The Best Places to See California's Wildflowers

Spring Wildflowers in the Valley of the Oaks
••• Spring Wildflowers in the Valley of the Oaks. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

California's wildflower blooms can be so dazzling that it's hard to believe they are real, not just when you see a photo, but when you're standing there looking at them. In a particularly good year, those eye-popping blossoms can be the topic of national news stories and the subject of thousands of social media posts. It's not surprising that a California flower trek is on a lot of people's bucket list.

Things to Know About California Wildflowers

If you pack your bags to see the wildflowers without knowing a few basic facts, you might end up more disappointed than enchanted.

The most important thing to know is that those super blooms that make the news don't happen every year. In fact, it can be more than a decade between them. It takes a perfect storm of rain, temperature, and sunshine to bring out those carpets of blossoms that everyone wants to see. Unfortunately, no one can predict them very far ahead of time. The resources below can help you find out the current year's status.

The good news is that the state's wildflower season lasts for months and you can always find flowers blooming somewhere. Blossoms begin at the lowest elevations early in the year, but you can see them well into early summer in the mountains and on the northern coast.

Best Places to See California Wildflowers

Trying to predict the California wildflower season seems to be an almost futile task, but you can get current information online.

  These are some of the best places in California to check out this year's wildflowers, in rough order of their blooming season:

Anza-Borrego Desert, January through March: Located south of Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego State Park often puts on the best desert wildflower show in California. Find out how to plan your trip.

Bloom season is January through March, but it varies, and you should check this year's bloom status before you go.

Death Valley, February-April: It takes a perfect combination of conditions for wildflowers to bloom in the desert. It may only happen every five to ten years, usually between mid-February and mid-April. Death Valley's wildflower displays are eye-popping because they occur in a landscape so devoid of color the rest of the year. This guide includes how to see the wildflowers and more about Death Valley.

To get this year's wildflower status, go to the Death Valley website or join their Facebook group by searching for "Death Valley Flowers."

North Table Mountain, February-April: An ecological reserve near Oroville (north of Sacramento), North Table Mountain is decked out in more than 100 kinds of wildflowers in a good season. Bloom starts in February and peaks in March and April. Guided tours are offered then.  Get more details on their website, where can also sign up for a guided tour.

Valley of the Oaks, March-April: With the land around it protected from over-cultivation and never overcrowded, this valley west of King City is a great place for spring wildflowers. In most years, bloom time is March to April.

Here's what you need to know before you go.

Antelope Valley, February-May: In a good year, the carpets of orange-hued California Poppies… well… (to use a well-worn phrase) you'd have to be there. Bloom time starts in mid-February and lasts through mid-May. See what they look like and get all the details.

Hite Cove Trail, March-May: Wildflowers bloom a little later in the Sierras, following the wave of blossoms in the desert. Hite Cove Trail near Yosemite is one of the most spectacular places in the Sierras in late spring, and some say it's the best wildflower hike in California. Best time to go is March through May, and you can find out everything you need here.

Eastern Sierras, May-July: Wild iris bloom between late May and July, depending on elevation (earlier in Bishop, later for Mammoth).

Where cattle are grazing, you'll sometimes find them nibbling the petals.

Spring Flowers in California's Gardens

They aren't wild, but these flowers bloom in the spring, and they're pretty spectacular:

Huntington Gardens, January-March: Head to Pasadena for camellias in early spring. This guide will help you plan your visit.

Fresno Blossom Trail, March: Fruit orchards put on an annual display of spring blossoms that are just as much of a treat for the eyes as their fruits are to the palate. In most years, it happens in early March. Here's how to get a peek at the beauty and plan your trip.

Carlsbad Flower Fields, March-May: Flower-growers open their fields to the public when they're in full bloom at the Carlsbad Flower Fields, early March through early May.

Mendocino, April-May: The Coast Botanical Garden is tops for rhododendrons, April through May.

The Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline reports on lots of locations and is the best all-in-one resource you can find. Their status info is current but be aware that it is submitted by volunteers who can occasionally overstate the extent of blooms.