The Bay Area has a fantastic wildflower bloom in spring, and you can find them in all kinds of places: local parks, grasslands, shady forests, coasts, and mountaintops. Here are a few ideas on where to spot them, when to see them, how to identify them, and ways to learn more about them. When you do find them, please take care to protect them by leaving no trace and using the hashtag #nowildflowerswereharmed to promote good wildflower ethics. Now … let’s go find some flowers.

Where to Find Them

Bay Area coasts, mountains, woodlands, and grasslands are home to an incredible variety of wildflowers, including some rare and endangered species. Spotting flowers you’ve never seen before is one of the great joys of the season. Here are a few places to find them:

North Bay

  • Chimney Rock, on the southeastern tip of the Point Reyes Headlands, is a windswept walk on a bluff overlooking Drakes Bay, the Pacific Ocean, elephant seals, and grasslands with Douglas iris, pussy ears, and satiny pink checkermallow.
  • Abbotts Lagoon, on the northwestern edge of Point Reyes National Seashore, is a mostly level hike to an angel wing-shaped lagoon with yellow bush lupine, salmonberry, and cobwebby thistle. If you’re looking for a quieter alternative to the ever-popular Chimney Rock, this is it.

Spring wildflowers on an overlook above Abbotts Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean.

Peninsula

  • San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, south of downtown San Francisco, is home to coast rock cress, lupine, and paintbrush among San Francisco skyline views.
  • Thornewood Preserve, a dog-friendly park near Woodside, is a mostly shady hike through chaparral and redwoods, sprinkled with western hound’s tongue, warrior’s plume, and fetid adder’s tongue.
  • Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve, just east of I-280 in Redwood City, packs a wildflower punch in its serpentine grasslands and woodlands. Clarkia, goldfields, and tidy tips erupt along its western half, with Mount Diablo and San Francisco Bay views to the east.
  • Russian Ridge Preserve, next-door to Skyline Ridge Preserve off Skyline Boulevard, starts high and stays high along a spectacular ridge. Lupine, California poppy, and owl’s clover mingle with views of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz Mountains, and San Francisco Bay.

Lupine and views east to the Santa Cruz Mountains from San Bruno Mountain.

South Bay

  • Coyote Ridge’s wildflower pastures are brimming with purple sanicle, goldfields, and common fiddleneck among grazing cows, Bay checkerspot butterflies, and mountains in southern Santa Clara County. Although the park is closed to the public to protect sensitive species, docent-led hikes and self-guided access days are available in spring.
  • Pinnacles National Park, 75 miles southeast of San Jose, has everything to make your adventurer’s heart happy: dark, damp caves, sandstone pinnacles, and swaths of shooting star, buck brush, and chia in spring.

Shooting stars and burnt-orange volcanic rocks along the High Peaks Trail in Pinnacles National Park.

East Bay

  • Sunol Regional Wilderness, 20 miles south of Livermore, is blanketed with picturesque green pastures, ridges, and valleys before the hot summer season sets in. Grazing cows lounge trailside among buttercups, scarlet pimpernel, mule ears, and Persian speedwell. Check the park’s calendar for naturalist-led hikes and the annual wildflower festival in mid-April.
  • Mount Diablo State Park, 35 miles east of San Francisco, is home to hundreds of colorful blossoms from the foothills to the summit. Mitchell Canyon hosts lupine, wild hyacinth, narrow-leaf golden bush, and Mount Diablo globe lilies. 

Johnny jump-up in Sunol Regional Wilderness.

When to See Them

Generally, March through June is a great time to see wildflowers in the Bay Area. When a wildflower blooms depends on the species and weather conditions, and while there isn’t a sure-fire formula for predicting their peak, many local organizations, publications, and naturalists post updates on the wildflower situation. If you do a little bit of digging, you can get a feel for how blooms are looking in a particular year, and get a historic sense of when a species pops up, too. Here are a few ideas to zoom in on that window:

  • A no-brainer: Search social media. Local accounts, like Mt. Diablo Wildflower Watch on Facebook, post wildflower updates.
  • Check “what’s blooming now” reports like these from the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association and Homestead Valley Land Trust.
  • Browse wildflower guides, like the ones below, to get a sense for when wildflowers in a particular region bloom. 
  • Just call up a park! It’s often the easiest way to find out how the blooms are coming along and it will get you the most up to date, boots-on-the-ground info. Plus, if you’re especially nice, whoever picks up the phone might give you some insider tips.

Mount Diablo jewel flower in Mount Diablo State Park.

How to Identify Them

Sometimes, it’s easy to figure out what you’re looking at—Hello, California poppy! More often than not, you need the help of field guides and local plant enthusiasts, especially since some species have the tiniest identifiers. The good news is that with a little bit of effort, you can learn a lot. Here are a few ideas:

  • Pick up a local book or field guide
    • Plants of the Coast Redwood Region by Kathleen Lyons and Mary Beth Cooney-Lazaneo covers the coastal region from Big Sur to southern Oregon and is filled with plants in the Bay Area. You can find it in the Muir Woods Visitor Center and on Amazon.com. It’s an exhaustive tome, but if you’re serious about knowing your stuff, you can’t go wrong with this.
    • The Friends of Edgewood publishes a Visitor’s Guide to Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve with color pictures of 20 common flowers found in the park. It’s available for purchase in the Bill and Jean Lane Education Center.
    • The Sunol Docent Wildflower Committee produces a handy pocket guide of 75 common wildflowers in the Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness. It is available for purchase in the Sunol Visitor Center
    • Pinnacles National Park sells a laminated wildflower guide in the Pinnacles Visitor Center with common and scientific names, and a short description—great for a quick “look and identify.”
    • The Mount Diablo Interpretive Association’s The Mount Diablo Guide has wildflower lists, color photos, cultural history, and geological information about Mount Diablo. MDIA sells it on their website and it is also available at Mount Diablo Visitor Centers.
  • Search online databases
    • Calscape is the California Native Plant Society’s database of native California plants. Calscape shows a map of the plant’s geographic range, a species overview and description, and landscaping information.
    • iNaturalist is a social network where you can upload your nature photos and get crowd-sourced identifications. At the same, you help scientists around the world observe, document, and understand nature.
    • Jepson eFlora is a comprehensive database at the University of California Berkeley featuring botanical illustrations, species’ geographic regions, and detailed descriptions.

Mariposa lily at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

How to Learn More

Sign up for a wildflower hike, a volunteer event, or a workshop! It is a great way to learn about flowers from passionate and knowledgeable folks. Check the event calendars for these organizations and sign up for email updates to learn about future events.

 

Happy wildflower viewing!

 

 

Owl’s clover at Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve

 

West Coast hiker, writer, and photographer. Author of "Moon 75 Great Hikes Seattle."





4 Comments

Melissa Ozbek May 4, 2019 08:05In reply to: Cindy Steele

Thanks, Cindy! Hope you have seen some nice displays this year :)

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Cindy Steele May 3, 2019 21:05

Great post! I look forward to wildflowers every spring! It's nice to know where to find them early.

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Melissa Ozbek

Melissa Ozbek May 1, 2019 08:05In reply to: Renee Butcher

You're welcome, Renee! I hope your family's transition goes well :)

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Renee Butcher May 1, 2019 08:05

My daughter and her family recently moved to San Francisco, and I'm looking forward to exploring the area when I visit. Thanks for all the wonderful inspiration!

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