In April of 2019, just a couple days after returning to Los Angeles from my three month trip to France, I drove about an hour north from LA to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, just outside the city of Lancaster. This was my first time seeing the phenomenon known as the superbloom, where after a rainy winter, California experiences a huge blanket of colorful wildflowers highlighted by the golden poppy. After a few hours wandering the Reserve, which is run by California State Parks, I got back into my car and returned to LA. Lancaster itself was just a place I drove through, not to stop at all.
This year, for the first time since that 2019 bloom, California experienced another wet winter and another superbloom. So again, I decided to make the drive up. However, this time, I reached out to Destination Lancaster CA, the tourism bureau associated with the city of Lancaster, to create just a small itinerary to see what the city has to offer. Like the superbloom itself, I left Lancaster excited to see more.
The California wildflower blooms, and specifically the poppies at the Reserve, are the region’s top tourist attraction, and with good reason. While you can read more about what makes a superbloom, and my 2019 experience, here, let me give you the basics. Much of California, and Southern California especially, is a desert, and we have spent most of the past decade in a rather severe drought. However, with a good rainy winter, the hillsides that are normally just brown or grass-covered come alive with the colors of wildflowers. Golden poppies are the headliner (and 2019 had a full ground covering of those) but yellows, whites, and purples can also be found in abundance depending on the year.
This year’s superbloom was less a full covering of poppies and more a mixture of colors than my past experience. (This means each superbloom is different so I intend to see each one moving forward.) While fiddlenecks were the predominant wildflower this year – they are pretty, but don’t offer the same vibrancy of others – the carpets of yellow and orange were absolutely stunning!
For most people, this would be the end of the experience, and they would turn around and head back to Los Angeles. But for me, seeing the bloom was only the first half of my trip. Lancaster itself, about 20 minutes from the Reserve, awaited. A city of just under 200,000, Lancaster began life as a railway depot. However, its more modern existence is tied up in the aerospace industry, which remains the area’s largest employment sector. Edwards Air Force Base is here, and with it offices and factories of most major aerospace companies.
Along Lancaster Boulevard, a stretch has been redone, featuring restaurants, shops, and some cool cultural hubs like the Museum of Art and History (MOAH). Dubbed the Blvd District, it is a trendy portion of the city’s downtown core. Parking is free, sidewalks are wide, and Blvd Ambassadors roam the area to help answer questions and offer recommendations. But I’m here for the aerospace history, found in the Aerospace Walk of Honor.
Begun in 1990, the Aerospace Walk of Honor recognizes those pilots who moved the industry forward, mainly from here at Edwards AFB. Giants of flight like Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier in his plane Glamorous Glennis in the sky over Lancaster, have plaques with the highlights of their careers lining the street. Likewise, murals to some of them cover building facades.
At the corner of Lancaster Boulevard and Sierra Highway stands the largest cluster of plaques, nesting in the shade of an F-4 Phantom mounted for all to see. It is a cool and fitting tribute to the industry that grew the city, and an educational experience for a visitor like me. I eagerly move from one plaque to the next, in awe of the 10,000+ hours of test flying many pilots accumulated in more than 100 different aircraft, marveling at those pilots who were even awarded astronaut wings for flying their planes more than 50 miles up, in space itself.
Back in the Blvd District, food and drink options are plentiful. The District was redesigned to become a hub for both locals and tourists in the early 2010s, and the food scene here is a good one. I opt for Lucky Luke Brewing Company for a good burger and a great beer, but am intrigued by several other options for which I’ll have to return at a later date. Zelda’s 750 West, especially, looks like a killer bar!
The Blvd also has a line dancing club, an underground bowling alley, and even an old hotel turned museum. It also has some of the coolest street art I’ve seen in a while! It’s quite an eclectic set of options, one my day only barely scratched the surface of.
Besides wildflowers and a lovely downtown, Lancaster offers plenty of hiking, some wineries, and a variety of cultural events (like an upcoming Juneteenth celebration) for those looking to escape Los Angeles for a weekend or to stop for a day or two on their way between LA and Mammoth or Death Valley. Hotel options seem plentiful, from an aerospace themed Residence Inn along the Blvd itself to my lodging, a lovely SpringHill Suites by Marriott just a short drive away. And, for those who simply only have time to stop for a meal, Lancaster has some great options both on and off the Blvd. Birria Superior makes one of the best shredded brisket burritos I’ve had, along with quesotacos. You’ll thank me.
In all, I am thrilled to have seen another superbloom, and to have experienced just a bit of what the city of Lancaster has to offer. Just outside of Los Angeles is a refuge from the craziness of my home, in a city large enough to have a huge variety of things to do, see, and eat. I’ll be back, maybe even before the next bloom!
Note: thank you to Destination Lancaster CA for hosting me, and for arranging my wonderful day. Thank you also to the SpringHill Suites for sponsoring my lodging at your lovely property.
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