The Best Places to See California’s Wildflowers This Spring

A winter’s worth of heavy rainfall means California could soon be blanketed with wildflowers.

A ground-level view of field of California poppies

A 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, the 1,800-acre Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve offers a vibrant springtime escape from the city.

Photo by Shutterstock

California’s nickname is typically thought to allude to the rush of 49ers who traveled west to pan for gold. But there are some who believe that “the Golden State” actually refers to the eye-catching blossoms of the California poppy, the delicate yellow-orange flower that blooms each spring, from Arcata in the north to San Diego in the south.

Peak wildflower season for any given area in California varies somewhat from year to year, based on factors like rainfall, altitude, and temperature. So, it pays to do a little research to find the most up-to-date information and predictions. Previously, rainy years have resulted in spectacular super blooms in 2017, 2019, and 2023.

But will there be another super bloom in the state in 2024? For one to occur, a specific series of events need to happen: A significant amount of rain has to fall in autumn or winter in order to wash away a dormancy-inducing, bloom-inhibiting chemical from the seeds. Then, there needs to be even more rain, at least once a month, for the flowers to take hold. It takes a few years for a sufficient amount of seeds to collect for a true super bloom, so there likely won’t be the same spectacular display in California in 2024 as there was in 2023. However, some destinations across the state that didn’t get enough rain last year (but did during this one) are ripe for a super bloom event. And spring wildflowers are always a delight whether there’s a super bloom or not.

Here are the best places to see spring wildflowers across California:

California desert wildflower blooms

 A “super bloom” of yellow flowers with orange centers in Death Valley National Park

One of the best places to see a super bloom in California is at Death Valley National Park—but it only happens every 10 to 15 years.

Photo by Phitha Tanpairoj/Shutterstock

Death Valley National Park

  • Peak season: February to July

Without a doubt, the holy grail of California wildflower events is considered to be the Mojave Desert super bloom, which famously occurs in Death Valley and usually happens only every 10 to 15 years (the last two were in 2016 and 2005). When things go perfectly, desert wildflowers at lower elevations—including the valley floor at Death Valley—will begin to appear in mid-February and last until mid-April. At higher elevations, above 5,000 feet, visitors will typically see flowers well into June and July.

“The most impressive are the blooms at low elevation, because of the contrast between rocks and the flowers,” says Abby Wine, a spokesperson at the park. “By far the most numerous flower during a super bloom is the desert gold, which looks like a gold daisy, so there will be big fields of yellow.” Other flowers include the fragile white “gravel ghost” and purple phacelia.

Death Valley National Park did not receive enough early season rains to produce a super bloom in the past four years. And though it’s still too early to be certain if there will be a large wildflower event this year, things are looking good—young sprouts have already been spotted across the park.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

  • Peak season: Mid-February to mid-May

The largest state park in California (600,000 acres), located about 85 miles northeast of San Diego in the Colorado Desert, comes alive during wildflower season with desert marigold, desert lily, sand verbena, desert sunflower, apricot mallow, five-spot, Orcutt’s woody aster, and blooming cacti. It’s too soon to tell if there will be a super bloom event this year; check the park’s wildflower hotline for regular updates.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

  • Peak season: Mid-March to late April/May

At this nearly 1,800-acre reserve 75 miles north of Los Angeles, the rolling hills covered in poppies seem to go on forever. Since there was a showstopping super bloom event in 2023, there likely won’t be one this year. However, Antelope Valley is still the most convenient place to see wildflowers in the Los Angeles area, and the blossoms will surely still be a spectacular sight. Poppies are the stars here, but flowers like desert pincushion, blue dicks, California aster, and blue lupine also grow in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park

  • Peak season: January to Mid-April

One of the state’s most-visited parks, Joshua Tree National Park is about a 3.5-hour drive from Los Angeles. Here, visitors can experience arguably one of the most unique and colorful wildflower displays in the country, which features an array of desert plants, including prickly pear, evening primroses, Mojave asters, and desert paintbrushes. The park tends to be busiest around March and April, when blooms are at their peak. However, flowers in higher elevations generally don’t appear until June—so you might want to plan a trip to the park later in the year.

