The 7 Best Places to See California's Wildflowers
Springtime means wildflower season in California, when landscapes across the state brighten with the blooms of thousands of native plant species. Depending on rainfall and elevation, flowers can appear as early as mid-February all the way through late summer. And, while not every year brings the right weather conditions for a show-stopping “super bloom”—when bright orange blankets of California poppies are visible even from space—you can still catch a colorful display with a bit of planning. From north to south, here’s where to find wildflowers on your California adventure this spring.
This isn't just a winter destination.
Northern California’s bright-blue gem may be famous as a ski destination, but Lake Tahoe also shines in the spring and summer, when lakeshore and alpine trails are blanketed in green and flecked with wildflowers such as Sierra saxifrage, pink yarrow, Spanish clover, arnica, and fleabane. Look for floral pockets on an electric bike ride along Lake Tahoe’s gorgeous East Shore, or circle the entire lake with a guide on a bus tour that also heads to higher elevations at Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Olympic Games.
Yosemite National Park
Home to long(er)-lasting wildflower blooms.
A bit farther south along the Sierra Nevada range, this world-famous Northern California park boasts one of the longest wildflower seasons in the state thanks to its range of elevations. Blooms begin along the floor of the Yosemite Valley in March and linger as late as August at some of the higher peaks such as Glacier Point and Mono Pass. A seasoned guide can help you find the best blossoms on private hiking or rugged ATV adventure tours.
Mount Diablo State Park
Wildflowers within easy reach of San Francisco.
Named for the imposing peak that rises out of the surrounding hills, this state park—situated within easy reach of San Francisco—is one of the best places to see the famous orange expanses of wild California poppies. Lace up your hiking shoes and look for the brightest poppy fields near Diablo’s summit around mid-April. After a morning wildflower trek, head back to the city and treat yourself to a tasting tour through Little Italy. Or, give your feet a rest aboard a vintage Volkswagen bus as you take a trip through SF’s hippie history.
Options abound in this part of California.
On California’s Central Coast, Pinnacles National Park is fertile ground for fragrant lupine, milkmaids, larkspur, and bush poppies from March through May thanks to its rich volcanic soil. Along the coastline, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a prime place to see flowering carpets of purple and magenta ice plants, plus other seaside species such as the California wild rose and coast morning glory. In between wildflower treasure hunts, explore the charming coastal enclaves of Monterey and Pacific Grove via zippy sea car or electric bike.
This island off the coast of Los Angeles bursts into life in the spring, after winter rains have set the stage for verdant hillsides dappled with wildflowers. Look out for species with captivating names such as the Catalina ironwood, liveforever, and shooting star, after catching the ferry from Long Beach to explore the island’s scenic trails on foot or bike (a permit is required from the Catalina Island Conservancy). Alternatively, bypass this process on a guided excursion such as a Catalina ridgetop Hummer tour or high-flying zip line adventure.
Joshua Tree National Park
Combine wildflowers and adventure in this California favorite.
A top Southern California destination for wildflowers, Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect playground for both nature lovers and outdoor adventurers alike. Keep an eye out for native species such as goldenhead, desert mariposa lily, Mojave prickly poppy, and milkvetch as you explore the otherworldly landscape on an off-road tour or a guided hike. Then, elevate your experience—and views—with a rock-climbing lesson.
Anza-Borrego State Park
California's largest state park blooms into life each spring.
This sprawling Southern California park draws thousands of visitors each spring to admire the wildflowers that add a splash of color to its dramatic desert plains. Among hundreds of flowering species are wild heliotrope, Canterbury bells, chaparral yucca, and hedgehog cactus. California’s largest state park, Anza-Borrego makes an easy day trip from San Diego, so you can go bloom-spotting by day and finish with a sunset sailing charter or dinner cruise with beer pairings around San Diego harbor by night.