By Greg Aragon
Lompoc is yet another hidden gem off California’s Central Coast. As I found out recently, the town is full of delightful discovery.
My getaway to the Lompoc began when a friend and I drove from Los Angeles, along the beautiful Santa Barbara coast to Highway 1. Then it was through lush, rolling hills speckled with cows, horses and llamas. After a few miles we took Exit 132 toward Lompoc and discovered a charming city, bubbling with a burgeoning wine industry, an eclectic art scene, gourmet restaurants, a horse haven, and a fascinating history.
In town, we checked into a clean and comfortable suite at the Holiday Inn Express that came with a king bed, mini-fridge, microwave, large flat screen TV, an office area and free hi-speed Internet. Besides a great, centralized location, the hotel boasts a heated pool, business center, a fitness room and a tasty, complimentary hot buffet breakfast each morning.
With home base set, we headed to the “Wine Ghetto” to find out more about one of Lompoc’s newest attraction – fine wines! This industrial area of town features a collection 20 or so tasting rooms offering wines from the nearby Sta. Rita Hills region. For people in the know, the “Ghetto” has become a Mecca for world-class, artisan wine production.
Thanks to a rare east-west hill orientation and calcium-rich soil composition, Lompoc is a perfect place to produce wine and is in fact, currently making some of California’s best Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other cool climate wines. At the “Ghetto” we discovered La Montagne Winery (www.lamontagnewinery.com), met owner Kimberly Smith, and sampled some of her award-winning Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Tempranillo.
The next day, we strolled through Old Town Lompoc with a local artist/guide to examine the city’s renown murals. Painted on nearly 40 structures across town, the Murals of Lompoc tell a story of Lompoc’s heritage, flower industry, historic sites, ethnic diversity, scenic beauty and more.
One of the biggest and most interesting of the paintings is “Diatomaceous Mining,” located on the old Chamber of Commerce building. This giant abstract mural depicts the city’s rich history of mining the white powdery substance called diatomaceous earth, which is used for everything from filtration purposes to mild abrasives found in toothpastes and cat litter.
Another cool mural is “The Boatmen,” painted by artist John Pugh. This colorful piece looks 3D, as it shows a WWII battleship with a Native American boat cutting through its hull. The latter work of art is painted on the wall of Sissy’s Uptown Cafe (www.sissysuptowncafe.com), where we enjoyed a memorable bowl of clam chowder, a roast beef sandwich and a slice of homemade coconut cream pie.
We concluded our getaway to the Lompoc area with a visit to Return to Freedom Horse Sanctuary (www.returntofreedom.org). If you love horses then this place is a must for here one can learn about the history and challenges facing wild horses in America and get up-close to some of the most unique and beautiful horses around.
Return to Freedom is dedicated to “preserving the freedom, diversity, and habitat of America’s wild horses through sanctuary, education, and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world.” The ranch provides a safe haven to nearly 400 wild horses including 29 burros. The animals were rescued by the sanctuary from government round-ups and potential slaughter.
Located on 1,500 acres just off of California’s Central Coast, the horse haven is led by founder and president Neda DeMayo, and it provides an environment for the animals to maintain natural behaviors and social structures. During my visit DeMayo introduced me to a herd of Choctaw horses, whose roots trace back to the days of Hernando DeSoto in the 1500s and to the Choctaw Nation Native American tribe of the deep south and Mississippi.
Other fascinating herds at the ranch include the Wilbur Cruce Spanish Colonial Mission Horses, which arrived in America from Spain in the late 1600s; and the Sulphur Springs Herd, which have distinctive dorsal and leg striping, and resemble horses painted on cave walls dating back to 26,000 B.C.E.
For more information on visiting Lompoc, visit: www.explorelompoc.com