission was extensively restored in the 1930s. Sheep shearing, hide and tallow making, steer roping and other “living history” activities add to the interest. Guided and self-guided tours are offered daily.

Natural Beauty

Natural attractions are also abundant. As a birding enthusiast, I drove to Lompoc’s Ocean Beach Park & Estuary, where the Santa Ynez River meets the Pacific Ocean. These sprawling wetlands are one of California’s largest coastal estuaries. Willow flycatchers, the California Least Turn and, in the summer, golden eagles, are among the hundreds of species to be seen.

Aerospace Adventures

Flying objects of a different kind are also abundant. Vandenberg Air Force Base is adjacent to Lompoc. So if you come for an air show or lift-off, be sure to stay for the fun in Lompoc.

For more, visit www.explorelompoc.com.
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