California in Spring: What to Know Before You Go

Mountain Dogwood at Yosemite in Spring

Betsy Malloy Photography

If you're thinking of taking a California vacation in the spring, you picked one of the best times to go. Weather will often be excellent, and the coastal areas are mostly fog-free until May. If you avoid spring break, you'll find even the most popular places less crowded, and hotel rates tend to be lower than in summer or during the holidays.

Then there's the look of the place. Spring is the only time of year that the Golden State's predominant color doesn't match its name. Starting in later winter and lasting into early spring, everything turns green. That is, most of the time. In drought years, you may see less green even then.

After a rainy winter, wildflowers burst into bloom, blossoms turn fruit trees into pink and white clouds, and sometimes even the most barren desert puts out a flowery carpet.

What to Expect

  • You will find the clearest skies of the year in San Francisco and along the coast.
  • When schools are on spring break, theme parks get very crowded. Because of staggered schedules, spring break can extend from mid-March through April.
  • Wildflower blossoms depend on the year's rainfall and temperature patterns, which makes recommending the best place to see them nearly impossible. We've listed some of the most promising areas below.
  • Spring weather varies. Snow can fall in the mountains as late as April in some years. 

    Best Places to Visit

    • Yosemite is scenic in spring when the winter snow melts, and the waterfalls are in full flow. It's also less crowded than in summer.
    • Spring is without a doubt a great time to visit Palm Springs without feeling like you're going to melt.
    • Weather is most comfortable in Death ValleyAnza-Borrego Desert, and Joshua Tree National Park. In some years if conditions are favorable, you'll find flowers blooming in those locations, too.
    • Spring is also an excellent time to visit San Francisco before the crowds (and summer fog) arrive.

      Flowers and Wildflowers

      Flowers are everywhere in California in the spring. Besides the flowers growing wild, you can also visit flower growers and public gardens to see the spring blossoms.

      • More reliable are the Carlsbad Flower Fields just north of San Diego, where a fifty-acre sea of ranunculus flowers put on their best for visitors. The flower fields are at their peak from early March through May.
      • California's public gardens are an obvious spring choice. Try Huntington Garden near Pasadena for camellias or Mendocino's Coast Botanical Garden for rhododendrons.

      Mother Nature

      • March begins the nesting season for herons and egrets.
      • The Lyrids meteor shower occurs in mid-April. Death Valley, Big Sur, Mendocino, and locations along Scenic Highway 395 are some of the best places to see it.
      • Spring is also a time for animal migration. California grey whales can be seen at many points along the coast, making their annual journey from Mexico back to Alaska.
      • The swallows return to Mission San Juan Capistrano: It's a surprising thing, but every year the insect-eating birds show up on March 19, St. Joseph's Day, after flying from their winter home in Argentina.

        Driving

        Late rain, snow, and mudslides keep some California highways closed well into spring. Roads that may still be closed include:

        • Tioga Pass in Yosemite may open anytime after April 15. It all depends on when they can safely get all the snow cleared away.
        • The main entrances to Sequoia National Park are open year round, but the road to lower Kings Canyon stays closed until early summer.
        • California Highway One is especially susceptible to mudslides and closures during rainy winters. A big slide can keep the highway closed for months.

        Holidays and Festivals

        • It's not a holiday or a festival, but in spring, special Hearst Castle night tours give a glimpse into daily life at the castle.
        • Outstanding in the Field: Bringing the dinner table to the farm, this traveling event invites diners to enjoy and celebrate food, with the people who produce it, right at the source. And their locations are as spectacular as their cuisine.
        • Mid-March brings Mother's Day.
        • Spring goes out with a bang, as the Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer.