Living La Vida Lompoc
Photos/Words by Nicole Leonetti
I have been lucky enough to visit Lompoc a number of times in my never-ending search for wonderful wines. Recently, however, I was eager to take a deep dive into all things Lompoc, and am excited to report that, while the wine is indeed phenomenal, there is much more to Lompoc!
This Santa Barbara County community has a deep and fascinating history. It gets its name — meaning lakes or lagoons — from the native Chumash people, who have inhabited the region for thousands of years. In 1787, the La Purísima Mission was established, radically changing the area forever. More change came in the 1940s, when a U.S. Air Force Base opened in Lompoc (later named Vandenberg Air Force Base). At that time, the city began to grow rapidly to provide housing for thousands of civilians and contractors employed at the base. Lompoc is now a thriving community where you can watch a rocket launch, go to the beach, sky dive, and drink iconic wine all in the same day! You can go for a day trip, but I much prefer a full weekend to explore the heart of Lompoc. By the way, did I mention Lompoc’s near perfect Mediterranean climate?
Starting out a day in Lompoc, I highly recommend breakfast at American Host Restaurant, where you can enjoy their delicious waffles and omelets in a sit-down setting. If you would rather start your day on the go, then choose Coastal Grindz Café, a cozy, tropical-themed café, where you can grab an assortment of beverages, breakfast sandwiches, and treats. They have a great English muffin sausage sandwich, and also offer a variety of rotating specials.
You may want to pick up some rations to take with you on your adventures. You can visit Capulín Eats & Provisions, located in the Santa Rita Hills Wine Center, for an assortment of breakfast favorites such as the El Barrio Burrito (eggs, cheddar, potatoes, black beans, and salsa verde cream cheese). You can also snag a few sandwiches for lunch, such as the Short Rib Barbacoa Sandwich with slow cooked, juicy barbacoa, provolone, arugula, and roasted garlic aioli on toasted ciabatta. Alternatively, Bread Board Deli is perfect to create your own picnic with sandwiches to take with you to the beach or a winery. Their Chicken Tinga Sandwich is a favorite!
For those of you with a bigger appetite for food (and adventure), find your way to the Lompoc Taco Trail! I love sampling tacos at popular taco spots such at The Birria Boyz, Taqueria Don Tacho, El Toro Bronco, and Taqueria La Mision.
If you are lucky enough to be in Lompoc on a Friday night, check out Food Truck Fridays located on South I Street from 5 to 8 pm. On a recent visit, I enjoyed incredible Filipino faire from SaRRRap, delicious pizza from LouBirds, and cheesy birria tacos from AR Catering. Right next door you can grab a beer or two at COLD Coast Brewing Company, where you can bring your food truck grub and wash it down with their Hang 11 – Tropical IPA.
A few more options include Old Town Kitchen & Bar, open for both lunch and dinner, it is a family-owned restaurant beloved by locals. They have a BBQ smoked tri-tip burger that’s to die for. I did not expect to find authentic British fish & chips in Lompoc, but over at Alfie’s Fish & Chips, they have been frying up this specialty since 1969! Finally, Valle Eatery + Bar, located at the Hilton Garden Inn, is open for lunch and dinner and has hearty favorites such as the Valle Pork Belly Sandwich and a bone-in ribeye.
Now for the fun of Lompoc! I suggest starting the day at La Purísima Mission. The mission is part of the larger La Purísima Mission State Historic Park, and is an opportunity to step back in time to the 1800s. You can learn about the history of California’s 11th mission while also taking in the wildlife, plant life, and hiking trails along the way. Make sure to visit the state-of-the-art visitor center, which features displays and artifacts from the early days of the mission. There are guided tours (check with the visitor center for times), or you can take a self-directed tour to explore the 10 original mission buildings, now fully restored. La Purísima is the only California mission with hiking trails — 25 miles of them!
