Downtown LA Street Art Tour

A little-known fact: I love street art. Not the gangsta graffiti that litters the freeway, but actual art. Where an exterior wall is commissioned and painted in a downtown or city area. Whenever we’re driving or walking around, I almost always have my iPhone handy to shoot the street scenes and there’s no place more abundant in street art than Downtown Los Angeles. It turns out, there’s a tour for that – LA Art Tours provides guided, private and group tours of the downtown areas with an emphasis in several different categories: The Brewery Art Complex TourDTLA Graffiti/Mural TourUrban Art & Craft Beer TourAlley Adventure Graffiti Bike Tour, and the Santa Fe Art Colony Tour.

Last Sunday, we took the DTLA Graffiti/Mural Tour and it was so much fun. It’s a 2-hour walking tour in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District (one of our favorite places to hang out and explore), and it was led by a local guide, who is also a street artist. What I loved so much about the tour (besides getting up close to the art) was hearing the history of street art and the techniques that different artists use. Did you know, they don’t usually outline the art before they begin – no pencil, no chalk. They just go in and start layering – almost all of it is done with spray paint, using different nozzles to achieve different stroke looks and blending. It was mind-boggling, the talent!

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We also learned that every artist has their own unique style; with graffiti, the style is their signature. Many of the large-scale murals that are found Downtown are the product of street art groups, and they are usually commissioned for a few months to a year. After that, it gets painted over so another street artist can come in to do their work.

This is a very fun local adventure (be a tourist in your town!) and the perfect activity for out-of-town guests, and very inexpensive – our Graffiti/Mural tour was just $12 per person. There are several different time slots that you can schedule, but I would suggest early on Sunday before the crowds and cars make it difficult to see (and photograph!) the art. Afterward, head over to 3rd Street & Traction and grab a bite at Wurstkuche or Arts District Brewery and check out the free gallery at Hauser & Wirth.

Above all, don’t forget to wander!

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Be a Tourist in your own town!

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Have you ever played tourist in your own town? Probably not, but it’s a super cheap and easy way to spend a beautiful day outside. Yesterday we drove down to 22nd Landing at the Port of Los Angeles, where they have a Metro Bike LA Station next to our favorite brewery, Brouwerij West. A one-day pass is $7.00 (trips less than 30 minutes are only $3.50), all you have to do is download the app, create an account, enter payment information, and then follow the prompts on the kiosk and choose your bike.

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There isn’t a lot of traffic in that area, plus it was Sunday, but we simply crossed the street and rode into the Cabrillo Marina for a little sightseeing and easy exercise. There was just the slightest chill in the air but the wind was blowing against us so that definitely added to the work of the ride. It was such a gorgeous day, the sky was the bluest blue, with just a few clouds it was a perfect Sunday afternoon.

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Just past the marina is a large empty parking lot where motorcycle enthusiasts gather to ride and show off some shenanigans – there was a group of Mongrel Motorcycle Club members, and we watched one of them pop a wheelie, definitely a production because those bikes are large & heavy!

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A little further down the road, you can find the SS Lane Victory, which has self-guided tours daily and actually has a pretty interesting history. It was built in 1945 here in Los Angeles and served in World War II, the Korean War & Vietnam War, as well as part of a merchant fleet.

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You can continue down the road (north, I believe) and hit Ports O’Call Village and eventually the LA Waterfront Park. We did not continue down yesterday, but did this same ride last month on a warmer day and rode to the Waterfront Park and back. It’s a great ride, but Ports O’Call has certainly seen better days and really not worth stopping at.

Instead, we headed back toward the Metro Bike Station and rode through a 22nd Street Park, which is right next to the station.

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And of course, we couldn’t leave before topping ourselves off with a visit to the brewery, which actually happens to be our very favorite way of ending the weekend

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IF YOU GO...

  1. Visit Metro Bike LA for details. There is a map with locations (see below), mostly in metropolitan areas. I think it would fun to do this in Venice and Pasadena too, but I’d be wary of Downtown LA due to traffic.

  2. Download the app, create an account and load your payment information.
  3. Bring a backpack or crossbody bag, you don’t want your camera, phone or wallet falling out of your pocket, and while the bikes do have baskets, there are large gaps and small items will fall through.
  4. Bring water, money and a lock if you plan to stop for a bite or a beer.
  5. Watch the traffic, they might not be watching you!
  6. Have fun!

Crushing on the Black Farmhouse

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I think I first encountered a black-sided home last year while we road tripped through New Zealand. We were there in March, which is their autumn, so the leaves were beginning to change and some of the grasses in the fields had gone brown. In that early dormant state, you’d think the landscape would be barren and cold. But no, it was organic and beautiful. And every once in a while, we’d be driving (and we’d be the only car on the road for miles) and we’d drive through a tiny little town. In fact, the only way you’d know it was town would be the lone post office or feed store that would be on the highway. Other than that, nothing! It was surreal and quaint and felt like such a throwback. We loved it.

Driving through those small towns on the South Island, we passed many farmhouses – some old, some new, some restored. But never had I seen so many painted black with steel roofs. They looked so utilitarian, yet so modern and contemporary.

We are now in our mid-50’s, and retirement is so close we can taste it. What’s been happening is that every little trip we go on, we begin to imagine what it would be like to retire to that place. Certainly, New Zealand gave us that fantasy, but it’s so far away, it really is unrealistic. This past weekend we were in Paso Robles, and I was thrilled when Scott mentioned that he would consider that region for our next chapter (add it to Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Palm Springs, San Diego & Amsterdam).

Of course, my mind started immediately wandering, and I started fantasizing about building a dream farmhouse, on a small plot of 10 acres with an established vineyard (ha!). I think a black farmhouse would be the perfect structure to stand out on the rolling hills and majestic fields of Central California. A girl can dream

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San Diego Quickie

A friend of ours is moving across the country in 7 days and starting a new adventure – we’re so jealous! But it gave us an opportunity to swing down to San Diego and surprise her at her going away party on Sunday. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to explore some fun spots, we drove down on Saturday and spent some time hitting some very cool new-to-us bars, restaurants, and stores. And I have to say, San Diego, you’re way cooler than you let us all believe.

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We stayed with a good friend in Carlsbad, and because we pride ourselves in being the best possible houseguest you’ve ever had, we stopped at Prager Brothers Artisan Bread to pick up croissants & rolls for breakfast the next morning. It’s in an odd location in an industrial area, but this is the real deal. Traditional, natural, organic bread and the croissants have that perfectly baked, golden outside crust with an airy, light center. I could eat a dozen.

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If you walk two doors down, you’ll find Happy Pantry, which carries all things fermented and has a delicious selection of kombucha on tap. If you’re a local, they also have classes on making kombucha. (If you’re a little further north, a great place to buy fermented goods & learn more is The Fermentation Farm in Costa Mesa).

After we picked up our friend Gina, we headed into San Diego proper. I’m a planner by nature and will research a location for hours to find the fun zones. Thankfully, Polite Provisions was spot on. It’s located in an old pharmacy (I love repurposed buildings that keep the old signage!), and once you walk in, you’d think you were in 1940’s Paris. Even though it was only 5 p.m., the place was packed and we really had to elbow up to the bar.

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The decor is simple – a brass & marble bar, multiple taps for a variety of cocktails on tap (genius) and bentwood chairs. They’re known for their communal drinks – think, Flaming Scorpion for 6. We did not. But I did have my favorite drink, an old-fashioned (first one in 2 months!), and not only did it not disappoint, it was gorgeous. They completely elevate the experience by embossing the ice cube (excuse me, what?).

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Polite Provisions does not serve food, but one of their sister company’s, Soda & Swine, is next door and they will deliver food to the bar.

From there we hopped over to Juniper & Ivy, where, without a reservation, we were able to nab a quiet spot in the bar. What a gorgeous restaurant (sorry, no photos, too busy eating). This was just a pit stop to have a quick bite, and Juniper & Ivy has great small plate selections – I’m talking about a Spicy Tuna handroll in a Sesame Leaf, a Biscuit with silly smoked salt & butter and the Baja Yellowtail Tostada with Shark Sauce.

