California wildflower season might just be that rare Instagram trend that’s definitely worth checking out. Since the #superbloom gained its hashtag, the influx of newcomers has included — well, just about everyone. It can get crowded, but an hour or two frolicking in a colorful field full of beautiful flowers might be better than medicine. If it’s good enough for tom pettyit is enough for me.
While not every year produces a full super bloom, this renewed interest in flowers as photo ops has put state parks back on the map as destination locations — at least for a few months each year. Whether you’re a pure heart or an up-and-coming influencer, we don’t judge. Here’s a guide to everywhere you can see really beautiful flowers in California this year, from Death Valley to Mount Diablo.
Best for: poppies, black mustard (actually a yellow flower), purple clover, Arroyo lupins, wild radish flowers
If you know the general lay of the land in Los Angeles, you know this is one of the closest places to catch blooming flowers, even if you live in the heart of the city. Just get on 10 East and drive 30-40 minutes (on a good day) until you reach San Bernardino County. Take the Soquel Canyon Pkwy and head into the park, which charges a very reasonable $10 for a day pass. Just be sure to watch out for rattlesnakes, keep all pets off paved areas, and don’t pick or trample flowers. Get your Instagram moment from the safety of the trails, to preserve beauty for all.
Best for: Desert sunflower (“desert gold”), desert marigold, white “gravel ghost”, purple phacelia, brittlebush, evening primrose, lupine, desert paintbrush, mariposa lily
If you couldn’t already tell from the name, this park is not for the faint of heart. It’s more of a hike from the LA area, but well worth it once you’ve completed the 3.5 hour drive. (Also worth noting that it’s only two hours from Las Vegas). Although this park is not having a super bloom this year, there are still plenty of wildflowers starting to appear in the area. Because the park is at such a low elevation, even below sea level, the flowers start to grow as early as February here, and their contrast to the desert landscape and rocks is part of what makes this park such a destination.
Best for: poppies, lupine, keel fruit, fiddleheads, desert ball, California aster
If you’re looking for a proven spot to catch a wave of California’s humble state flower, the poppy, this is your place. The reservation is part of the western Mojave Desert, but it is a high desert, with an elevation ranging from 2600 to 3000 feet. What does that mean? Drink plenty of water and watch out for high winds as you trek through this poppy haven. As tempting as it may be, don’t pick the poppies, no matter how many of them grow on these hills.
Best for: Blue lupine, poppies, golden fields, baby blue eyes. Mariposa lily, larkspur, wild hyacinth, Ithuriel’s spear, whispering bells
Moving on to one of Northern California’s most well-known parks, Henry W. Coe is actually the region’s largest park, preserving 87,000 acres in the Diablo Mountain Range. Just two hours south of the bay on the 101, this park is just enough of a wilderness enclave to feel like you’re taking a break from the city. Boasting everything from historic ranches to hot springs, hiking, mountain biking and fishing, there’s something for everyone at this sprawling nature retreat. As for the flowers, they actually hit earlier in the season, so April is the perfect time for a visit.
Best for: Orcutt’s Aster, Beavertail Cactus Flower, Fishhook Cactus, Apricot Mallow, Desert Wool Star
The largest park in the entire state at a whopping 600,000 acres, Anza Borrego is about an hour and a half northeast of San Diego. The rugged mountain landscape is stunning and created by constant erosion, and the park is a large part of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve, which was included in Unesco in 1984 due to its unique ecosystem.
Best for: Sunflower, milkweed, orchids, lilies, amaranth, Indian paintbrush, yellow coreopsis, poppy, lupine
Although it’s a very quick drive from the Los Angeles area to get to the Channel Islands, it can take a bit longer to get down to Ventura from the bay. Still, the journey is only half the journey: once you reach the Ventura Visitor Center, you’ll need to take one of the many Island Packer cruises to each of the five islands, which are about 25 miles away. miles off Santa Barbara Coast. Another thing to keep in mind: once you are on the islands, there is no transportation on the islands themselves aside from kayaking and private boats or walking.
In addition to flowers, the islands are home to many rare and endangered plants, and each island has its own specialty. Santa Rosa is a great place to spot Indian brushes; Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Miguel all have yellow coreopsis (“golden showers”), and San Miguel is where you can find lupine and poppies. If you prefer something a little more civilized, there is still the most well-known Chanel island of all: Catalina.
Best for: Bearbrush, Manzanita, Chaparral Blackcurrant, Indian Warrior, Buckskin Brush, Poppy, Milkmaids, Black Sage, Blue Cocks
Mount Diablo offers the kind of view that people travel for miles to see, making it a very popular destination for hikers, horseback riders, and campers. Established since 1851, panoramic views from the top of Diablo stretch up to 200 miles on a clear day. The Summit Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and vehicle admission fees are between $6 and $10, depending on admission.
For guidelines on wildflowers in particular, check out the park’s comprehensive guide which is put together and updated by local volunteers to the right here.
Best for: Johnny-jump-ups, virgin’s bower, gilia, suncups, chia, black sage, pitcher sage, larkspur and bush lupine
Two hours south of San Francisco and about 80 miles inland from Monterey, Pinnacles National Park is a relatively new park, which only gained status in 2013. But with unexpected activities like exploring caves, rock climbing, and spotting endangered California condors, Pinnacle is quirky and surprising. As for the flowers, they grow profusely in the rich volcanic soil surrounding the dramatic rock faces, best seen in the more than 16,000 acres of federally designated wilderness found within the park. If you come between March and May, 80% of the plant life will be in bloom – so plan your trip soon.
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