Living La Vida
Story & photos by Greg Aragon
ompoc has always been a mystery to me a town I've heard of but never
visited, a name on road signs along Highway 1, but never a destination.
Well this all changed recently when I visited the town for couple nights
of delightful discovery.
The getaway began when I drove from Los Angeles, past
the beautiful Santa
Barbara coast to Highway 1, where the scenery changed to lush, rolling
hills speckled with cows, horses and a few llamas. After a few miles
I took Exit 132 toward Lompoc and discovered a charming town, bubbling
with a burgeoning wine industry, an eclectic art scene, gourmet restaurants,
and a fascinating history.
Lompoc is a surprising, hidden gem off California's
My first major discovery in Lompoc was Return
to Freedom Horse Sanctuary, where visitors can learn about the history
and challenges facing wild horses in America. Guests can also take a
tour of the ranch and get up close to some of the most unique and beautiful
On my visit to the sanctuary I met founder and president
Neda DeMayo, who gave me a tour of the ranch and a brief lesson of the
plight of these magnificent animals. Return to Freedom is dedicated
to "preserving the freedom, diversity, and habitat of Americas
wild horses through sanctuary, education, and conservation, while enriching
the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world."
Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving Americas
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 ranch provides an environment for the horses
to maintain the natural behaviors and social structures they knew in
During my tour DeMayo told me how the diverse and unique
bloodlines of the animals are respected when they arrive. She then introduced
me to a herd of Choctaw horses, whose roots trace back to the days of
Hernando DeSoto in the 1500s and later to the Choctaw Nation Native
American tribe of the deep south and Mississippi area.
Other fascinating herds at the ranch include the Wilbur
Cruce Spanish Colonial Mission Horses, which are direct descendants
of Padre Kinos original herd who arrived in America from Spain
in the late 1600s. They are the only known rancher-strain of pure Spanish
horses that persists in the southwest. And the Sulphur Springs Herd,
which is one of the few to claim direct Spanish Heritage. They have
distinctive dorsal and leg striping, and resemble the horses painted
on cave walls dating back to 26,000 B.C.E.
The sanctuary's Choctaw horses trace back to the
DeMayo asks anybody who cares about wild horses to visit
Return to Freedom
website and read about the issues and help stop government round-ups
of wild horses and burros.
After visiting the horse ranch, I headed back to my
hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, where I had a clean and comfortable
suite, with a king bed, mini-fridge, microwave, large flat screen TV,
an office area and free hi-speed Internet. Besides a perfect location
for exploring Lompoc, the hotel also boasts a heated pool, business
center, a fitness room and a tasty, complimentary hot buffet breakfast
The Lompoc Museum gives a fascinating look at the
history of local Native Americans
My next stop was Lompoc Museum, for a fascinating look
at the history of local Native Americans; and then a visit to the "Wine
Ghetto" 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
The "Wine Ghetto" is an eclectic collection
tasting rooms offering local wine
For sample of local vineyards I experienced La
Montagne Winery, where I met owner Kimberly Smith and sampled some
of her award-winning Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Tempranillo. While
tasting, I chatted with Smith and learned about her remarkable and inspirational
story of overcoming diabetes and cancer to become one of the area's
best new winemakers.
From the French inspired wine of La Montagne, I headed
across town to La
Botte Italian Restaurant for some authentic and delicious Italian
food. Opened in 1981 by Nick and Caterina Agate, the restaurant specializes
in home-made pasta sauce and specialty dishes from Central and Southern
La Botte specializes in dishes from Central and
My family-styled meal featured local wine and tender
Calamari Fritti with tomato sauce, and a plate of sautéed mushrooms.
Next I tried the delectable Chicken Piccata, with chicken breast, sauteed
in lemon white wine sauce and topped with capers, followed by a memorable
dish of Chicken Marsala, with chicken breast sauteed in Marsala wine
In the morning I 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 Lompocs heritage, flower industry, historic sites, ethnic diversity,
scenic beauty and more.
Lompoc's colorful murals grace nearly 40 structures
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, where I enjoyed a memorable bowl of clam chowder, a
roast beef sandwich and a slice of homemade coconut cream pie.
Sissy's Uptown Cafe serves delicious cuisine, fine
wines and warm hospitality
After lunch I checked into the Embassy
Suites Lompoc, where I checked into another great suite. This one,
overlooking the pool, boasted a bedroom and living room; a kitchen-type
sink, mini-fridge and microwave; two flat screen TVs, and a spacious
bathroom. The hotel also offers a nightly happy-hour with complimentary
drinks, a fitness room, and a complimentary hot buffet breakfast with
made-to-order omelet bar each morning.
Lompoc is a town full of history and discovery
For more information on visiting Lompoc, visit: www.explorelompoc.com.
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