LOMPOC — The New Year's Rose Parade in Pasadena may be the Southland's most famous floral extravaganza, but you can have almost as much fun at the Lompoc Flower Festival this summer.
There's even a two-hour procession of flower-covered floats, as well as marching bands and equestrian units. However, the networks don't televise this annual community parade, so plan to be there in person a week from Saturday.
From June 24 to 28, thousands of visitors will join the home-town celebration that honors Lompoc Valley as the Flower Seed Capital of the World. It earns the title by producing from 50% to 75% of all flower seeds grown around the globe.
Now through mid-September more than a thousand acres around Lompoc (pronounced Lom-POKE ) resemble a multicolored quilt as 30 flower varieties come into bloom. You'll be dazzled by fields of sweet peas, nasturtiums, bachelor buttons, marigolds, pansies, alyssum, calendulas, delphinium, poppies and other flowers.
Join a festival bus tour of this floral rainbow or drive yourself past the rows of bright blossoms with a Flower Field Tour Map offered by the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The local seed industry got its start early in the 1900s when sweet peas were planted. Their success prompted the Burpee Seed Co. to establish a flower farm in the valley. Today the Lompoc area has two major growers, Bodger and Denholm, and an annual seed production that's worth $7 million.
The flowers themselves are not for sale, but many of their pretty petals decorate the floats that are a highlight of the 35th annual festival. The parade begins at 10 a.m., heading south on H Street (California 1) to follow a 1 1/2-mile L-shaped route that turns west on Ocean Avenue (California 246) to Ryon Park.
The park is the main festival site with a stage for musical entertainment, food booths, carnival rides and a weekend arts-and-crafts show. It's also the departure point for bus tours of the flower fields that run Saturday and Sunday between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. The 45- to 60-minute excursions cost $3 per person.
Other Floral Displays
The same weekend you can enjoy other floral displays at the 65th annual Lompoc Alpha Club Flower Show. More than 160 varieties of home-grown flowers and plants will be featured in at least 200 amateur arrangements.
A $2 donation gives you admission to the show that's held in the Veteran's Memorial Building at the south end of H Street. Free shuttle bus transportation will be provided from Ryon Park.
Parking during the festival is available just west of the park in a lot on South R Street. The all-day fee is $1.
To reach Lompoc from Los Angeles, drive north on U.S. 101 and exit on California 1 after the highway turns inland from the ocean at Gaviota. The state scenic road crosses the Santa Ynez Mountains before entering town.
In recent years, some of Lompoc Valley's agricultural acreage has given way to an increasing population, due in part to development on nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base of the West Coast's aerospace center. Nowadays you'll find most of the flowers in fields west of the city.
Continue west on California 246 (Ocean Avenue) after California 1 turns north at H Street. Detour south a block later to 111 S. I St. and pick up a free floral tour map at the chamber of commerce. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays; also open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on festival Sunday.
The map gives the location of the flower varieties--from Ageratum to Verbena--that are being grown this year. For a bird's-eye view of the beautiful fields, turn left (south) on V Street, right on Olive Avenue, then left on Bodger Road and head uphill where a lookout presents a panorama of the valley.
See the flowers close up by returning to California 246 and proceeding west to a grid of side roads that run north and south between the state highway and Central Avenue. Drive up and down Bailey, Floradale, Leege, Douglas and DeWolfe avenues.
Viewing is permitted at anytime, but the growers ask you to keep your car on the paved roads because dust and dirt can injure the flowers. (If you stop, make sure there is room for other vehicles to pass.) The land and flowers are private property so don't walk in the fields or pick the blossoms; keep pets leashed so they won't run between the rows and destroy the plants.
Visitors to Lompoc also should tour the 200-year-old La Purisima Mission, now a state historic park northeast of town. On Sunday during the festival, as well as July 18 and Aug. 15, docents at the restored Spanish outpost recreate mission life in early times.
Between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. you can watch them carding and spinning wool, weaving rugs, dipping candles, baking bread and doing other tasks of the mission Indians nearly two centuries ago. Entry to the mission is $1 for adults, 50 cents for ages 6 to 17.
Festival tour buses to the flower fields will stop at the mission; passengers who want to visit La Purisima can return to Ryon Park on a later bus.
Local Indian artifacts and an exhibit and film about the flower- seed industry can be seen at the free Lompoc Museum in the historical Carnegie Library building, H Street and Cypress Avenue. It's open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. weekends, 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays except Mondays. During the festival, the free shuttle buses from Ryon Park to the weekend flower show in the veteran's hall will stop at the museum.
Festival-goers who plan to spend the night should make reservations immediately. Among Lompoc's newer lodgings are Embassy Suites, Raffles Inn and the Inn at Lompoc. Others are the Porto Finale Inn and Tally-Ho Motor Inn. Call (805) 736-4567 or write the chamber of commerce for a complete list.
Popular places to eat in town include the Chase, Jetty (seafood), Cafe San Martin and Don Pepe's (both Mexican), Mandarin Gate and the cafeteria-style Soup Garden.
Return to Los Angeles via California 1 and U.S. 101. Round trip for flowers and fun in Lompoc is 290 miles.