Not yet satiated, we drove up to Encinitas and had pizza at Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizza. If you go, you must get the Signature pizza with Lemon EVOO, Fresh Mozzarella, Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Lemon Zest, Red Onion & Basil. You won’t regret it.

On Sunday, we had some time before the going away party and headed downtown to North Park. What a cool little enclave! The residential areas off the main streets are peppered with little Craftsman bungalows, and we had just as much fun driving around and looking at them as we did walking the main street.

If you go, make sure to stop at Love & Aesthetics. I’m not sure I’ve seen a better-curated shop, filled with fun gifts, beautiful simple jewelry, oddities, and minimalist decor items.

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And my rule is, if you find a Matcha Tea shop, you must go in. Holy Matcha is the perfect pick-me-up, hot or iced, sweetened or not.

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But truth be told, my main reason for wanting to go to North Park is because I have long been a subscriber to the Pigment newsletter, and the little girl in me would have had a serious tantrum if I had been so close and didn’t make it there.

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Another beautifully curated shop, with lots of fun gifts, cards, stationery, jewelry, candles, and behold, a succulent workshop.

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I resisted, but I did come home with a few fun items.

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I love our little weekend excursions. And I love that you don’t have to travel far to have new experiences and explore. I’m hoping to share more of our mini-travels, so stay tuned!

Oh, Hello 2018

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We had some amazing sunsets in December here in Southern California. Part of it, I’m sure, was due to the never-ending Indian Summer we experienced. 80+ degree weather in December and scores of wildfires while the mid-west & east coast started their annual freeze.

2017 was an interesting year. It was the year I let go of all expectation, all my preconceived notions of what I thought I should be doing and instead just allowed myself to be and do. I did some soul-searching and came to terms with many things.

Due to chronic pain and an amazing amount of anxiety, I turned to yoga and meditation (and if you’ve been reading the news and lifestyle blogs – so did everyone else). It has made a huge and significant impact on my mental & emotional state, and I really think I’m a totally different person now than I was a year ago. Hopefully for the better. Who knew that getting into my head would allow me to actually get out of it.

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And here we are in the second week of the year, and I’ve set my 2018 Intentions. This year, they are much more in line with how I’m spending my time. I’m not chasing more work like I’ve done in the past. I’m pretty happy professionally with what’s currently on my plate. And if something new comes along, I’ll consider it, but only if it truly works for me. That in itself is a wonderful place to be and something I’m so grateful for. So, 2018, here’s what I’m hoping for:

  • Travel & explore with Scott: we did very well with this last year, but it was due to a lot of planning and follow through. We traveled to Austin, San Diego, New Zealand, Washington D.C., Ojai, Las Vegas, Napa Valley and countless trips to Palm Desert. We took day trips to Santa Barbara and spent Saturdays & Sundays exploring our favorite places in Downtown LA, West Hollywood Santa Monica, and Venice. I realized that when you make exploration & travel a priority, it can happen.
  • Take no shit/drama/power struggles: This is part of my recovery from a toxic relationship that has continued to plague me. I can finally say it is all behind me and it has left me stronger and more comfortable to establish & sustain my boundaries.
  • Be present: This has been interesting because my job is social media-centric, but this is another place where boundaries are maintained. When I’m with my people (and honestly, that’s any people), the phone stays in my bag or pocket. Everyone deserves our undivided attention.
  • Meditate every day: I started regularly meditating as part of a morning practice this past summer, and it’s a ritual I’ve come to love. Even if my mind is wandering, I still sit there for the length of time I decide on in quiet & stillness. It’s helped considerably with stress & anxiety.
  • Expand yoga practice: I started taking a restorative yoga class a couple of times a week at my gym to help with chronic back pain and stiffness. The first few times were agonizingly slow, but now I look forward to that class and go as often as I can. I’m curious to try some other classes and teachers.
  • Consider Reiki Training: I had my first Reiki treatment early in the summer and another toward the end. It’s actually what jump started my meditation practice, followed by yoga, and it’s incredible. The feeling of clarity and lightness is such a beautiful thing, and I swear it was more relaxing than a massage. I’d love to learn more about it as a personal practice goal.
  • Do art daily: I started drawing again! This was my love early on, but I’m sad to see that the patience I once had for this hobby is not there! It’s a struggle for me to sit and draw, especially when I keep thinking I should be doing something more productive. I need to quiet that voice because art is productive, right?!
  • Hike more: I live in a beautiful place with beautiful trails almost right outside my door. When I can, I try to get out on them a couple of times a week. At the very least, I drag Scott on weekend hikes 
  • Practice mindful eating: I’m 9 days into another January Whole 30, and it’s a lot harder this time because I had fallen so far off the clean-eating wagon. The good news about that is that I’m reminded just how important whole foods are and how they impact your health. My back pain is almost completely eliminated after cutting out sugar (a big cause of inflammation) and bloating is way down after cutting out gluten.
  • Watch sugar, alcohol & gluten: see above.

