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Two rounded-top glamping huts with the sun low behind them.
Glamping huts at Blue Sky Center.
(Blue Sky Center)

11 things to do in this hidden roadside town bursting with history (and wildflowers)

The superbloom: It’s a Southern California phenomenon that incites glee in the hearts and minds of Angelenos, and frustration in the lives of local officials. In 2019, the last significant superbloom — caused by a high concentration of dormant wildflower seeds finally getting the wet conditions needed to explode into existence all at once — led to traffic jams and parking issues, as well as overwhelmed hiking trails, with visitors often trampling the very flowers they were there to see.

This year, the town of Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, an epicenter of the 2019 poppy superbloom, is shutting off access to popular Walker Canyon trails in order to avoid the “Disneyland-sized crowds” that showed up four years ago. Luckily, there will likely be more than a few places to see superblooms up close. One community embracing its floral abundance is the Cuyama Valley, a corridor of low, rolling hills with rich soil and plenty of sun. And while flower peeping has its charms, there’s so much more in the valley to see and do.

Just a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, the area nicknamed the Hidden Valley of Enchantment lies north of the Sierra Madre mountain range and Los Padres National Forest. Historically a region for farming and cattle grazing, the valley flipped to oil fields in the 1950s when the Richfield Oil Corp. struck a vein near the tiny town of Cuyama, near the Carrizo Plain. By the 1990s, the oil fields were nearly spent; Richfield had been absorbed into what is now the gas station conglomerate known as ARCO; and farmers and ranchers started reclaiming most of the land again. As you turn off I-5 and head west down Highway 166, you’ll see signs of these worlds coexisting as you pass by rows of citrus orchards, carrot fields, grazing cattle and the occasional lazy oil rig. (There’s another, arguably more scenic, way to get here, but Highway 33 from Ojai to Cuyama was closed at the time of publication; check ahead for reopening.)

As you climb the foothills just past the city of Taft, be on the lookout for the “Welcome to the Cuyama Valley” sign planted firmly up on a bluff. This is where the enchantment begins. Blink at the wrong time and you’ll miss the former boomtown of New Cuyama, the best place to hunker down for your weekend of flower peeping (and more). With a current population of just 550, the town consists of small houses, a park and a school, all built in 1951 to house Richfield’s oil workers and their families; a small airport and a motel were added to accommodate visiting executives. That motel has now been restored as a modern roadside resort called the Cuyama Buckhorn. From bikers to day trippers to locals, all roads lead here.

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Whether you’re checking in for a quick escape from the city to explore the Carrizo Plain National Monument or grabbing a bite to eat before hunting down the perfect patch of wildflowers, be sure to take a minute to fully appreciate your surroundings. From wine and mead tastings to hiking in the nearby Sierra Madre mountains to getting to know local olive growers, the Cuyama Valley offers so much more than the superbloom.

Here are 11 things to see and do while you’re in the Hidden Valley of Enchantment.

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A classic car parked in front of the Cuyama Buckhorn hotel
(Kiana Toossi)

Cuyama Buckhorn

Santa Barbara County Historic Hotel
Originally built after the oil boom in the 1950s as the social hub and executive watering hole for the town of New Cuyama, this roadside resort has been lovingly brought back to life by owners Jeff Vance and Ferial Sadeghian. Today, the 21 rooms, all fitted with custom-built furniture and minibars featuring snacks and wines from around the valley, are arranged around a courtyard that boasts two firepits, a bocce ball court, swimming pool, hot tub, dry sauna and plenty of space to enjoy the open skies.

Holding true to its roots as the town’s community center, the hotel hosts a rotating roster of seasonal events, from tasting menus featuring out-of-town chefs to Easter egg hunts. A spring wildflower weekend this year runs from May 5-7 and will celebrate the seasonal bloom with room discounts, specialty drinks and more. Rates start at $199 per night.
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A couple talk while sitting at the Buckhorn Bar; behind them, a bartender serves a patron.
(Kiana Toossi)

The Buckhorn Restaurant & Bar

Santa Barbara County Food & Beverage
When you’re the only spot for a high-quality meal for miles, the expectations can seem astronomically high. But the Buckhorn Restaurant and Buckhorn Bar meet those expectations with aplomb. Situated at the front of the Cuyama Buckhorn hotel right off the main highway, both establishments are casual and welcoming.

