There’s just something about Mother Nature…and her magnificent California wildflowers. American naturalist John Burroughs once said, “I go to nature to be soothed, and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” How very true.
When is California Wildflower Season?
Spring is an absolutely beautiful time of the year in Southern California. A time when the air is filled with intoxicating fragrances from a host of newly blooming wildflowers in the desert and coastal areas from mid-February through May, peaking in mid-March.
However, this also depends a lot on the rainfall and temperatures of each season and it is hard to pinpoint an exact time. I highly recommend watching the local news channels and checking for current updates on the local California Wildflower bloom, and then acting quickly once the buds are starting to bloom. With all the rain we had in the last weeks, 2023 looks promising for higher than average bloom, maybe even a superbloom? We’ll have to keep watching how the rain continues in Southern California this spring. In any case, it is still worth driving out there and soaking it all in and enjoying nature.
California Super Bloom
Each year, we botanical lovers hope and wish for a super bloom – when the landscape is covered with a rainbow explosion of colorful flowers. Super blooms happen when a delicate balance of sunshine, temperature, wind, and rainfall has occurred during the fall and winter months, resulting in an unusual number of wildflowers all blooming at the same time.
These super blooms typically occur once every 10 to 15 years, but 2017 and 2019 proved that this phenomenon can happen at any time.
Whether we’ll witness another super bloom this spring remains to be seen, though a bit more rain would be helpful. But the only way for San Diegans and other So Cal residents to know is by planning a visit to these destinations – the absolute best places to see the California wildflowers in all their glory.
Most Common California Wildflowers
- California Poppies
- Desert Lily
- Fleabane Daisy
- Dune Evening Primrose
- Desert Dandelions
- Matilija Poppies
- Bush Sunflower
- Joshua Tree
- Wild Morning Glory
- Mariposa Lily
- Monkey Flower
- Indian Paintbrush
- Wild Sage
- Western Goldenrod
Where to See the Southern California Superbloom
If you are planning a day trip to see the California Wildflowers, take a look at these Southern California Parks. Most are within a few hours from San Diego or Los Angeles. Make sure to get there early, not only to avoid the crowds but also to get the best light for your photos.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Located in Borrego Springs in Southern California’s Colorado Desert, Anza-Borrego is the largest of California’s state parks. And it’s also one of the early blooming first-responders of our desert regions with over a hundred varieties of wildflowers and blooming cacti.
This magnificent outdoor playground just two hours east of San Diego sports hiking trails, campgrounds, waterfalls, Desert Bighorn sheep, and of course, wildflower preserves. Though the bloom officially begins halfway through February, mid-March is typically the best time to see the spectacle of color carpeting the desert floor.
Best places to see a variety of desert blooms, including the bright pink-purplish sand verbena are along Henderson Canyon Road, surrounding the Visitor Center, and Borrego Palm Canyon. It’s simply magnificent.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Our official state flower is the California Poppy. And the best place to see thousands of these bright orange flowers is along the sloping hills of Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a 3 ½-hour jaunt from San Diego.
Situated in northern Los Angeles County, this state reserve sits in the high western Mojave Desert, 3000- feet above sea level. This is California’s most consistent poppy-bearing land.
The intense blooming season occurs in late winter to early spring, mid-February through mid-May. Taking to the trails is the ideal way to see the poppies, and how amazing that one of its trails is actually wheelchair-accessible.
Joshua Tree National Park
One of the west’s most picturesque national parks and one of our favorites, Joshua Tree encompasses 1,200 square miles within the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. Though the park is a popular year-round destination, spring’s colorful blossoms make a visit here a prized experience.
Wildflowers can begin blooming in the lower elevations in February, and in higher elevations in March and April as daytime temperatures rise. The park showcases the most variations of splendid color ranging from reds and yellows, to purples and blues– all splashed across a fascinating and picturesque landscape.
You’ll find stunning Mariposa and Desert Lilies, vibrant blue Canterbury Bells, Purple Mat, and bright Golden Poppies here, just to name a few. It’s more than worth the three-hour road trip from San Diego.
Walker Canyon, Lake Elsinore
UPDATE: Walker Canyon was closed on February 7th, 2023 for visitors for the duration of the poppy bloom.
Just one-hour northeast of San Diego, Lake Elsinore is the largest freshwater lake in California. It also achieved notoriety as the epicenter of the 2019 super bloom in its magnificent ecological reserve, Walker Canyon.
Multiple trails traversing this high-desert canyon in the Temescal Mountains of Riverside County lead to rolling hills blanketed with an explosion of rich colors from Golden California Poppies, Desert Sunflowers, and more, though the poppy fields reign supreme. Their season of wildflower blooms typically runs from early March through early April, depending on weather factors.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Nestled in California’s Central Valley, 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, this monument area is all that remains of the immense grasslands that once covered this expansive picturesque valley.
Rolling hills and meadows here as far as the eye can see are blanketed in larkspur, phacelia, daisies, and Mother Nature’s other jewels flashing orange, bright yellow, and purple hues. Peak bloom typically runs from late March through the end of April.
Where to stay near Carrizo Plains:
This wildflower region is in the middle of nowhere. There are some Airbnb’s in a small town called McKittrick, but if you want to stay in a larger town, you can either stay in Pismo Beach (81 miles) or Bakersfield (69 miles). I personally would choose Pismo Beach, a cute little Central California beach town with a fun vibe.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
A 7,000-acre wilderness area in the San Joaquin Hills surrounding Laguna Beach, this picturesque park features coastal canyons, stunning ridgeline views, and the only natural lakes in Orange County. Streams running only in the spring are also a huge draw.
We also love that this pristine nature park transports visitors back to how coastal California appeared many years ago. Forty miles of trails meandering these untouched canyons lead hikers and bikers through oak and sycamore woodlands and onto elevated ridges with panoramic vistas.
Native plants and flowers such as wild hyacinth, morning glories, popcorn flowers, and southern sun cups are joined each spring by Baby Blue Eyes, vibrantly violet Johnny Jump-ups and Mariposa Lilies. Wildflower season typically peaks here the end of April.
Point Dume State Beach
Blankets of stunningly beautiful giant yellow and multi-hued Coreopsis, Bush Flowers, and California Poppies carpet the coastal headlands above Point Dume State Beach in Malibu each spring.
Sand Verbenas, Morning Glory, and Evening Primrose flourish along the trails. As an added bonus, visitors can view this glorious spectacle from the highlands and hills, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
This promontory located just west of Los Angeles forms the northern end of the Santa Monica Bay, and is yet another magnificent California state park offering amazing picturesque hiking. On a clear day you can see all the way to Santa Catalina Island. And how awesome that these vistas also offer the best viewings of whales and pods of playful dolphins.
FAQs about Viewing Southern California Wildflowers:
Check each park’s website for updated information as local rainfall and weather conditions determine bloom.
Viewing spring wildflowers is quite a popular Southern California activity. Arriving early or later in the day allows for enjoying without the crowds. You may also consider opting for a weekday vs a weekend trip as traffic can take away the pleasure of being outdoors with nature.
Some parks do charge an entrance fee, some do not. Again, information can be found on each park’s website.
The parks are open however some may limit the number of vehicles entering the park, especially on the weekends. Social distancing guidelines are set forth by our state and national parks, both on the website and posted throughout the park. My advice is that everyone should bring a mask.
Best tips for visiting the parks during California Wildflower Season?
Some of the best viewings of California wildflowers occur by following along recommended park pathways. You’ll want to wear comfortable shoes and layered clothing as temperatures and weather conditions can vary dramatically throughout the day. And make sure to bring plenty of water.
Stay on the trails. They are there for a reason, and as the weather starts to warm up, our reptilian friends tend to become more active.
Keep an eye out for local critters. We are visiting in their habitat after all. While it’s highly unlikely they would cause harm, it’s always good practice to stay attentive.
Take lots of photos of course, but please don’t trample the flowers while you’re going for that perfect Instagram shot. And be considerate of others who are wanting to take their photos as well.
Remember to treat nature with the utmost respect. This means following California’s “Leave no trace” mantra. Take your trash when you leave. Also, don’t remove anything from the fields, and THAT includes picking the flowers.
Enjoy the California wildflower season, and let us know which Southern California destination “wowed” you most.
California Wildflowers – Where to See the Southern California Superbloom was written by Noreen Kompanik for San Diego Explorer.
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Last Updated on March 3, 2023 by Maria Haase