The sign says, “Welcome to Lompoc - City of Arts and Flowers.” Well, the flowers aren’t what they used to be. The Lompoc Flower Festival used to be a big attraction here, with acres and acres of fields filled with varieties of flowering plants grown for seed. For many years Lompoc was known as the Flower Seed Capital of the World. Long bands of bright colors in huge fields drew thousands of visitors each year. Visitors still come but not in the same numbers as in the past. The fields that were once planted for seed and cut flowers are now filled with vegetables. But that is starting to change. A single grower is making it his mission to revive the flower seed cultivation and bring it back to where it was. With a new contract with a European company and new field plantings, in a few years Lompoc and its flowers may be back in spectacular style.

Vandenberg Air Force Base is here as is the United States Penitentiary, the Federal Pen also known as a “Club Fed,” a minimum security “country club” prison that once held Nixon White House Chief of Staff, H.R. Halderman, and other convicted Watergate felons. What began in 1941 as a pre-WWII training center called Camp Cooke, also held Italian and German prisoners during the war years. Army and Navy military prisoners were later confined here and eventually became the United States Penitentiary at Lompoc. The camp was eventually selected as the country’s first combat ready missile base. Camp Cooke was renamed Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1958 in honor of General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, considered the chief architect of today’s modern Air Force. Besides the intercontinental ballistic missile program, Vandenberg was to have been the West coast launch site for the Space Shuttle program until the Challenger explosion in 1986 off the launch pad in Cape Canaveral caused the termination of Vandenberg as a shuttle launch site.

Public tours of the base are offered on the second Wednesday of the month and require a minimum of two weeks advance reservations. Tours include the Korean War Memorial, the Space and Missile Heritage Center, and South Vandenberg’s space launch complexes.

Tour attendees meet at 9:45 a.m. at the Main Gate Visitor Control Center and ride an Air Force bus during the 2 ½ hour tour.

Reservations for public tours may be made by calling the base Public Affairs Office at (805) 606-3595. No children under the age of 10.

Lompoc is also home to the California mission, La Purisima Concepcion, established in 1787. La Purisima is the most extensively restored mission in the state and draws over 200,000 visitors a year. Ten of the original buildings have been authentically restored and refurbished.

The eleventh California mission is more than a monument from the past. This is living, breathing history, recreated throughout the year. Volunteers in 1820 period dress become the blacksmiths, candle makers, leather workers, pottery crafters, and the herders of livestock who kept the mission going nearly two hundred years ago. Mission workers were known for producing hides and blankets. There is not just the mission building to discover but another 2000 acres surrounding it, with 25 miles of hiking trails to explore in the State Historic Park. That sounds like a lot but the mission lands once covered 470 square miles, from the Santa Maria River in the north and the Gaviota coastline to the south. And 24,000 cattle and sheep were herded on the vast mission property.

Sixty to ninety minute guided tours start at 1 p.m. at the Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Self guided tours can be taken any day, except for Living History Days or during special events.

The mission also holds special events like an Ethnic Arts Marketplace, with African baskets and carvings, Guatemalan textiles, Russian nesting dolls, and Christmas ornaments from around the world. The items are donated by the community and sold to benefit the mission.

Entry fees are : $6 for private vehicles, $5 for seniors 63 and older, buses with 10 to 24 passengers are charged $50 and buses with 25 + passengers are charged $100. School groups are not charged when advance reservations have been made.

La Purisima State Historic Park is located at 2295 Purisima Road, Lompoc, California 93436 (805) 733-3713 Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.