It's the start of spring, which means the California Poppy is bursting forth throughout Southern California. These beloved brilliant orange wildflowers have a cult-like following that rivals Japan's cherry blossoms, although California's state flower are only seen on a more limited basis than the cherry blossoms.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
There are a number of excellent viewing sites throughout Southern California, especially in the state's projected areas. In particular, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve offers a number of excellent fields. Some are accessible only via a strenuous hike, while others are situated a little closer to the visitor center. For 2017, the poppies have already begun to emerge and park rangers predict the season could extend through mid-April.
In general, the emergence of the flowers can't be entirely predicted; both too little and too much rainfall prior to the season can be a detriment to a "superbloom" season. Officially, however, the park's Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center is open from March 1 through Mother's Day.
Even in a year when few poppies are expected, there's plenty to attract visitors to the park, which is home to a variety of other equally photo-worthy flowers such as the grape soda lupine, wild parsley and slender keel fruit. Plenty of wildlife make their home here as well, including the occasional coyote and bobcat.
California Poppy Festival
The Poppy Reserve is located just 15 minutes from Lancaster, California (less than 90 minutes north of Los Angeles.) Lancaster hosts the annual California Poppy Festival, which generally also coincides with Earth Day celebrations. This year the festival is set for April 22-23, so it might be a little late to catch the heart of the bloom, but there's plenty else to see and do.
The festival also celebrates Lancaster's long history as a home for cutting-edge aerospace technologies and advancements. There are also plenty of kid-friendly activities and arts and crafts, as well as many ways to sample the local cuisine. And of course, fauna permitting, lots and lots of time in the poppy fields.
Beyond the Poppies
Poppy fame notwithstanding, Lancaster tends to be underappreciated as a visitor destination. While most locals pop in for the day, snap a few photos and then leave, those who stay a while are pleasantly surprised by just how much Lancaster has to offer.
With a well-established history in aviation and aerospace, a growing cultural and performing arts scene and a surprisingly impressive number of locally owned restaurants and breweries, Lancaster provides a much-needed breath of fresh air for the visitor looking to slow down and enjoy life at a more leisurely pace.
Any visitor to Lancaster will likely start their visit at The BLVD, the city's newly formed arts and entertainment district.
When you walk along The BLVD, you'll quickly notice monuments that pay tribute to the test pilots that made their careers at nearby Edwards Air Force Base. Among them, Chuck Yeager, who became the first pilot to travel faster than the speed of sound.
The highlight of The BLVD is The Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH), a sleek, contemporary facility with a dynamic line-up of exhibitions that showcase the innovation and richness of the art that can be found throughout the region. The museum is also the jumping off point for many of the city's top events, including the poppy festival and the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix, which roars through the city every September.
Everything along The BLVD is conveniently walkable, so you'll want to leave time for at least a meal (or two). With an international array of restaurants, choosing won't be easy, but a great bet is locally owned Kinetic Brewing Company, a gastropub with a chef-driven menu. Be sure to order the Bavarian pretzel with beer cheese. And if you're driving, the home-brewed root beer is a must.
For lighter fare as well as amazing pizza, The Lemon Leaf Café is a must. The real win here, though, is the cake shop. Who can resist an orange chiffon cake topped with coffee buttercream frosting?
At night, the place to see and be seen is BeX (short for Be Excellent), where's there's bar food, live lounge music and a happening bowling alley.
Beyond The Blvd.
While you'll find yourself spending more time than you expected on The Blvd., also make sure to leave time to explore beyond Lancaster's central core. You'll need a car to get around, but the wide-open spaces and extra breathing room is part of what makes Lancaster and its surrounding area so appealing.
A fun, only-in-Lancaster experience is driving along The Lancaster Musical Road. One of the very few musical roads in the world, this one has grooves cut in such a way that when you drive along it, it sounds as if the William Tell Overture (also known as the Lone Ranger Theme Song) is playing.
For eating, an absolute must is The Broken Bit, which bills itself as a "Classic American Cowboy Steakhouse." Technically located in Quartz Hills, the restaurant serves high-grade steaks from the likes of Harris Ranch, Black Angus and Mishima Ranch, so the must-haves are too many to mention. But if you like your sides with a bit of kick, have the server bring you an order of the jalapeno mac and cheese.
Another unexpected find in Lancaster is Bravery Brewing, a locally owned brewery and tasting room. No doubt, the beer is worth the visit. But so is the "Wall of Bravery" which features pictures of uniformed members of the armed services. The brewery's website also includes a full list of the members of service featured on the wall.
Lancaster's long history with the aviation industry means there are plenty of things for aviation nerds to do. Certainly a tour of Edwards Air Force Base and the Air Force Flight Test Museum is high on the list. But there's also the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, which is home to a huge collection of historic aircraft. There's even a B-52 and the 747 used to transport the space shuttle.
Just Beyond Lancaster
The Antelope Valley is home to the new and still growing Sierra Pelona Valley wine region appellation. The main winery, Agua Dulce is the perfect locale for sipping wine and finding yourself. Check the winery's website for a schedule of yoga sessions among the vines. Or, for Lucille Ball fans, be sure to join in the annual festival Stompfest, a festive event which calls to I Love Lucy lookalikes from far and beyond.
Just beyond Lancaster, you'll also find two farm rescue projects, Sanctuary at Soledad (Mojave) and Farm Sanctuary (Acton). Both facilities provide a forever home for formerly working farm animals who were in danger of having their lives terminated. Both facilities are totally vegan, so the animals live a totally non-working, restful life here. Both welcome visitors who can interact with the freely roaming animals, but d reservations are required.
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