The Ultimate Guide to Southern California Wildflowers

Easy Road Trips and Pro Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Wildflower Adventures

I’ve lived 5 glorious years here in Southern California (based in Bakersfield, to be exact), and every spring I look forward to a few things: warm weather, clear air, snow capped mountains, blooming almond blossoms here in the Central Valley, and the wildflower bloom across Southern California.  Wildflower season is quickly approaching, so I wanted to put together this guide for any fellow flower fans out there.  Below is a list of my personal favorite spots for wildflowers, with the first two on the list being my absolute favorites (they are both stunning, friends).  I ended the list with some honorable mentions that I’ve seen good flowers at over the years, however they are less known for their superbloom potentials.  These are all Bakersfield adjacent (some longer drives than others), and they could all be good day or weekend trips if you’re visiting Los Angeles or the surrounding areas. 

Before we dive into the list, let’s quickly go through some do’s and don’ts of visiting the wildflowers.  These tips will help ensure that you’re visiting the flowers at their peak potential, and will help keep the flowers safe and happy for many years to come.

California Wildflower Pro-Tips:

  • Check the flower status before you go!
    • This is the website I use to look at the status of the flowers before I go anywhere.  It’s an independent blog where people write in their reports of different areas across Southern California (pictures included) to track the progress of the bloom every spring.  I usually go to this link 2-3 times per week during peak wildflower season (March-April, generally) to check in and see what people are reporting for different areas.  You can toggle to different sections of California (I usually keep it on Southern California, but you can look at other desert hotspots as well) by clicking on the link to the “Main Wildflower Page”.  I always check before I go and enjoy the crowdsourcing aspect of the information – it’s not worth the drive if the flowers aren’t blooming yet!
  • Watch the weather! 
    • If you are local to Southern California, keep an eye on the weather throughout the winter.  If it is a year with a heavy amount of rainfall during the months of December through February, chances are, it will be a good wildflower year.  Green mountains are usually a good indication of a good wildflower year, but not always (especially for desert flowers).  If it doesn’t rain into the springtime even if there is a lot of rain earlier in the winter, unfortunately, that isn’t a great sign for flowers.  We need a lot of rain, and a full rainy season for the superbloom!
  • Stay on the trails/roads!
    • Please, please, please stay on the trails and only drive where you are supposed to drive.  Not only is this just generally safer for everyone, but it protects the native plants and the very flowers you are there to see.  Stepping on flowers just to get a cool photo for Instagram will damage and potentially kill the plants before they are able to seed for next year.  Take your pictures from the trail and park only in designated areas, and it will all be good!
  • Don’t pick the flowers!
    • Similar to the point above, but it’s important and in bears repeating.  The flowers are there for you to look at, not for you to pick and take home.  Leave them there in peace for everyone to enjoy – no stepping, no picking, no disturbing of the flowers in any way.
  • Be prepared for crowds!
    • During particularly spectacular (superbloom) years, be prepared to fight the crowds.  Everyone wants to see the flowers, and for good reason!  If you want a somewhat quieter experience, try to arrive early in the day and get out before the afternoon rush.  Crowds can be expected even in somewhat off years as well – so be prepared to be with people when you go out!
  • Don’t expect every year to be a good wildflower year!
    • California is a drought-prone state, and unfortunately, fully rainy winters are few and far between.  I’ve been lucky enough to see the last two superblooms, but not every year is a superbloom (in fact, last year, we barely had any blooms at all).  Even if it’s not a superbloom year, I still try to go out and see some flowers every spring, because even seeing a few is better than seeing none at all.  I always start checking around early March and explore around through the end of April or so.  Even in the off-years, I would say it’s still worth it – just wanted to set the expectations that not every year is a full-on superbloom (which are, in fact, pretty rare).

Okay, with all of that in mind, let’s dive into the list of my favorite places!  This list is (loosely) listed from most to least impressive, with honorable mentions at the bottom.  All the pictures are my own (most from previous superblooms), so remember that the amount of flowers will vary from year to year.

Let’s dive into it!

My Best Spots for Wildflowers in Southern California:

