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Lancaster

This High Desert town has serious local color—and is a hotbed for the state flower

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Located 61 miles east of Los Angeles, the Mojave Desert town of Lancaster is home to two distinctly California flora: Joshua trees and the state flower, the poppy. But the High Desert hub (meaning it sits between 2,000 and 4,000 feet elevation) also offers Hollywood history, local wine, and one of the quirkiest drives in America.

For a lot of visitors, though, a first stop is the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, where the state flower blooms in droves, from as early as mid-February until as late as May. Prime time comes in April and the two-day California Poppy Festival (located near the Reserve), with live music, exotic animals, a petting zoo, and a car show. Outside of poppy season, hike the reserve’s eight miles of trails and keep an eye out for meadowlarks, hawks, plenty of lizards, and sometimes even bobcats or coyotes. Or explore Saddleback Butte State Park and Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park, both of which are home to Joshua trees; in early spring, see the blooms that make the trees part of the lily family.

Year-round, you can experience another local crop: wine. Antelope Valley Winery offers tastings of wines made with local grapes, tours, and vineyard picnics. Pair a bottle of red, white, or Rosé with fruits, nuts, and baked goods procured on-site from the seasonal farmers market, or the grass-fed buffalo and game meats of Leona Valley farms.

Spend some time in downtown Lancaster where the main shopping area, The BLVD, offers dining, shopping, attractions (like the 19th-century Western Hotel Museum), and special events like September’s professional go-kart race, the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix. Nearby, grab breakfast or lunch at Crazy Otto’s Diner, famed for cooking up the Biggest Omelette in the World (1,364 square feet); choose from the relatively regular-size options such as a classic Denver, the Crazy Otto’s Burgermeat Omelette, or the Scotty’s Chili Cheese Dog Omelette.

Lancaster has its share of Hollywood history, too. Judy Garland once lived here, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon both ate at Crazy Otto’s, and the local Sanctuary Adventist Church was featured in the infamous wedding scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (and returned for an encore in Kill Bill: Volume 2). Take some selfies or a guided tour—just be mindful that on Sundays, it’s still a working church—and yes, it is available for weddings.

Before you leave town, be sure to drive down Avenue G between 30th and 40th street West, the first-ever Musical Road. Originally created by Honda for an advertising campaign, the road has grooves that play the finale of the “William Tell Overture” once you reach 55 miles per hour.

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