Visiting the Carlsbad Flower Fields

The colorful Carlsbad Flower Fields are an annual rite of spring

Ranunculus at Carlsbad Flower Fields
Carlsbad Flower Fields

Back when I was a kid, our family would take the occasional road trip to visit relatives in Long Beach and points north. And one thing I always remembered was around 40 minutes into our trip, right around Carlsbad, the hillsides would be awash in brilliant colors: The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch.

Driving up the coast today, it's hard to believe that where residential homes, strip malls, commercial buildings and auto dealerships now reside, this was primarily an agricultural center, and that this stretch of coastal property was ideal for growing flowers. Most of these fields are long gone, succumbing to the inevitable encroachment of cookie-cutter homes and SUVs. A few still remain, but they're not prevalent like before.

Carlsbad Flower Fields: a Working Farm in San Diego County

Which brings us to the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. A survivor in the face of progress, the 50-acre Flower Fields are a bit of a throwback to a different era of the San Diego region. While most of the surrounding agricultural fields have long sold out to development, the Flower Fields continue to operate as a working flower farm. Owned by the Carltas Co. (a land-holding company owned by the Ecke Family of poinsettia fame), the fields will remain a flower or agriculture production in perpetuity per an agreement with the city of Carlsbad.

What You'll See at the Carlsbad Flower Fields

Ranunculus are the flowers that are produced at the Flower Fields, which were started by Edwin Frazee and his family. March and April are the months when these Tecolote ranunculus, with its rose-like petals come into full bloom. Grown from a bulb, which were introduced to the area by English horticulturist John Gage nearly 70 years ago, the ranunculus splash the Carlsbad hillside in a rainbow of colors ranging from reds, oranges, whites, pinks and yellows.

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch are open to the public for two-and-a-half months every spring, although the farm is a 12-month operation. Although one would think upon seeing the colorful blooms that the fields are for cut flowers, in truth only around 2 percent of the flowers are sold for this purpose.

What the fields produce are ranunculus bulbs, to be sold worldwide. The bulbs (in actuality a rhizome) are planted in September through January. After the spring blooming season ends and the farm is closed to the public, the flowers are allowed to dry and die, with the bulbs storing up energy. Then in mid-summer, workers dig up the bulbs to be distributed for sale in nurseries and garden centers. Soon after, the planting begins for the next cycle of life.

So, what does one do when visiting the Flower Fields? Well, simply take in the beauty of the flowers. A walk through the dirt fields (wear comfortable shoes) on the hillside overlooking the pretty neighborhoods of Carlsbad and the Pacific Ocean in the distance is just a pleasant experience. Be sure to bring a camera and take photos of the colorful blooms.

Carlsbad Flower Fields Quick Tips

What: The Carlsbad Flower Fields

Where: 5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad CA

When: Open Daily, March 1 through mid-May, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The fields remain open one hour after admission gates close.

Cost: $14 for adults; $13 for seniors 60 and older; $7 for children ages 3 to 10; free for children 2 and younger

Directions: Take Interstate 5 to the Palomar Airport Road exit and go east to 5704 Paseo Del Norte. Nearby is Legoland and the Carlsbad Premium Outlets is next door to the fields. The Carlsbad Flower Fields are about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego. 

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