Most Angelenos know that the southern border of Los Angeles County ends at the “Orange Curtain”. Many think that the northern border lies just past the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. Los Angeles County, however, is much more diverse then that. In fact, in the northeast section, Los Angeles County extends into the Mojave Desert, covering a vast expanse of scenic area. The jewel of this desert area is the city of Lancaster, now a thriving community that has both a heritage of ranching and aerospace as well as a present and future as a thriving artistic and creative community and a scenic travel destination.
The city of Lancaster and DestinationLancaster.org hosted an event for several journalists this past weekend to showcase some of the highlights of a 24 hour getaway to Lancaster. It was an interesting 24 hours and highlighted many of the reasons to make a weekend trip to this Los Angeles County outpost. The drive itself is relatively easy, usually taking I-5 to CA-14 for a smooth, under 2-hour trip from anywhere in Los Angles or Orange County. An alternative is MetroLink, whose Antelope Valley Line starts at Union Station and provides a fun and easy way to get to the Lancaster Station. Marriott’s TownePlace Suites in Lancaster provided comfortable accommodations for all the visiting journalists.
Art is a big deal in Lancaster’s thriving ‘BLVD’ downtown area. The ‘BLVD’ itself is Lancaster Blvd., whose central section has been turned into a popular area filled with museums, galleries, restaurants, shops, theaters and even some interesting fun venues. One of the interesting things to do when you walk through this area is to stop at the Museum of Art and History (MOAH) and pick up a map detailing the Pow Wow murals. A walking tour of these murals through downtown is a fascinating look at urban art. The murals are a part of the Pow WowHawaii movement, which takes the idea of a Native American celebration about music, culture and art around the world. Many cities, including Lancaster, have incorporated it into some wonderful large murals that brighten the downtown buildings. The walking map, which covers 12 major murals in the area, gives an easy guide to the locations of each mural as well as the name of the artist who created it. Some are abstract, while others honor persons or events that shaped the area.
Photo Gallery at end of article
MOAH itself is a fascinating museum. Consisting of the main museum and its CEDAR annex, MOAH features works by prominent area artists. Saturday afternoon, there was a ‘meet the artists’ event featuring several of the artists whose exhibits graced the museum. Chris Francis was there, talking to guests about his Shoe Versatility exhibit. Charles Hollis Jones, whose 50 Chairs:50 Years exhibit graced the main display hall, greeted guests to his exhibit. Several other exhibits also filled the museum, including mixed media, neon, ceramics and wood. The two story museum is a very nice place to spend an hour or two and really showcases the talent that calls Lancaster home.
A short walk away, the museum’s CEDAR annex was displaying photography from notedarea photographer Wyatt Kenneth Coleman. This exhibit, entitled ‘Love, Peace and Equality’ and consisting solely of black and white photography, documented the period in the 60s and early 70s when the civil rights movement was in full swing. It is a powerful exhibition, with Coleman’s sharp eye picking out both the prominent and forgotten people of that era’s critical turning point. Coleman, a freelance photojournalist, established a relationship with Coretta Scott King, who appreciated his work on the Civil Rights Movement and the legacy of her late husband, Dr. Martin Luther King. The exhibit, appearing through March 4, 2017, is a must-see for anyone. Like many other local artists, Coleman has been known to show up occasionally at his exhibit.
Lancaster’s ‘BLVD’ is very much a walkable scene and there were plenty of theatergoers and diners on their way towards an evening’s fun. Our next stop was Zelda’s 750 West, an interesting bar attached to the Lancaster Performing Arts Center. Taking their cue from their namesake, Zelda Fitzgerald, the bar creates the homey atmosphere of a 1920s speakeasy.
Zelda was known as the original ‘flapper’ as well as being a writer and Jazz Age celebrity along with her husband, author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rich woods at the bar, an outside patio on the ‘BLVD’ and a luxurious lounge complete with sofas make Zelda’s a great place to go before or after the theater. The drinks were excellent, the martinis well crafted and drinks like the Gatsby, a whisky based concoction, absolutely delicious. The rooms are very conducive to relaxing and visiting with friends while enjoying light appetizers, cocktails, beer and wine. As we visited with each other, the time passed easily in the comfortable environs.
Several members of the group also took an opportunity to walk over to the Lemon Leaf Cafe. This local spot is known for its Greek, Italian roots and serves Mediterranean food blended with with California style. The Cafe also features a large 50×80′ mural of a lemon orchard painted by a local artist. The Lemon Leaf that night was hosting several of the artists whose shows were at MOAH, a nice chance to meet and greet some of the creative people behind the art.
The next stop on our visit was Pour d’Vino Wine Lounge and Bistro, a popular wine bar and restaurant on the ‘BLVD’. Not only do they pour over 100 wines and beers, but they offer tasting classes, guest vintners and a wine club. Live music is also featured on several nights. Our group started out by enjoying a nice glass of wine from the expansive wine bar. One standout was the Michael David 6th Sense Syrah, a full bodied wine from California’s Lodi region that had hints of dark cherry, spices and pepper in a smoky package. Jody Cherbonneaux, owner of Pour d’Vino, and her staff have done an excellent job of picking a wide variety of wines, both domestic and imported. Delicious appetizers such as Seared Ahi, Artichoke Dip, a Meat and Cheese Board and Crab Cakes went well with everyone’s choices of wine.
