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Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Photograph: Time Out/Michael JulianoAntelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in 2023

Where to see Southern California wildflowers

Every spring, a fresh bloom of Southern California wildflowers appears. Here are the best places to see the blossoms.

Michael Juliano
Edited by
Michael Juliano
Contributor
Stephanie Morino
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As we move through spring and inch closer to summer, Southern California wildflowers are starting to say “so long” for the season.

You can still embark on one of the best hikes in L.A. to catch the remaining colorful blooms or even take a day trip to see the desert flora. Since we were lucky enough to actually have a winter with some rain in Los Angeles, you’ll still be able to spot some Southern California wildflowers—but the most remarkable displays are already gone.

As of late April, the peak of the so-called super bloom has already passed, and some spots on this list are already starting to turn brown. Locally, you can still expect to see black mustard carpeting just about every green hill in SoCal, with patches of orange and purple here and there. To see proper wildflower blooms, you’ll need to venture toward the edges of the county, but we don’t believe it’s worth the trek at this point; head into the Antelope Valley and you may still see some stretches of poppies in Lancaster, but summer-strength heat will likely quickly put an end to those.

We’ve checked in on some of our favorite spots to see SoCal wildflowers and their current bloom status. We’ll update each location as soon as there’s some bloom activity. We’ll also shout out the Theodore Payne Foundation’s wildflower hotline (available online, too), which releases weekly status updates.

Please be responsible when visiting the sites below; remain on marked trails and don’t trample the flowers.

The best places to see Southern California wildflowers right now (and the latest bloom status)

Poppies are beautiful when they cover the desert hillsides in orange flowers. But poppies are also fickle: If there’s too much rain, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve can only expect a moderate poppy season. Too dry? Not a great bloom either (but you could still see some other wildflowers).

Which leads us to this year’s peculiar season: A spectacular bloom never quite arrived at the reserve itself, but some remarkable displays did pop up just outside the gates. Brome grasses and fiddlenecks have outcompeted poppies at much of the reserve—and as we’ve now passed the peak of the bloom, expect the color to quickly fade along the fragrant hillside.

If you don’t want to deal with the line of cars to enter the state park (which likely isn’t worth the hassle at this point in the bloom cycle) and simply want to pose—in front of, please, not on—a carpet of bright orange flowers, you’d be better served by the shoulder of Highway 138 north of the reserve or the grid of dirt roads just east of the park on the north side of Lancaster Road. With summer-strength heat on its way, though, expect these blooms to be fleeting, as well. You’ll find more details in our full guide to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

In a typical year, peak poppy season is usually from March to mid-April—a short window if you want to catch the blooms at their height. Check the park’s website for the latest bloom status or tune in to the livestream.

This sprawling grassland in southeastern San Luis Obispo County may stretch past what we’d typically consider Southern California, but the three-hour trip is often well worth it after a wet winter. Make no mistake: On most days you’ll find an arid, dry lake bed at the center of this national monument. But if the conditions are just right—as they memorably were in 2017—you may spot a couple of weeks where the hillsides turn into rolling carpets of daisies, goldfields and other yellow, orange and purple flora.

As of late April, the flowers have just passed their peak bloom. The display hasn’t been quite as dramatic as you see in the old photo above but it’s not too far off: You’ll find vibrant carpets of yellow with complementing patches of purple. Just a heads up: The roads around here are pretty uneven—especially after this winter’s storms—with the final stretch of the drive on dirt roads.

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With Walker Canyon closed this year, Diamond Valley Lake’s 1.3-mile seasonal wildflower trail has emerged as a fair substitute. At this point in the bloom cycle, we’re not sure it’s worth the trip for most Angelenos; you’ll find small patches of orange poppies, purple lupines and goldfields, though much of the color has already faded—the views of the well-saturated reservoir are still pretty perfect, though.

The crowds over in Hemet had been pretty thick, though we expect those to wane at this point. If you do decide to still go—given both the bloom and the heat on the very exposed hillside trail, we don’t recommend it at this point—arrive early (with cash for the entrance fee) and prepare to wait in a line of cars.

You’ll find parking at the marina (2615 Angler Ave); from there follow the Lakeview Trail for about a half mile and you—and the crowd in front of you—will reach the wildflower loop.

On the Palos Verdes Peninsula, wildflowers bloom year-round thanks to its coastal location, but like most Southern California locations, March and April are peak months. In the summer, you’ll see buckwheats with soft white blooms, cactus, native milkweed, cliff aster and California aster. Head to any number of the area’s nature preserves—the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, Linden H. Chandler Preserve, George F. Canyon and White Point Nature Preserve—in the springtime to try to catch blooms. For those years when wildflowers disappoint, consider the manicured displays at South Coast Botanic Garden as an area alternative.