Speaking of hiking, Lompoc boasts an array of hiking trails such as Bodger Trail (also known as Lookout Point) which is only a five-mile drive from downtown Lompoc and offers sweeping views of the city. Bodger Trail is a favorite among locals for those views, as well as the abundance of seasonal wildflowers that you may see along the trail. Just make sure to stretch first since it is a bit steep, yet worth the 1.5-mile round trip trek.
For more mellow sight-seeing, one of my favorite activities in Lompoc is exploring the Murals of Lompoc. The Lompoc Mural Project started in the late 1980s, and as a result, you can find beautiful murals scattered around downtown that depict scenes of Lompoc’s heritage, flower industry, historic sights, ethnic diversity, scenic beauty and more. The Lompoc Mural Society focuses on restoring older murals while commissioning new ones. Once you know about the murals of Lompoc, you will keep seeing more popping up throughout your visit.
Another thing to keep an eye out for: rocket launches! You may want to plan your trip to Lompoc to coincide with one of the SpaceX rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. You can look up the rocket launch schedule online and plan accordingly to find a good viewing location prior to a launch window.
If you or your travel companions are golfers then check out La Purisima Golf Course, which boasts breathtaking views that golfers of all skill levels will enjoy. The course is open to members and non-members alike and offers a driving range and the Grille Restaurant.
If relaxation is more your speed, make the trek out to Jalama Beach, a state beach located off Highway 1 popular with campers, hikers, and surfers alike. The scenic drive to reach it is part of the adventure. You can hang out for a few hours or spend the night with one of their great camping and cabin options. However, the main reason you will find me at Jalama Beach is the famous Jalama Burger. At the Jalama Beach Store, you can find an assortment of supplies you might need as a beach-goer, along with one of the most delicious burgers I have had in my life. It comes on a sesame bun with Jalama Secret Sauce, shredded lettuce, sliced red onion, tomato, and pickle chips. Simply perfection! Now, if you are seeking thrills instead of relaxation then look no further than Skydive Santa Barbara. I must admit that I have not been brave enough to skydive on my visits to Lompoc, but I chatted with Skydive Santa Barbara owner David Hughes to get some insight into the world of skydiving. David shared that what makes their jumps unique is that they have ocean views on both sides. When I asked David what made skydiving so special, he said it is “all about the challenge.”
Skydive SB supplies everything you need: the suit, training, and even oxygen. They offer an economy jump that is 8,000 feet, as well as the standard jump of 13,000 feet. However, what the adrenaline junkies crave is the “Ultimate Experience,” which is an 18,000 feet jump that includes 90 seconds of freefall! Skydive SB recommends booking your jump at least a week in advance and plan to spend a half day on the experience. You can even time your jump with one of the rocket launches in Lompoc.
I, however, will keep my feet firmly on the ground — likely at a winery or tasting room. Lompoc has a great mix of small boutique wineries and large estate vineyards. You may have heard of the Wine Ghetto of Lompoc where you will find, tucked inside an industrial park, some of the greatest wines around. Wineries such as Flying Goat Cellars, Fiddlehead Cellars, Ampelos Cellars, Chanin Wine, and Sweetzer Cellars have tasting rooms in the Ghetto. Also at the Wine Ghetto is Camins 2 Dreams, a boutique winery where Tara Gomez and Mireia Taribó are making hand-crafted, terroir-driven wines made from grapes sourced exclusively from Sta. Rita Hills vineyards. They offer lovely Albariño and Grüner Veltliner — not to mention some of the finest Syrah you can find. When asked what makes Lompoc so special, Camins 2 Dreams Tasting Room Associate, Pauline Fetters, shares, “The sense of community in Lompoc is something I have never experienced anywhere else.”
Near the Wine Ghetto, you will find Sandhi Wines, a small winery led by winemaker Sashi Moorman in partnership with Rajat Parr — two legends in the wine world. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time for their Private Wine Cellar Experience. They will greet you with sparkling wine, lead you through the winery to see the journey of their wine from the grape’s arrival all the way to the bottle, and explain how everything along the way translates to what you ultimately taste. Sandhi’s vineyards are nearby, and they are looking forward to offering vineyard experiences in 2024. They are also planning to open a wine bar in Lompoc in the next few months. Longtime sommelier and director of hospitality, Adam Etchegoyen said they wanted to be close to where the fruit is grown, and that the area is a terrific location for their Burgundy-style wines. Known for low-intervention wines, they very much believe that less is more when it comes to winemaking.
