To those new SoCal transplants who claim we don’t have any real seasons, our landscape proudly presents “Wildflower Season” as a counterargument.
Depending on the amount of rain we get over the winter, the normally monochrome desert landscapes of southern California can truly come alive with color. Different elevations and climates reach peak at different times, usually between March and May. If you pay attention, you can potentially see new areas and new wildflowers every week during those months.
Hands-down the best resource on up-to-date wildflower conditions is the Theodore Payne Foundation’s Wild Flower Hotline, a crowd-sourced update of state-wide wildflower conditions published every Friday from March through May. But if you’re looking for other fantastic resources on predicting and tracking blooms, identifying plants, and even learning how to grow this stuff in your own garden, be sure to check out our list of the Best Wildflower Resources for Southern California.
Here are some trails in Southern California that put on reliably good wildflower shows.
BORREGO PALM CANYON
Northeast of San Diego, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is in the low Colorado Desert and is often early on the bloom list. Visitors can usually see flowers carpeting the desert floor from their cars – or on a short and easy hike into the lush oasis of Borrego Palm Canyon. Ocotillos, desert paintbrushes, and chuparosa line the canyon floor as the cliffs narrow near one of the last native palm oases in the state.
SADDLEBACK BUTTE STATE PARK
Formerly known as Joshua Tree State Park, the Mojave Desert floor of Saddleback Butte State Park gets covered with a brilliant yellow from a massive coreopsis bloom – but plenty of other flowers are hidden in the mix, too. There are also Joshua Trees, naturally, and a fun and moderately challenging hike to the summit of Saddleback Butte for unparalleled views of the Antelope Valley and northern San Gabriels. Tends to bloom in late March.
ANTELOPE VALLEY POPPY PRESERVE
This easily-accessible 1800 acre park is home to some of the state’s most prime poppy real estate. In mid-to-late April, depending on winter precipitation, the valley floor becomes absolutely covered with the brilliant orange of California poppies. There are plenty of easy paths to take in this park – and even when areas are crowded with photographers you’ll be able to get some alone time with the flowers. Look for other fields of wildflowers along the roads outside the park, too.
CHARMLEE WILDERNESS PARK
There’s only one way to make wildflowers even more picturesque – and that’s placing them in a lush grass meadow in view of the Pacific Coast. Malibu’s Charmlee Wilderness Park has rolling coastal meadows that burst with lush greens after spring showers – and an impressive array of wildflowers to match.
Who says you have to trek all the way into the desert to see some good wildflowers? Near the Nature Center in Eaton Canyon Natural Area you’ll find plenty of blooming bush sunflowers and phacelias as you make your way into the canyon itself. And if it’s warm enough, you can reward yourself with a cool dip in the waterfall at the end of the trail!
WILD FLOWER HILL
If you find yourself wanting to grow some of these amazing flowers, don’t pick them on the trail. Instead, take some time to visit the Theodore Payne Foundation — a gorgeous native plant nursery and garden in the northern San Fernando Valley. Browse the selections, talk to the helpful staff, and take a stroll along the Wild Flower Hill Nature Trail for some inspiration during peak bloom.