Almond Date Energy Bites

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I have a confession: I snack. A lot. Pretty much all day. My go-to snacks are usually nuts; cashews, almonds and macadamia nuts. I carry a baggie with me just in case I get hungry while I’m out, and then I’m less likely to grab something that’s not so good.

Nuts are a quick fix, but you do have to watch quantity, as they are high in fat (the good kind though!). This recipe for Almond Date Bites is super quick to whip up, they keep in the refrigerator for about 5 days (if you don’t eat them all at once) and are a great source of sustaining energy. The formulation is a compilation of a couple of different recipes that I’ve tweaked to my liking. Ingredients get added and removed depending on my mood and what’s on hand.

Almond Date Bites

1 cup raw almonds
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup almond butter
2 tbsp. cacao nibs

Pulse almonds in a food processor until they are between a medium and fine meal. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, dates, almond butter, and cacao nibs. Process everything together until mixed thoroughly – it should stick together when you press it. Add more almond butter if it’s too dry.

You can measure out tablespoons, but I usually just grab a portion and roll it between my hands to form a ball. (Lightly wet your hands first and the mixture won’t stick too much!)

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Note: I’ve also added coconut flakes and/or a dash of cayenne pepper for a little spice 

These babies are sugar free, gluten free, dairy free and vegan.

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Architectural Tour: Schindler House Los Angeles

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I love going into the city when time permits, not just for the urban adventure that it is, but there’s such an amazing concentration of cultural icons around almost every corner. Being a design junkie, I especially love stumbling upon something special.

This happened recently when my husband & I were in the city visiting my son & his friend in West Hollywood. We were walking to brunch, down Kings Road just north of Melrose Boulevard, when I saw a tiny little sign for Schindler House. I was not hugely familiar with R.M. Schindler, but I did know the name as a pioneer in the modernism era. After brunch, on our way back, we stopped in and toured this historic house.

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What  struck me first was that you would never know a historic home is located on this quiet and beautiful tree-lined street in bustling West Hollywood. The street is mainly apartment houses and condominiums, and Schindler House is set back from the street behind a fully mature bamboo hedge. There is just a small sign proclaiming its’ existence.

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Schindler House Los Angeles, or the Kings Road House, as it is commonly known, was built in 1922 and was actually considered to be one of Schindler’s most important works. It is considered by many to be the first house built in the modern style, and was experimentally built for communal living, housing another couple besides the Schindlers.

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The lot was divided into seven sections; four of them were assigned to each of the four inhabitants of the home to express their own individuality and there was a shared kitchen and outdoor sleeping areas (on the rooftop deck!). The structure draws upon European modern architecture (Schindler was Austrian) and, like many European buildings of that time, incorporated concrete, glass and wood in the construction of the home. This had become a popular trend in Europe thanks to Mies van der Rohe’s work in experimental concrete buildings in the 1920’s.

The only reason I remotely know this is because this house reminded me of my husbands late uncle, architect William Alexander, who designed and built the Hangover House for Richard Halliburton in 1938.

