If you’re not spending your spring vacation in California hunting for wildflowers, you might want to reconsider — and quick.
Each year, starting in March and lasting through mid-May, parts of the Golden State's coastline come alive with bright hues of red, purple, orange, and yellow as native wildflowers are roused for the season.
While there are hundreds of species of native wildflowers growing here, the state flower might just be its most stunning genus. The California Poppy is the rockstar of West Coast blooms — lightly scented, easy to spot, and graced with broad petals in various shades of orange, red, white, gold, and pink. It proliferates in vast quantities across meadows and hillsides all over the state of California. To see it, all you have to do is get out and drive.
Last year, heavy rains across the state during January and February resulted in one of the most epic “super blooms” Californians had ever seen — with many speed-dialing the state’s famous Wildflower Hotline and traveling out of their way to witness the extravagant floral display in places like Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Unfortunately, experts aren't expecting the same outrageous blooms in 2018 (the last few months have been particularly dry). But there are still places where wildflowers can be found this spring.
Where to See Wildflowers in Southern California
Seventy-five miles inland from San Luis Obispo, these beautifully unspoiled grasslands are some of the largest in California, and remain a well-loved destination for wildflower spotting. Expect plenty of California poppies, owl's clover, and jewelflower budding across the vast terrain, while the white alkali flats and “painted rock” make for an interesting backdrop.
Locals and tourists drove two and a half hours out of Los Angeles last year to catch the “super bloom” inside this sizable 600,000-acre government-protected site. With roughly 200 different kinds of flowering species (from desert lilies to purple desert lavender and lipstick-red ocotillo) and various trails like the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, this desert park is a rich botanical experience in spring.
Once used as spillover grazing for surrounding ranches in Mexico, this peaceful nature area is just under an hour from Los Angeles on Highway 71. Even after a typical winter, the hillsides are carpeted in purple and yellow poppies. The trails are easy to navigate, and the views are stunning in all directions.
Antelope Valley remains southern California’s trusted destination for glorious, uninterrupted poppy displays. While reports are still vague about this year’s turnout, recent rains have sparked hope that there will be a flower show after all.
Where to See Wildflowers in Northern California
Like frolicking through mountain valleys swathed in rainbow blooms? Pinnacles National Park, two hours south of San Francisco, is a must-see in spring. Around early April, the large grasslands erupt with California poppies, Mariposa lilies, shooting stars, and dozens of other flower species. It's an impossibly beautiful backdrop to the park's year-round rock formations, rock canyons, and caves.
If you’re in the mood for a flower-themed road trip, this is the area to hit. Travel north on the I-70, which winds through Plumas National Forest — a vast area with endless opportunities for flower hunting. In many cases, you won’t even have to leave the car to spot the blossoming flora. Travelers can also see Feather River Canyon and Butterfly Valley, which are especially idyllic in late spring, with wild orchids making a special appearance for those who know where to look for them.
One of northern California’s best loved spring jaunts offers sweeping fields of orange, purple, and white flowers. The 3,200-acre state-managed land yields plenty of wildflowers from April to mid-May, including the usual suspects like lupine, poppies, blue dicks, purple owl’s clover, and larkspur (more than 100 different kinds in all).
This sublime, unspoiled landscape just outside San Francisco is perfect for getting lost in, with trails branching out in all directions, and plenty of opportunities to see old-growth redwood trees, it’s a nature lover’s dream. Head out on the Dipsea Trail to see Douglas’ iris and fetid adder’s tongue, among a litany of other native wildflowers.