Lompoc may be the least touristy of the towns in the Santa Ynez Valley Area.Â From highway 101, the well-known tourist destination of Solvang (“Danish Capital of America”) is in one direction and Lompoc in the other so I don’t think I had previously been to Lompoc before my recent trip. But I found Lompoc to be a place worth a visit for its beaches, one of the most interesting of the California Missions, flower fields and more.
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While you may be in the area for an aebleskiver in Solvang, pea soup in Buellton, a wine tasting experience in Los Olivos, or a rodeo in Santa Ynez, don’t discount getting over to Lompoc if you want to see fields of flowers, beautiful wind-swept beaches, or one of my new favorite state parks.
The Santa Ynez Valley is not known as a beach destination but there are two interesting beaches that can be accessed from Lompoc. There are two beaches north of Point Conception, where the coast of California takes an abrupt turn to the north. These are not swimming beaches because the waters near Point Conception are where the cold currents coming down California meet up with the warmer currents heading north from Mexico. The riptides in the area are best avoided.
Jalama Beach County Park
The southernmost of the two beaches is Jalama Beach County Park which has a popular campground. This is a wind-swept remote beach at the end of a winding road 20 miles and 33 minutes from Lompoc. We have previously mentioned camping at Jalama in Your Guide to Beach Camping in Southern California. The campground includes the popular Jalama Beach Store and Grill which I am told cooks a mean hamburger but I did not try it on my visit.
Get your directions on your phone before you leave town as there is not a great cell phone signal on the way out to the beach after you get on highway 1. This is a beach for getting out of town. There is a day-use fee for the beach or you can camp in one of the 117 campsites or one of the 7 cabins. Most of the campsites need to be reserved ahead of time but there are 16 sites reserved for walk-ins.
The beach is dog friendly and even has a free-of-charge beach wheelchair if you need some help getting grandma out to the beach. There are lifeguards in the summer.
The beach continues for miles in either direction from Jalama, but this is the only access because elsewhere there are steep crumbling clifts behind the beach.
The road to the beach is an adventure in itself if you like winding roads and open spaces. You take highway 1 from town and turn right on Jalama Rd.
Surf Beach is easier to reach as it is just 10 or so minutes west of town. This sometimes fog-shrouded beach has a small parking lot and no entrance fee. Dogs are not allowed on this beach. This is a great beach for walking, sitting, building sandcastles, or watching rockets launch (more on that later). This is a beautiful beach and my favorite of the two.
When I was there on a weekday in September I found myself on a long beach with maybe 6 other people. When we returned on the weekend the small parking lot was more full but there was still plenty of space for everyone. You hike a short ways from the parking lot across a set of railroad tracks down through the dunes to reach the beach.
The sign with “cool facts about Great White Sharks” isn’t there for no reason. You are highly discouraged from swimming or surfing at this beach because there have been two fatal shark attacks in recent years. I found myself appropriately discouraged, but in an educational fashion.
The northern end of the beach is closed from March through September as it is a nesting site for the endangered Snowy Plover.
Oddly enough, the parking lot is also the Lompoc-Surf, CA Amtrak station. If you are taking a train up arrange for a ride ahead of time as we found no cell service at the beach.
Lompoc calls itself the “Valley of Arts and Flowers” with fields of flowers grown from April through September. The area grows Sweet Pea,Â Stock, Larkspur, Delphinium, and Bells of Ireland. These are all grown on private land and the locations change from year to year, but I saw these fields west of town on the road to Surf Beach. The best time to see the flowers would be in springtime when the wildflowers like California Poppies would also cover the local hillsides here and in much of the California coast.
If you want fresh-cut flowers, check out the Farmers Market on Fridays from 2 pm- 5 pm at the corner of Ocean Ave & I Street in Old Town Lompoc.
Downtown Lompoc Murals
Downtown Lompoc has seen better days. A number of the storefronts are empty, but I am going to recommend a visit because of the wonderful collection of murals that grace the area. At least 40 murals cover the walls of the buildings between Ocean Ave and Cyprus Ave, between South D Street and South I street. Many of the murals depict local history or heritage. It was on one of these murals that I learned that Lompoc was founded in 1874 as a temperance colony (no alcohol). This is particularly ironic these days as you pass field after field of wine grapes to get to town. See the Lompoc Tourism site for a map of the murals.
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Lompoc’s nearest and noisiest neighbor is Vandenberg Air Force Base which is one of a small number of places in the United States where rockets are launched. About once a month you can get a chance to watch a rocket launch from the base. Check out the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch schedule to see when.
COVID-19: There used to be public tours of the base available monthly with advanced reservations but none are available as of this writing.
La Purisima MissionÂ State Historic Park
The Spanish built 21 different missions in what is now the state of California as part of their effort to colonize the area and convert the native peoples to Christianity. Some of these missions like the nearby missions in Solvang and Santa Barbara became a center for a town or city and are still active Catholic parishes, but the La Purisima Mission near Lompoc did not become the center for town construction.
La Purisima was founded in 1787 but the mission moved to the current site in 1813 after a large earthquake in 1812 destroyed much of the original mission 4 miles to the southwest.Â The current mission was built with walls more than 4 feet thick to survive subsequent earthquakes.
Like the other California missions, it was built to be self-supporting with hundreds of acres of farmland, shops, living quarters, and a blacksmith shop. La Purisima was home to more than 1,500 Chumash who were the native people in the area. Their participation in the life of the mission, it should be said, was often not voluntary. The mission produced goods for trade like soap, candles, and leather. Hundreds of the Chumash died in the early 1800s when smallpox hit the mission.
Like all the missions La Purisima was secularized by order of the Mexican Congress in 1833. It was sold to a local rancher in 1845 and closed as a church. While this was a loss for the church, the site eventually became a great state historic park and one of the best ones I have seen for explaining the history of the California Missions.
The park is also a great place for a hike with over 25 miles of trails spread out over 2,000 acres. You can hike to the top of the hills surrounding the mission for a view of the valley.
The day-use fee is $6 per vehicle. Pets are not allowed unless they are service animals.
COVID-19:Â Currently the museum and mission themselves are closed. You can still pick up a brochure from near the visitor center which provides a map to the park.
Lompoc is in the Lompoc Valley but all those vineyards you pass between Buellton and Lompoc are still part of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.
Lompoc has a cluster of urban tasting rooms in a so-called “Wine Ghetto” on the east side of town just off highway 1 and 12th Street. Many of these are open only on the weekends but some also have weekday hours. The wines come from the Santa Rita Hills AVA between Lompoc and Buellton which is a part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA. This part of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA is cooler than the rest because of the fog that comes off the ocean. Because of this micro-climate, the area is best know for its Pinot Noir grapes and for Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Syrah wines.
COVID-19: Some of the tasting rooms like those pictured above for Transcendence and Kita Wines have outdoor tasting areas that are open.
I ate at the Old Town Kitchen and Bar when I was in Lompoc. It has American fare like bacon mac and cheese and a good burger as big as your head. Locals recommended that Mexican food is the right thing to order in Lompoc with the top-rated Mexican restaurants being Angela’s Restaurant and Mariscos El Palmar.
If you stay in nearby Solvang you might be able to stay in a hotel that looks like a half-timbered European building but if you stay in Lompoc you might be able to stay for half the cost with enough money left in your wallet to afford the $4 aebleskiver in Solvang. I stayed in the Red Roof Inn which, like me, is uncomplicated and reliable. Red Roof Inn was kind enough to sponsor (pay for) my two-night stay.