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The residence was used for political, social and cultural events during the time they lived there, and was also used as housing for visiting artists, architects and writers (Frank Lloyd Wright and his son, Lloyd Wright, were frequent visitors). I can only imagine how astounding the guest list must have been during those days. The Schindlers eventually divorced, but the house continued to be a meeting place for left-wing political radicals in Los Angeles.

Today, the house is maintained and funded by the MAK Center for Art and Architecture Los Angeles at Schindler House. There are year-round events and exhibitions and programs geared toward the creative arts. When we were there, we were lucky to be treated to small Eames exhibit.

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Schindler House is located at 835 North Kings Road, West Hollywood, CA 90069. It is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm, and admission is $7.00.

It’s well worth the visit.

Top photo via The MAK Center for Art and Architecture L.A. All other photos my own.

Weekend Getaway: Ojai

It was my husbands birthday last weekend and we wanted to get away, but not too far because we didn’t want the weekend to be all about driving. It’s been ages since we’ve been to Ojai, I knew there were many cool places that had popped up in the last ten years, plus it’s only about an hour and a half out of LA, so we decided to give it a go!

And yes, it is incredibly charming. I think it’s still coming into its’ own, but there are so many great spots; restaurants, and shops, not to mention a brand new winery – we had such a great time.

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Azu/Ojai Valley Brewery

We arrived early Friday afternoon and had a quick bite & beer at Azu, which is also home to the Ojai Valley Brewery. It was perfect – Azu prides itself on fresh farm-to-table fare using organic ingredients from local farmers. Our M.O. is to sit at the bar because we really think that’s where the action is! Seriously, we have a great time watching the bartender mix drinks and we usually chat them up on what their specialties are and try for an impromptu craft cocktail class. If it’s an open kitchen, even better   I had the Arugula & Dried Fig salad, which was delicious and I dove into before taking the time to snap a photo.

Shop: In the Field

Shop: In the Field

If you wander down Ojai Avenue there are some beautiful boutiques and shops, all a little different with everything from housewares to men’s & women’s clothing, surfboards, and camping goods. So many of the shops have a great vibe and are so perfectly curated, I could live in them.

I love the slow pace of this town, everyone is taking their time and it’s a great respite from the craziness of life. You literally can’t help but relax!

Drink: Topa Mountain Winery

Drink: Topa Mountain Winery

We made a stop at Topa Mountain Winery, which is on the edge of town. The tasting room has only been open for a year, but it’s a beautiful venue and they produce very nice wines. They were setting up for a charity concert event that evening, so it was a little busy in the back outdoor area.

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Isn't that entry gorgeous? If we make it back there, I definitely want to come prepared with a picnic!

If you go – we have some recommendations…

LODGING

High End: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa – this place is g o r g e o u s, and completely worthy of a splurge. It’s a huge complex with several different restaurants, bars and little enclaves to hang out in. We stopped in after dinner at the Deer Lodge and had a drink at the Wallace Neff Heritage Bar, where a very theatrical bartender was mixing very theatrical concoctions.  It was very fun to watch!

Mid-Priced: Ojai Rancho Inn – we stopped here to check out their bar, Chief’s Peak, which was packed and full of hipsters (sort of like the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs). We aren’t opposed to bumping elbows with hipsters, we just couldn’t find a place to sit, and couldn’t muscle to the bar so we left. We’ve stayed at their sister hotel in Santa Ynez before, and I would definitely check them out for lodging if we visit again, although we will most certainly be the oldest people there, I am sure.

Affordable: AirBnB – this is our usual mode of accommodation these days. Ojai has a city ordinance against short term rentals in town, so most of the AirBnB’s are just outside of town. It was no problem, we were literally 6 miles from town center. The rental we had was a guesthouse in a quiet, private residential neighborhood, was super clean, modern, had a beautiful garden and a gorgeous view.

FOOD & DRINK

There is no shortage of great places to eat and drink in Ojai, whether you are looking for a quick bite, a nice, romantic dinner or just want to cool off with a drink.

