The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:21 p.m., lighting up the overcast sky before placing an Argentinian SAOCOM 1A satellite into orbit.
It will be SpaceX's first time trying to land one of its reusable rockets on the West Coast.
The descent was heralded in dramatic fashion by loud sonic booms that rumbled across Southern California as the rocket homed in on its landing pad.
Proving out a successful booster retrieval system on the West Coast marks another step in SpaceX's drive to increase rocket reusability and as a result drive down the cost of access to space.
After Falcon 9's fireworks, booster B1048 managed a stunning return to Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4), giving local observers a nice triple sonic boom.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk was a bit more succinct in a pre-launch tweet: "Sonic boom warning".
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During the landing attempt residents from Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties were warned that they may hear one or more sonic booms.
The Air Force said before the 7:22 p.m. launch that it expected that people as far away as Sacramento and Southern California would see the rocket's contrail.
The SAOCOM 1 mission aims to study soil moisture using synthetic-aperture radar readings from two identical satellites in low Earth orbit, SAOCOM 1A and 1B. This may include multiple engine burns.
Known as plume interaction, the phenomena has been known to produce extraordinary visual effects and the launch of SAOCOM 1A was certainly no exception.
Baldwin wasn't the only one to capture incredible views of SpaceX's launch. SpaceX's landing record now stands at 30 successful booster recoveries, 11 at Cape Canaveral, one at Vandenberg and 18 on droneships.