Our host at Pour d’Vino was Edwin Vasquez, a local mixed-media artist, photojournalist and videographer who is very involved in the local Lancaster art scene, mentoring young artists, working with local businesses to find and provide space for local artists and helping to promote the bourgeoning Lancaster art scene to locals and tourists alike. During our meal, he explained his own artistic vision and also filled us in on what is happening artistically in the Antelope Valley. The meal itself was delicious, with items such as Pork Shanks with Spiced Apple Chutney and also Pasta Nautica with shrimp, clams, lobster and vegetables. The Spinach Sauté and Garlic Brussel Sprouts were notable side dishes. Pour d’Vino is an excellent choice for a place to spend an entire evening, enjoying wines and food and fine live music.
The next morning the group met up after breakfast for a morning hike. Nestled within Lancaster’s urban area but providing a high desert experience, the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve has about 100 acres and over 3 miles of well-manicured trails. As we walked along the trail, jackrabbits and squirrels greeted us. Joshua trees, a major part of the local desert scenery, graced the desert floor which was dominated by the view of the mountains to the north. Many locals were out and about, with many families doing the interesting, easy nature walk around the area. This is an excellent place for some nice walking exercise.
After the walk, the group toured the Elyze Clifford Interpretive Center with displays of flora, fauna and geological items from the area. Park rangers and docents are on hand to answer visitor’s questions about what they have seen. Guided tours are available and bird watching walks are scheduled on a regular basis. Making an interesting alternative to going back to the hotel room, regularly scheduled ‘Moon Walks’ are held, weather permitting. The evening combines a one mile walk through the preserve with a tour of the night sky, learning the stars and constellations, and culminating with a viewing through telescopes of the night sky’s wonders.
The group returned to the ‘BLVD’ for the walking tour of the POW WOW! Murals. On the way back, a stop was made across from the museum at Bex. Bex Bar and Grill turned out to be a fascinating place. Originally a large furniture store, ground level at Bex is a large restaurant and event facility with a stage for live music. Downstairs in the basement, called the Underground Bowling Lounge, is a great place to have fun. Pool tables, a large bar and plenty of sofas make for a great place to have drinks and just hang out. The highlight of Bex is their 8 lane “no-league” bowling alley for guests to bowl at. Their special nights, such as ‘Cosmic Bowling Night’ where the lanes are lit only by black light and with glow in the dark balls, give everyone a unique way to enjoy themselves.
Two interesting side items on the ‘BLVD’ include a piano in the middle parking strip. This piano, opened during the day and covered at night, is available for anyone walking by who wants to commit ‘Random Acts of Music’. Anyone, from child to professional, can entertain the people passing by on it. The ‘BLVD’ also contains the Aerospace Walk of Honor, a series of pedestals with plaques that honor prominent persons of acheivement in the aerospace community. With it’s proximity to Edwards Air Force Base, the NASA/Dryden Aerospace Test Facility and the Boeing plant, Lancaster has had many astronauts and aviators on its streets.
Following that, we were free to choose from a multitude of restaurants for our lunch. A popular choice was directly across from the LPAC. Kinetic Brewing Company is a local brewpub, showcasing not only their own beers brewed in the building but local beers from across the region. One rare, special highlight is their delicious brewed root beer, a chance for thirsty guests to see what root beer should really taste like. Beer drinkers can try a sample of their selected beers in order to decide on what suits their taste. The brewpub is spacious, with large full-front window/doors that open up during nice weather to allow unhindered access to the patio on the ‘BLVD’.
Kinetic Brewing had an interesting, chef-driven menu that did not disappoint. The Poutine was an excellent appetizer to share, with tender shredded beef, french fries and cheese curds covered in gravy and then topped with a fried egg. A fresh baked giant pretzel came with two different dipping sauces. Burgers at Kinetic are considered a specialty and those who had them thought they were great. For people wishing to have vegetarian choices, the Veggie Burger had a well-seasoned patty with some nice kick to it. Coming with fries or chips, this was a great example of what a Veggie Burger should be.
Our final stop was at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, or LPAC. The beautiful facility consists of a 758 seat main stage theatre and a smaller, intimate 110 seat theatre. A brief glance in the main theatre showed a beautiful room, with a rehearsal going on for a benefit concert that evening. The stage features everything from musicals and plays, to comedians and musical groups like George Thorogood and the Irish Rovers. The play our group attended in the smaller theatre was Run For Your Wife, a British comedy about a taxi driver who has two wives in two separate houses. It was a well-done production and had the audience howling with laughter.
In a 24 hour span the group had enjoyed a multitude of things that the Lancaster area has to offer. The DestinationLancaster.org website has many more ideas of what to do during a visit to this fascinating area. It is well worth a trip there for its exciting art scene, excellent restaurants and more.
Lancaster Performing Arts Center website
Lancaster Museum of Art and History website
Zelda’s 750 West website
Pour d’Vino website
Kinetic Brewing website
Lemon Leaf Cafe website
TownePlace Suites by Marriott website
Prime Desert Woodland Preserve website