You must also visit the Lompoc Wine Factory, which is a co-op style wine facility that offers individual winemaking, production, and custom crush services. I recommend a tasting at Civilization Wine Company during your visit where owner-winemaker Kris Beverly is pouring his heart and soul into the wines. “I chose to produce Civilization Wines in Lompoc due to its history of making world-class wines in a community that still has a classic, collaborative environment,” Kris shared. “Producers here tend to help each other succeed, rather than seeing each other as competition.” While he has an array of wines to choose from, I am especially partial to the Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.
A few miles away from the downtown area, you’ll fine several acclaimed estate wineries. LaBarge Winery offers exclusive wine tasting experiences where you can bask in the glory that is the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. They specialize in Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Albariño, and Viognier. Also within a 10-minute drive from downtown Lompoc is The Hilt Estate, which is comprised of three estate vineyards just miles from the Pacific Ocean. Make sure to book well in advance for their seated tasting or library tasting options. At The Hilt, winemaker Matt Dees is passionate about making wine in what he considers to be one of the most exciting wine regions in the country.
Just a little further out you will find Cebada Wine and Forbidden Fruit Orchards, where you can taste their delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and also pick up some of their homegrown blueberry jam. Owner and winemaker, Sandra Newman, creates 100 percent of her wine from estate-grown grapes, and specializes in sparkling wines made in the Champagne method.
Don’t forget to make a little time for some shopping. You will find an eclectic variety of shops in Lompoc, such as the Lompoc Antique Mall, The Garden Shoppe, Flower Valley Country Store, and Surf Connection, just to name a few. For a totally different experience, check out Certain Sparks Music. Certain Sparks (which, by the way, is in close proximity to some of my favorite murals) is a music shop that has a recording studio, music lessons, and retail space. Here you can find everything from $5 vinyl albums to vintage instruments. Owner Randall Sena, a Lompoc native, is a self-taught musician. Certain Sparks offers both child and adult lessons in guitar, bass, drums, ukeleles, piano, and violin. When asked why he originally wanted to start his business in Lompoc, Randall said it was important to him to “Grow where you come from … it’s just a charming community.” Certain Sparks has employees who have grown with the store; one manager started music classes there when she was in 6th grade! Randall credits the staying power of music to the store’s success. “You cannot have a thriving city without a music scene — music has the opportunity to bring people together.” Certain Sparks is located in the Rudolph Building, which is a historic building in Lompoc originally built in 1894. It is also next to the South Side Coffee Co, which is a perfect spot for a mid-day caffeine break.
There are plenty of hotel options in Lompoc; there are 11 hotels here, ranging from economy to higher-end options. Lompoc is all about great location and value. You can get incredible bangs for your buck staying in Lompoc!
For hotels, you will find a comfortable Embassy Suites where you can relax by the pool and enjoy their pet friendly rooms. There is also a Hilton Garden Inn which houses the aforementioned Valle Eatery + Bar. At O’Cairns Inn & Suites, you can enjoy a cooked-to-order breakfast at their charming, family friendly hotel.
For a bit of an adventure, you can book a farm stay at Dare 2 Dream Farms. There you can stay in a farmhouse, an Airstream, or try your hand at glamping in their camper. You can also see their farmers in action, meet their free-range animals, and enjoy the fresh air of farm living.
No matter where you go in Lompoc, it’s sure to surprise and delight you. Recognizing this, a group of locals formed the group Explore Lompoc nine years ago to help promote this well-kept secret of the Central Coast. Board member (and one of the group’s founders) Paul Patek summed it up with his favorite aspects of the community: “I just love the area … rolling hills, beautiful hikes, bike trails. It is a well-rounded experience with something for everyone!”