Monday, January 16 , 2017, 9:46 pm | Fair 49º


Judy Crowell: Lompoc the Land of Wildflowers and Wild Horses

But there's more to this city and its surroundings, including wine tasting rooms, a vibrant art scene and outdoor adventures

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of Lompoc.]

Lompoc, (pronounced Lom-poke) and named from the Chumash word meaning lagoon, is an easy 50-mile day trip from Santa Barbara. There's not a whole lot going on in the city, but there are a lot of peripheral attractions to enjoy.

The Santa Rita Hills area boasts several wine tasting rooms and more than 20 vineyards, specializing in pinot noirs and chardonnays.

Mission La Purisima Concepion, established in 1787 and after a devastating earthquake was relocated, is the only complete example of a Catholic mission complex in California. Mosey through its 1,000 acres and you’ll find yourself whisked back in time when blacksmithing, weaving, soap making and sheep tending were a way of life. Say “baaa” to the friendly sheep and smile at the adorable piglets, close enough to touch.

Fast forward to the present-day space age at Vandenberg Air Force Base, one of the nation’s most important military and space installations. Established in 1958, it was the first missile base of the U.S. Air Force until 1986 when the Challenger disaster at Cape Canaveral terminated this West Coast shuttle program — a devastating blow to the city of Lompoc. Occasional launches and tours are still available. Call 805.606.3595 for tour information.

Known as the flower seed capital of the world, Lompoc is surrounded by fields of flowers from May through August, with early June the height of bloom. Marigolds, sweet peas and larkspurs are just a few of the varieties grown by commercial growers. Mother Nature puts on her own display in early spring, with purple lupines and poppies dotting the rolling hills and beautiful wilderness trails outside the city.

Also known for its art, visitors are surprised while strolling through the city to encounter more than 40 exterior murals, many depicting the area’s heritage and history. Stop in at Sissy’s Uptown Cafe, at the start of Art Alley at I Street and Ocean Avenue, for some lentil soup and French dip.

About 15 minutes out of town is the nonprofit Return to Freedom. Home to the American Wild Horse Sanctuary, it provides a safe haven for more than 200 wild horses rescued from abuse, neglect or the slaughter house. It's unique in that it focuses on rescuing natural herd groups instead of individual horses, relocating and re-releasing them on 300 acres of wilderness. Visits to this “place where wild horses still run free” must be made in advance at 805.737.9246.

For the ultimate in thrills and chills, you can try skydiving with Skydive Santa Barbara. From 18,000 feet, it offers the highest tandem jump in the world — not to mention breathtaking ocean views.

But for my kind of feet-planted-firmly-on-terra-firma ocean views, you can’t beat a visit to Jalama Beach Park, a gorgeous 25-minute drive from Lompoc. Heck, it’s worth the drive just for one of the Jalama Beach Store & Grill hamburgers. They're mouthwatering — just don’t expect any service in this beachside dive. The beach is windy and scenic and pristine. The surrounding RV park, not so.

There's a lot to do in a day trip, I agree. So if you decide to stay longer or want to spend an extra day on the links at La Purisima Golf Course, considered one of the finest designed courses in America, I suggest O’Cairns Inn & Suites right in the heart of Lompoc, or one of many places in Solvang, just a half-hour to the east. (More on the charm of Solvang in a later column.)

For now, all you need is a full tank of gas, a car that hugs the curves and hills, and a sense of adventure. Lompoc and its surroundings are well worth a look-see.

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and part-time Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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