California is a state that is blessed with a diversity of natural environments, from the deserts of Death Valley and the Mojave, the redwoods of the northwest, the high peaks and clear streams of the Sierras, and the valleys of live oak and grassland. With such differing ecosystems, we are fortunate to have an incredible number of annual and perennial wildflowers, trees, and flowering shrubs. In fact, there are more than 7,000 species of these types of vegetation in the state. Wildflowers can be spectacular in all of these regions, but their abundance and variety are linked to the amount of rain that falls, generally in the fall and winter months from November–March.
Although rain is crucial for the growth of flowers, the timing, amount of precipitation, and temperature are critical for a super bloom to occur. For example, there must be a significant amount of moisture during September and October, which helps to rinse a bloom-inhibiting chemical from some types of seeds. Though not as important as rain, wind can also influence the abundance of annual wildflowers, as too much wind will dry out the seeds.
Even without a super bloom, there are many places in our Golden State to see gorgeous flowers. California’s state flower, the yellow-to-deep-orange California poppy, and others still brighten the hills and valleys, if you know where to look and when their golden petals mingle with purple lupin and yellow goldfields, the sight is spectacular.
Here are five places throughout the state that are known for their display of flowers. Even when rainfall is below normal there will be plenty to see in these natural landscapes; interesting geology and land formations, shrubs and trees, and other wildlife, such as deer, bobcats, fox and a variety of reptiles and birds. The best thing to do is to make a day of it. Bring a picnic lunch and camera and walk at your leisure in the natural world.
1. Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve
This reserve is located at 1510 Lancaster Road in Lancaster, California. The area is considered part of the Mojave Desert Grassland habitat and lies at 2,600–3,000 feet in elevation. Here on 8 miles of trails, you are likely to see poppies, lupin, goldfields, and blue forget-me-knots. It is a beautiful reserve with a good view of the San Gabriel Mountains and there are benches located at spots along the trails for you to sit, relax, and enjoy the natural environment.
While you are there, be sure that you visit the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center which has wildlife and flower exhibits. High desert country often means unpredictable weather, so check before you arrive. It is usually windy in the spring so dress accordingly and bring plenty of water. Dogs are not allowed, and you are advised to stay on trails while taking photos to prevent damage to the flowering vegetation. This is a habitat for the Mojave green rattlesnake, and they are active on warm days, so be on the lookout as you walk. They are not aggressive and are an important part of the grassland ecosystem, keeping rodents in check.
2. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California and is home to many unique plants that only grow in a desert environment. Many species bloom from March through early summer, including cactus, agave and yuccas, shrubs, and annual wildflowers. The abundance and quality of the flowers is dependent on the duration, time, and amount of rainfall, but also the wind. However, even when there is a year with less than average rain. This desert is worth a visit to find flowers. Cactus and flowering shrubs can be found in desert canyons and in washes where there is seasonal water. Cacti — such as beavertail, barrel, and cholla — and prickly pear bloom in April and May and have scarlet and shocking pink blooms, splendid to behold. The combination of bright yellow flowers, dusty sage-green leaves of brittlebush, and the deep and light purple of desert lavender and indigo bushes attract insects as well as birds. If you go, check in at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center for information on where to find flowers.
Pro Tip: Flowers, if not carpeting the desert floor, can often be found in canyons and washes, sometimes where there are spots of shade.
3. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is another great site to view wildflowers. Due to the muted colors of the Mojave Desert, the blooms of purple, red, yellow, cream, and blue flowers are especially vivid. Like other desert areas, such as Anza-Borrego State Park mentioned above, blooms vary from year to year, highly dependent on the amount of precipitation and air temperatures.
The prime wildflower season at Joshua Tree flourishes for just a few weeks, especially in the lower elevations, just enough time for the annual flowers to produce seeds. The Pinto Basin is a good place to view early blooms.
Flowers at higher elevations emerge later (March into April) but sometimes not until June. The indicator species of the park is the Joshua Tree, yucca breviola — commonly known as “desert dagger.” This is an unusual plant pollinated by moths, whose cream-colored blossoms hang in panicles. Other flowers include the large, white, trumpet-shaped Jimsonweed; the yellow-centered purple Mojave Aster; the orange-red Indian Paintbrush; and the deep blue Canterbury Bells.
Camping is allowed in the park and other accommodations including motels, lodges, and Airbnbs can be found in the towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms.