  • Carrizo Plain
    • This spot is on the top of the list for a reason.  During a superbloom year, the Carrizo Plain is a true spectacle that is so special to behold.  The mountains will be covered in patches of beautiful color ranging from yellows and oranges to blues and greens, and the valley opens up to a sea of stunning yellow flowers.  Mixed in with the yellow desert daisies are occasional California poppies and pretty blue lupins, among plenty of other flower species.  The Carrizo Plain wildflowers are truly worth the drive (about an hour and a half from Bakersfield), and seeing the desert valley in full bloom is truly a sight to behold.
    • Make it a day trip by stopping by San Luis Obispo for the rest of the day and enjoying some time on California’s Central Coast.  There is so much to do in that area (and some more wildflower spots listed in my Honorable Mentions below!) that it’s worth a day trip or even a full weekend adventure.
  • Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
    • This is my second go-to spot for flower spotting, and the go-to spot for California Poppy viewing.  The Poppy Reserve is located out near Lancaster, CA and can be easily accessible off of the 5 coming either from Bakersfield (about 1 hour) or LA (also about 1 hour from Santa Clarita).  The drive is beautiful once you get off of the highway, winding through the mountains then into the desert.  Once you arrive at the Poppy Reserve, you’ll see hills covered completely with bright orange California Poppies, and it truly is stunning.  This spot does tend to get very crowded and parking can get tricky (especially during peak years), so go earlier in the day for an easier time.  Also, this place is a major offender for people stepping off of the trails to take cute Instagram photos – which I understand is tempting, but again, please stay on the trails.  There are plenty of park rangers and the Poppy Reserve is very well staffed to deal with the volume of visitors during peak season, and there are facilities on site (visitor center, bathrooms, picnic tables) as well if needed.
    • There is also a nice little park a little further down the road (Lancaster Road) called the Arthur B Ripley Desert Woodland State Park which is worth a visit if you want to make a day out of your poppy adventure.  There is a really fun collection of Joshua Trees, cacti, and other desert plants there that is fun to walk around and look at.  Some of the cacti may even be flowering at the same time as the poppies, so even more flowers for your day!
  • Kern River Valley/Kernville (Route 178)
    • This is one of my favorite options for a fun, easy drive up through the mountains.  Route 178 runs right alongside the Kern River from Bakersfield up through the mountains to Lake Isabella and Kernville.  It’s a bit of a windy road with parts of it very close to the mountains, but there are plenty of pull-off areas to take in the scenic views and enjoy the drive along the way.  This drive gives you lots of opportunities to see lupins, common fiddlenecks, and a few poppies and other things here and there, all with a scenic mountain view.  It’s super pretty, and worth the drive!
    • Make it a daytrip and explore Lake Isabella and Kernville while you’re out that way!  Kernville is home to Kern River Brewing which is always a favorite spot (please drink responsibly on this road trip!).  Lake Isabella is a great spot for boating, water sports, and kayaking.  There are also several tubing and white-water rafting trips on the Kern River to look into, although these will probably need to be booked ahead of time.  Please don’t swim in the Kern River on your own at any point, especially in the springtime – the currents are very strong and the water moves very quickly with all of the snowmelt, definitely not safe!

Honorable Mentions:

Desert:

  • Red Rock Canyon State Park
    • This is one of my favorite places in California, and I make a trip out to visit every spring before it gets too hot.  If it’s been an exceptionally rainy year, the desert will be in bloom with pretty yellow flowers, and the Joshua Trees will also be blooming, which is a fun experience.  If there has been little rain, don’t expect to see too much in terms of flowers in the desert, unfortunately.  Red Rock Canyon State Park is about 1 ½ hours from Bakersfield in the Mojave Desert, and it’s a fun little detour if you’re on your way to Las Vegas and want to stop for a hike!
  • Palm Springs, Mojave, Las Vegas
    • Similar to above, with the Mojave Desert really only being in bloom if there has been a lot of rain (pictures of Palm Springs below are from an exceptionally wet year).  Beautiful to witness, and I love a blooming cactus, so it’s definitely worth exploring this area if it’s been rainy.
  • Bucket List: Death Valley National Park, Anzo Borrego State Park
    • No pictures of either of these yet, but I do hope to see both of these in bloom some day!  I’ve heard they are both exceptional in exceptionally wet years, so I hope to have this list updated in future years when I get to experience these blooms myself!

Coastal:

  • San Luis Obispo – Montana De Oro State Park
    • Always a personal favorite of mine to explore any time of year, but this place is extra special when it’s in full bloom in the spring.  The mountains are covered in yellow flowers, and there are plenty of poppies around as well.  Mountain hikes and coastal hikes are available, so choose your adventure for the day and enjoy some peaceful nature out on California’s Central Coast.
  • Coastal Areas: Malibu, Ventura, Santa Barbara
    • Flowers pop up along the coasts and in the mountains of this area in the spring, and the coastal views are always stunning.  Since my boyfriend lives in Santa Barbara and we split our weekends between Bakersfield and SB, I spend a lot of time in this area (and I love it so much!).  Plenty of nice hikes, fun cities (Santa Barbara is my personal favorite), and farmer’s markets to explore while you’re down there, and an easy trip from LA or Bakersfield to visit.

Mountains:

  • Wind Wolves Preserve
    • Some smaller flower displays here, and ever-changing scenery based on the seasons.  This is really the only hiking spot close to Bakersfield (about 30 minutes away!), so I swing by pretty often for some fresh air and good views.  Flowers aren’t spectacular here (from what I’ve seen), but there are a few here and there!
  • Mount Pinos/Frazier Park
    • The closest place in Bakersfield to play in the snow (along with Tehachapi), this high altitude playground comes alive with color in late spring/early summer.  There were plenty of wildflowers there when we went camping there last June, and we even got to see the snow flowers blooming!  Again, no superbloom status up here, but great for seeing flowers later in the season (around May-June).  Easy to get to (right off of I5 between Lebec and Gorman), about an hour drive from Bakersfield.
  • Los Angeles Mountains/Griffith Park
    • I’ve seen a few interesting wildflowers hitting the trails around LA, plus plenty of California poppies here and there.  Again, no superbloom status up there (to my current knowledge!), but wildflowers are around all of the trails in springtime. Always good for an urban adventure, and accessible to all the amazing LA restaurants and entertainment for before and after your hike.
  • Sequoia National Park/Kings Canyon National Park
    • Love a Sequoia/Kings Canyon visit.  Plenty of pretty flowers to see out there in the springtime, and always worth a weekend visit in the mountains.  Plus, enjoy plenty of stunning mountain views and look at all the big trees!

Okay, so we made it through the list!  I hope this gives you plenty of options to plan your wildflower viewing adventures!  I usually pick and choose a few of these for the weekends starting in March through early May, and check the tracker before I go for best results.  Get out there and explore all of the beauty that California has to offer, and have fun flower peeping!

Got any other favorite flower spots that are not on this list that you want me to check out?  Let me know in the comments!  I’m always looking for new California adventures, and I’m always happy to add to this list as I cover more territory!

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