Vibe-wise, the restaurant mixes roadside diner and hipster Americana, with a menu that highlights the wealth of the surroundings. A chalkboard covering a wall behind the counter lists local purveyors for everything from beef for burgers to lavender for lattes. The bar’s drink menu rivals that of your favorite big-city bar, with a wall of booze featuring bar staples, as well as special top-shelf liquors that go for $50 a pour. Local touches include a fat-washed dirty vodka martini, where vodka is steeped in olive oil and topped with olives grown just up the road. And for your morning caffeine fix, the Buck Stop coffee shop serves L.A.-based Canyon Coffee and freshly baked pastries.
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Outdoor glamping huts lit up under a night sky, with people in the foreground next to a fire pit
(Blue Sky Center)

Blue Sky Center

Santa Barbara County Nonprofit
Sitting along the airstrip of what used to be the New Cuyama Airport, the Blue Sky Center is an experimental, place-based nonprofit whose mission is to help bring exciting economic development to the town and valley. The small campus is currently home to local businesses like the Cuyama Beverage Co. and High Desert Print Co., among others. There’s also studio space and residency programs for visiting artists and community groups.

Its biggest effort to date to promote local tourism has resulted in five small glamping huts, designed by architecture firm Shelton Huts, that are available for rent on Airbnb and are perfect for individuals or large groups. Call ahead for tours of the campus and updated workshop hours. Airbnb rates start at $98 per night.
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An aerial view of the Condor's Hope vineyard, with mountains in the background
(Robbie Jaffe)

Condor’s Hope

Winery
Tucked way, way, way back into the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains is this 5-acre certified organic vineyard and olive farm run by farming couple Steve Gliessman and Robbie Jaffe. Both teachers from Santa Cruz, Gliessman and Jaffe started Condor’s Hope as a collective with several other families nearly 30 years ago, and they’ve been dry farming — a technique that forces the vines to grow deeper roots to seek out natural pockets of underground water versus relying on irrigation — here ever since.

A visit to their certified-organic vineyard will remind you just how special a wine tasting can be. There are no daunting warehouses or ornate tasting rooms. Instead, walk through the vineyard with Gliessman as he explains their farming ethos and enjoy a tasting of estate-grown zinfandel and shiraz led by Jaffe. Hearing them rhapsodize about their respect for the land and listening to its needs kind of makes you think twice about grabbing that prepackaged salad mix at Ralphs.

Call or email ahead for a reservation for a two-hour tasting, $30-$35 per person. Exact directions to the winery, located about 15 miles west of New Cuyama, will be sent after you book a tasting.
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A woman pours drinks for a man at a counter at the Cuyama Beverage Co.
(Amethel Parel-Sewell / Kai Parel Sewell)

Cuyama Beverage Co.

Santa Barbara County Food & Beverage
Wildflowers aren’t the only thing that thrive in Cuyama Valley. It’s also the perfect climate for nourishing pristine wild honey, which is the main ingredient in mead, a.k.a. honey wine. The Cuyama Beverage Co., a joint venture that bloomed out of Blue Sky Center, has been fermenting and blending its own variety of mead since 2018. The result? A dry, effervescent beverage that resembles a dry sparkling wine or hard cider. Head to the HQ at Blue Sky Center for a Sunset Sip mead tasting and experience the best of what the valley has to offer. Reservations for tastings are required and cost $35 per person.
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A tent on the grounds at Cuyama Oaks Ranch, with a sunset beyond.
(Nathan Bremer)

Cuyama Oaks Ranch

Santa Barbara County Ranch
This 82-acre haven came to life during the pandemic, when owners Nathan Bremer and Ricky Smith grew tired of apartment living in nearby Ventura and decided to branch out. The result? A multihyphenate oasis idyllically tucked away off of Highway 166 surrounded by nothing by open space (and a few dozen cattle grazing so close to the road you could almost pet them from your car window — please don’t).

Cuyama Oaks caters to multiple needs: It’s part glamping site, with two private yurts available, along with a communal space for eating, playing and even watching movies; and part petting zoo, thanks to the roughly 100 chickens, 20 to 30 goats and 10 pigs that Bremer and Smith raise and sell to other DIY farmers looking to start their own herd. There are also three private camping spaces closer to the wildflowers, if that’s more your speed. But book fast. All their spaces go quickly for the spring/summer. Yurts start at $168 oper night.
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A selection of finds, from art to furniture, inside of 1952 Vintage Finds.
(Raef Harrison)

1952 Vintage Finds

Santa Barbara County Vintage Store
Tucked behind the post office just off the main strip, 1952 Vintage Finds is a collective of sorts. The small, two-room storefront showcases various vintage wares collected by shop owner Leah Bourgeois and her sister Jayne Robles, both full-time teachers. The two vintage lovers started collecting items on their various road trips across the country to places like Indiana, Utah and Arizona; they decided to open 1952 Vintage as a hobby during the pandemic.