For more information, go to Joshua Tree National Park at nps.gov.
Joshua Tree is accessible from Los Angeles via Highway 10 and from San Diego on I-215 north to Highway 10. Start at the park entrance on Hwy 62 in the town of Joshua Tree.
Pro Tip: Visit the Hi-Desert Nature Museum in Twentynine Palms. It’s open Wednesday–Saturday from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
4. Carrizo Plain National Monument
Located in San Luis Obispo County, 50 miles southeast of Paseo Robles and 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Carrizo Plain National Monument represents a portion of the once vast grasslands that covered parts of central and coastal California. At 250,000 acres, it is the largest remaining protected grassland habitat in California and spreads between two mountain ranges: the Temblor and the Calientes. The famous San Andreas Fault lies along the eastern edge of the mountains. This is a spectacular area that will transport you to a different era in California history.
When the rainy season is adequate, you will be rewarded with a mosaic of colors carpeting the grasslands and hills. There are fields of lupin and poppies, but also deeply pink owl’s clover, red paintbrush, and orange-tinged fiddlenecks.
Wildflower season begins around mid-March and tapers in mid-May, as daytime temperatures rise. The best spots to see the flowers are along Soda Lake Road and Simmler Road. Besides a kaleidoscope of colors, you will enjoy the open space and quiet. And if you are lucky, an antelope, coyote, or bobcat may cross your path. You can also visit Painted Rock which contains the rock art of the Chumash and Yokut Indian tribes that once called this area their home.
Pro Tip: Be aware that there are no services in this area, so make certain that your gas tank is filled, and you bring along food and water. The road into the monument is not paved, but you do not need a four-wheel drive vehicle. Still, it’s a good idea to use a vehicle with good clearance and to check road conditions before you set out.
5. Fort Ord National Monument
Fort Ord National Monument is a coastal gem, and it was once a United States Army base, closed in 1994. In 2012, 14,651 acres were preserved as a national monument. It contains some of the largest coastal oak-chaparral habitats in California. Within the monument are 86 miles of trail for you to hike, bike, or horseback ride to your heart’s content. The monument’s main entrance, Creekside Trailhead, is located off State Highway 68 between the cities of Salinas, Seaside, and Monterey.
The area abounds in diverse habitats and wildlife including striking displays of annual wildflowers in the spring. The best time to view wildflowers here is early March and, depending on the amount and timing of rainfall, well into April. There are colorful and fragrant shrubs as well, like the orange sticky monkey flower and elegant red-bark manzanita with its pale-pink delicate cluster of bell-shaped petals, which bloom as early as January. You will be delighted to see hummingbirds hovering around the blossoms. There are patches of purple lupin, bright yellow buttercups, and red Indian paintbrush — even if the rainfall for the season is below average. The trails are varied in composition from dirt and sand to gravel roads. It is advised to be on the lookout for mountain bikes and horses, as the monument is a multi-use area.
Pro Tip: Follow up your hike with lunch at the Toro Café along Highway 68 just 10 minutes west of the trailhead. They have great burgers, salads, and sandwiches!
6. Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve
Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve is an 8,533-acre protected area that was once mined for coal in the late 19th century and was the site of several small towns housing the Welsh miners that came to work there. It is located near Antioch, California, in Contra Costa County. This preserve has more than 2,000 species of plants, including the rare Mt. Diablo fairy lantern and Mt. Diablo sunflower. There are remnants of coal mining here and one mine that you can tour. There is also a burial ground which was a Protestant cemetery named Rose Hill where 200 miners and their families were buried around the 1860s. Besides spring wildflowers, you may encounter something unusual: There have been many reports of ghosts in this area.
Pro Tip: There are 65 miles of trails to explore and some of the hillside trails are steep, so you may want to bring your trekking poles.
7. Dry Creek Meadows Preserve
This protected area is a 152-acre, former gravel quarry pit located just northwest of Lemon Cove near Visalia in Tulare County. In 2004, the California Portland Cement Company donated their property to the Sequoia RiverLands Trust. The site is unique because it contains one of the few remaining alluvial woodlands in the state. A group of volunteers spent many hours over restoring the damaged areas by rerouting the streambeds and planting native trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers that support populations of bald eagles, great blue herons, and herds of mule deer, as well as a showy display of wildflowers in the spring.
Pro Tip: Stop at The Main Squeeze Market along Highway 198 for great barbecue and mementos.
For more information about flowers in bloom all across the world: