I’m always chasing wildflowers. Something about their unpredictability and elusiveness; you never know when exactly they will bloom, but when they do what a sweet, sweet reward. As Californians we’re lucky to have access to so many places to see spring blooms, from state parks to private gardens to hillsides off the highway. Depending on what kind of winter weather conditions California experienced, wildflowers can be hard to pin down. Fortunately, you can keep tabs on the spring blooms through wildflower live streams, hotlines and web reports.
California Poppy Reserve features wildflower updates through its live streams. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has a Wildflower Hotline (760-767-4684) and web reports. For updates on wildflower viewings at other parks and beyond, Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline offers free weekly online and recorded updates, posted Fridays from March through May (818-768-1802, ext. 7).
Whether you and your family want to take a California wildflower road trip or day trip, we’ve rounded up the best places to see wildflowers in the golden state. In part one of our roundup, we included the five best places to see wildflowers north of L.A. Check out part two here.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
This large, enclosed grassland plain in California’s Central Valley offers over 200,000 acres of public land for hiking, camping and wildflower viewing. The Carrizo Plain National Monument features the white alkali flats of Soda Lake, the sandstone rock formation Painted Rock, ridges and ravines created by the San Andreas Fault, which runs along the eastern edge of the Plain, and open grasslands. With enough rainfall during the winter, this unique landscape can create breathtaking views of California native wildflowers blanketing the valley floor.
The remote monument is a little too far for a day trip from L.A., but New Cuyama, just an hour drive south of the Plains is the perfect home base for your California wildflower road trip. Stay at Cuyama Buckhorn, a 21-room roadside resort originally established in 1952. Today it has a full restaurant, bar, pool, sauna and stylish rooms with vintage touches and modern amenities. Cuyama Buckhorn is celebrating wildflower season with their Wild Flour Celebration from April 8-10. Bring the whole family for a weekend of flowers and flour, from bread making workshops to a pizza party with live music.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
An hour and a half drive north of L.A., this state-protected reserve features uninterrupted views of our state flower, California Poppy, from February to May. The best time to visit Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is in April, depending on rain, when the rolling hills are painted a brilliant orange. But there are other wildflower colors, too, like lupine’s deep purple and goldfield’s bright yellow, dotting the hillside.
Day-use entry is $10 per vehicle and is valid for entry at other California State Parks charging the same or lower rate. Nearby Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park is home to native Joshua Tree and Juniper woodland. The Joshua Trees bloom, too, when conditions are right. Just 30 miles east of the Reserve is Saddle Butte State Park, where you will see more Joshua Trees and different species of wildflowers. There are also hiking trails and picnic tables.
Hungry Valley SVRA
Find California wildflowers at Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area, a 19,000-acre park in Gorman, just south of the Tejon Pass. Located 70 miles north of L.A., this recreation area features poppies, goldfields, lupines, tidy tips and other colorful blooms.
During wildflower season, take a self-guided tour route that begins at the Visitor Center. The Hungry Valley SVRA Facebook page posts wildflower updates so you can plan your visit. Admission to the park is $5. Located just 30 miles east of the California Poppy Reserve, you could easily visit both fields in the same day.
Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area
Fifty miles north of Santa Barbara, the Figueroa Mountain recreation area features stunning views of the San Rafael Wilderness, the Santa Ynez Valley and wildflowers. In the spring, you might see purple shooting stars, pink pitcher sage, blue lupine and the California poppy.
The recreation area has picnic areas, family campgrounds and hiking trails to explore and enjoy this section of the Los Padres National Forest. Nearby wine-tasting town Los Olivos makes for a great pit-stop or weekend getaway while you’re out here chasing wildflowers. There are plenty of family-friendly wineries throughout the charming town, like Koehler Winery, where you can picnic and visit the resident emus.
Lompoc Flower Fields
Less than a three-hour drive north of L.A., the Lompoc’s Valley of Flowers is another magical place to immerse yourself in spring blooms. Home to both wildflowers and commercial flower growers, you can find pink, purple and blue Stock, Larkspur, Delphinium, Sweet Pea and other verities throughout the rolling hills and fields. The fields rotate every year, so be sure to check the “bloom tracker” to know where to go.
Lompoc is another great family road trip destination, for its flowers, but also for its wine tasting, art, food and uncrowded beaches. Go wine tasting at large estate vineyards in the hills. Visit Jalama Beach, perfect for surfing, fishing or hiking. Take a self-guided tour to see the Murals of Lompoc throughout Old Town Lompoc, featuring scenes of the city’s history, flower fields and more.
Check out Where the Wildflowers Are Part Two for more places to see SoCal’s wildflowers.