Expect shelves filled with vintage glassware from Ohio, ceramics from Indiana and jewelry and clothing sourced from all over. There’s also a great collection of old postcards featuring period shots of the town and valley. Shop hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; weekdays by appointment.
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Bagged pistachios in a box from Santa Barbara Pistachio Co.
(Santa Barbara Pistachio Co.)

Santa Barbara Pistachio Co.

Maricopa Food & Beverage
If the fact that pistachios are grown on trees comes as something of a shock to you, then it’s time you paid a visit to the Santa Barbara Pistachio Co. A staple in the valley since 1991, this family-run business does everything by hand — from the growing of said trees to the picking, roasting and packaging of the final product.

Pop into the company’s storefront just off Highway 33 toward Ojai and see how the nut is grown, harvested and, thanks to the Zannon family’s flavorful recipes and roasting processes, deliciously brined and roasted with gourmet flavors like chile lemon and hot onion garlic. Store hours are 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
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Yellow flowers in bloom along the Selby Campground Loop Trail
(Raef Harrison)

Wildflower hikes

Hike
This, of course, is the main event. The real reason you’re coming here is to get a glimpse (and the perfect Instagram shot) of the massive wildflower superblooms that will be happening, thanks to the biblical amounts of rain Southern California received this winter. And it won’t be hard. Just drive down Highway 166 and look to your left or right. Try not to swerve off the road as you marvel at the iridescent shimmer that comes from the surrounding hills teeming with purple woolly headed daisy and yellow fiddleneck.

Pull over at a nearby trailhead and wander into the foothills. The Selby Campground Loop Trail is a moderate 4.3-miler that will give you a nice view of the surrounding valley and its floral abundance. And, while a little bit of a drive toward Bakersfield, the aptly named Wildflower Trail is an even easier 0.9-mile loop that will get you up close and personal with some dodecatheon, a.k.a. shooting star.

Directions to Selby Campground Loop Trail: Head west on Highway 166; turn right onto Caliente Mountain Road to Selby Road.

Directions to Wildflower Trail: Head east on Highway 166 for 36 miles; turn right at Gless Ranch; continue for 3 miles.
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The entrance to Aliso Park Campground is filled with tall shade trees
(Raef Harrison)

Aliso Park Campground

Santa Barbara County Campground
If ground sleeping is more your speed, make your way down a six-mile winding road off of Highway 166, past open cattle-grazing fields and a few random sluggish oil pumps. Hang a right at a small sign that’s shaped like a guitar, and you’ll find yourself at Aliso Park Campground, an oak-tree-covered oasis nestled creekside, now with actual creek water running through it. Pitch your tent in one of the first-come, first-served camping spots and enjoy the fact that you’ll be harder to reach, thanks to limited cell service.

You’re also at the trailhead for the McPherson Peak Trail, which is a 3.5-mile hike up into the foothills of the Los Padres mountains. An Adventure Pass is required for overnight camping. Local tip: Beware of black bears.

Note: At the time of publication, the campground was closed due to a downed tree blocking access. Call ahead before heading there.
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Yellow, purple, green and orange flowers cover the hills at Carrizo Plain National Monument
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Carrizo Plain National Monument

San Luis Obispo Historical Landmark
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you were truly alone in nature, this national monument, located about 45 miles southeast of New Cuyama, might be the closest you’ll come. Enter off of Highway 166 and follow one of the “unimproved” dirt roads into the heart of the park. Get ready for the reverberating sound of light breezes rustling through low-lying shrubs and wildflowers, along with birds chirping and not much else.

Look out over the vast terrain and see if you can spot the subtle ridges and ravines that signal the famous San Andreas Fault, which runs through the middle of the monument. Then head to the white alkali shores of Soda Lake, “the largest remaining natural alkali wetland in Southern California and the only closed basin within the coastal mountains,” according to the Bureau of Land Management. At the time of publication, everything is open, but the visitor center advises visitors to look out for soft spots on roads. It’s wise to call ahead before visiting and check conditions, since the rain could compromise or change some of the roads and trails.
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