Azu/Ojai Brewing Company – fresh farm-to-table fare and a nice selection of local wines.

Topa Mountain Winery – beautiful new winery just as you enter the town. They have a delicious Chardonnay, and it’s the perfect setting for a picnic, or go big with a wedding.

Ojai Deer Lodge – super casual, with a woodsy vibe, they have barbecue Friday – Sunday and it’s good stuff! I ordered the Lodge Burger, which I totally recommend…with a fried egg on top #ohmygod

Chief’s Peak – as I mentioned, we stopped in here but didn’t stay. It’s a young crowd, but we aren’t above that – I’d join the party any day! Looks like a very cool place!

Ojai Beverage Company – at first glance upon walking in, you think you’re in a liquor store. A very large liquor store with an amazing selection and very good pricing. If you walk to the back, there’s also a tap room, bar, and restaurant.

Suzanne’s – this was the birthday dinner spot, and it did not disappoint. Be sure to make a reservation because everyone in the valley hits this place on the weekend. I had the Salmon with Cilantro Pesto, which was served with steamed vegetables, and it was delicious. Scott had the penne with meatballs, which was good, but the sauce was a little loose.

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I’m loving the recent influx of simple lifestyle stores that are curated with an eye toward design and bohemian living.

In The Field – love this place! Modern bohemian and beautifully curated.

deKor & Co. – similar to In The Field, but more home goods and lifestyle oriented. They also carry a small selection of apothecary and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t pick up a perfume that I tried (lesson learned!).

Fig Curated Living – this is a little hard to find as it is located down a little alley off the sidewalk between a couple of shops. A portion of it is located outside and is almost home and garden, with an emphasis on local, handmade and fair trade goods.

Have you been to Ojai lately? What is your favorite thing to do?

Day Trip: Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

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Have you ever been to the Poppy Reserve in Lancaster? This year Southern California had a very rainy season, and wildflowers were popping up everywhere - we like to refer to that as a superbloom! Visiting the Poppy Reserve has been on my to-do list for years, but somehow we always miss the blooming season! We finally got a chance to visit last weekend, and just as I imagined, it was spectacular.

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The Reserve is located in the Antelope Valley of Southern California and is a State Nature Reserve (i.e. part of the State Park system). The park is about 78 miles north of Los Angeles, off of California Highway 14, and very easy to get to. It’s 1800 acres of almost pure orange between late March & early April and is the most consistent poppy-bearing land in California. Besides poppies, tons of other wildflowers share the space, and it truly is a mosaic of rolling hills of color.

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We visited on a Saturday and luckily got there early, before the big crowds. If you go, I highly recommend an early arrival or try to go during the week. As we were leaving at 11:30 am, the parking lot was full and visitors were having to park outside the reserve and walk in (at least a ½ mile).

There are seven miles of dedicated trails that are easy to follow, all of them are loops, and you can go as far as the Antelope Butte Vista Point, which has a gorgeous view.

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If it’s early in the day, as it was for us, and on the cooler side, you may have to deal with some flowers that haven’t fully opened. This is also the case if it’s cloudy or cold, so be forewarned! If you go later in the day, you inevitably have to deal not only with crowds, but that great Antelope Valley wind that kicks up almost every day!

If you visit, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The Reserve is open from sunrise to sundown, daily, all year
  • Entry is $10 per vehicle
  • Bring water – the wind is dehydrating!
  • Don’t bring your dog, they are not welcome
  • Watch out for rattlesnakes!
  • You can bring snacks, but you can’t eat on the trail. There’s a picnic area at the visitors center
  • Stay on the trails! The blooms are so beautiful, but they won’t last for everyone to enjoy if you stomp into the field for that perfect Instagram photo
  • No drones – although that would be a cool experience to see!
  • Check out the Visitors Center on your way out for more information on the wildflowers & wildlife in the reserve – it’s so interesting!

The season is definitely winding down, and they’re only expecting the blooms to last another week or two, so if this is on your list, hop to it! With all the rain we’ve had this year, you won’t want to miss the display.