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Take a hike along the top of the iconic Malibu cliff and you’ll find bundles of giant coreopsis that turn from dusty green to lively yellow each winter and spring (as of late April, the peak of the bloom has already passed but you can still see some small patches of flowers dotting the hillsides). You’ll find a very limited number of parking spots on Cliffside Drive, between Birdview Avenue and Dume Drive, but the flowery bluff also makes a lovely hike from the sandy beach below.

There are about 900 native plants that grow throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, so you’re bound to find small patches of wildflowers on any trail in the area. However, if you’re looking for the best chance of a spectacular sight (which never quite materialized this year) head to Point Mugu State Park and Rancho Sierra Vista, both of which flank the western end of the range. Try taking the Chumash Trail; it starts at PCH and is a steep climb, where chocolate lily and globe gilia are known to grow along the ridgeline. Or start on the north side, at Rancho Sierra Vista near Thousand Oaks where you can walk the rolling hills in serch of wildflowers under the shadow of Boney Mountain.

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Though the landscape was significantly altered in the wake of the devastating Woolsey Fire, Malibu Creek State Park has shown considerable signs of recovery since 2018. Though winter rains carpet the park in green, the most recent wet winters never quite brought a miracle superbloom to the region—fingers crossed that changes this year. That said, it’s still a remarkable spot that’s worth a visit any time of year.

Located in the San Jacintos Mountains, wildflowers are such a big deal here they have an entire festival around them. The Idyllwild Wildflower and Art Show typically arrives just in time for the region’s peak wildflower season (which comes much later in the season due to the area’s elevation around 5,400 feet). So if you head over in late May, you’ll find a variety of species, including western azaleas, a variety of lupine, both leafy and Alpine asters and a variety of penstemon. If you travel above 6,000 feet, you’ll find even more varieties, but those tend to bloom even later in the season (say, June or even July). If you’re looking to take a hike to see the flowers, try the Summit Trail from the nature center down to the meadow in the County Park, then returning via the Perimeter trail.

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Chino Hills may not achieve full-blown super bloom status, but the state park pretty much looks like the Shire after a wet winter (it was so wet this year that the trails were closed for weeks). However, at this point the hills are already starting to brown and the flowers are largely gone. At best, small patches of poppies lined some of the dirt trails over rolling green hills, with little pops of yellow and purple, plus snow-capped mountains visible in the distance.

Follow the lone park road, and just before it turns toward its terminus, you’ll find a dirt parking lot where Bane Canyon Road turns into Telegraph Canyon Road. Follow the signs for the Bane Ridge Trail and you’ll encounter poppies within 10 minutes. You’ll need to pay to park ($10 for the day of $3 per hour), though it’s free in the residential area near the entrance—but you’ll be tacking two to three hilly, shadeless miles onto your trek.

A particularly wet winter in 2016–17 brought a superbloom to the Anza-Borrego Desert, but this year we saw something even more out-of-the-ordinary: a mid-winter bloom. As of late April, the springtime heat has largely put an end to the bloom, so if you’re in search if flowers you’ll probably want to wait until next year.

In a typical year, you can expect to see desert gold poppies, phacelia and a variety of tiny “belly flowers.” Of all the locations, Henderson Canyon tends to be the easiest to reach, though each canyon—like Borrego Palm Canyon and Coyote Canyon—offers different varieties (check the website for variety and trail information as the season progresses).

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After a wet winter, you may find this iconic desert environment spotted with globemallow, desert sunflower, desert sand-verbena, brown-eyed primrose and more. If you don’t want to take the five-hour or so trek out there unknowing of what you may see, we suggest checking out the wildflower report online to be sure it’s worth your time, and where to go to find the best flora. (The park doesn’t expect there to be a super bloom in 2023.)

Marked by traffic nightmares, brief closures and the crush of thousands of visitors, Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore was a superbloom sensation in 2019. The hillside trail was covered with eye-poppingly beautiful carpets of poppies and other colorful flowers—with Disneyland-sized lines of people snaking their way through them.

Some of the first poppies started to appear in Walker Canyon in early February, but the City of Lake Elsinore really doesn’t want you to come visit: Both public and private land is closed off to the public for the duration of the bloom, Walker Canyon Road is closed to car traffic and there are “no parking” signs up and down the adjacent Lake Street and Temescal Canyon Road. The city didn’t expect this year’s bloom to measure up to the 2019 one and that indeed turned out to be the case; at this point, the poppies that were there are largely on their way out, which you can see for yourself on this stream of the empty trail.

You might find yourself looking at a map and thinking, surely there’s another way in, but be prepared to find yourself stranded on unmaintained backcountry trails if you attempt to do so. If you’re simply looking for a floral backdrop in that general direction, consider a trip to the Flower Fields in Carlsbad.

Don’t feel like leaving the bloom status up to chance?

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