Central Coast wildflower blooms

Ice plants and coreopsis bloom blooming on one of the Channel lslands, with narrow dirt footpath in middle heading toward ocean

Ice plants and coreopsis are common on the Channel lslands, off the Central California coast.

Photo by Shutterstock

Channel Islands National Park

  • Peak season: Mid-February to mid-May

The five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park, 25 miles off the Santa Barbara coastline, enjoy a breadth of wildflower offerings. On Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel Islands, yellow coreopsis begin blooming in January, with flowers usually lasting through March. The rare, butter-yellow, soft-leaved Indian paintbrush is endemic to the Channel Islands but is typically only found on Santa Rosa Island these days. San Miguel is also home to lupine and poppies, while Anacapa features vibrant red paintbrush and island morning glory. Santa Barbara Island also blossoms with lavender chicory and pale-yellow cream cups. Southern California received a record-breaking amount of rainfall this year, so the Channel Islands may soon experience a super bloom.

Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area

  • Peak season: Mid-March to mid-May

In late March, Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area (about 50 miles northwest of Santa Barbara) and nearby Grass Mountain begin bursting with wild hyacinth, shooting stars, buttercups, milkmaids, Johnny jump-ups, chocolate lilies, scarlet Indian paintbrush, goldfields, purple fiesta flowers, popcorn flowers, and poppies.

Pinnacles National Park

  • Peak season: Mid-March to late April/May

This underrated national park, about an hour’s drive southeast of Monterey, typically starts seeing wildflowers in March and reaches its peak in May, when more than three-quarters of the park’s flowers are in bloom. Depending on rainfall and temperature, the first-comers include milkmaids, shooting stars, and Indian warriors, followed by California poppies, bush poppies, fiesta flowers, monkey flowers, baby blue eyes, and bush lupine, and finally the heat-loving clarkias, orchids, penstemon, and roses.

Northern California wildflower blooms

A field of blue lupine blooming in a field near Lake Tahoe.

Wild blue lupine blooms around Lake Tahoe in the late spring.

Photo by Ophelia193/Shutterstock

Mount Diablo State Park

  • Peak season: Mid-March to late April/May

The state park surrounding this 3,849-foot peak about 40 miles east of San Francisco usually begins blooming with flowers in early March. Here, visitors can see blue skullcaps, Fendler’s meadow-rues, saniculas, Johnny jump-ups, bush lupines, monkey flowers, globe lilies, California poppies, bird’s eyes, and wallflowers.

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

  • Peak season: Mid-March to late April/May

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve encompasses a wide-open, 3,200-acre mesa near Oroville. It’s a favorite destination for wildflower lovers and usually hits its peak around late March to mid-May, when visitors can wander among lupine, foothill triteleia, Sierra primroses, blue dicks, purple owl’s clover, and, of course, poppies.

Lake Tahoe

  • Peak season: Late April to June/July

Once the snow melts on the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, the valleys and slopes come alive with a flush of colors, from white phlox and Mariposa lily to yellow plantain buttercup, blue lupine, bright-red snow plant, orange paintbrush, and lacy pussypaws.

The Eastern Sierras

  • Peak season: Late May to June/July

Northern California’s spring blooms begin around Mono County as early as late May, and often last until late June and July. Places like Tioga Pass in Yosemite, Bridgeport Valley, McGee Creek, and Parker Bench are home to every hue in the color wheel. Keep your eyes peeled for orange tiger lilies, yellow mule’s ears, golden mustards, scarlet gilias, blue lupines, purple wild irises, and rosy desert peaches, to name a few.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

  • Peak season: Late May to June/July

The timing of Mount Lassen’s snowmelt varies from year to year depending on temperature and the size of the snow pack, but some snow and ice can stick around well into summer, making for a late wildflower show. Lower elevations often don’t see blooms until late May to early July, and at higher elevations, wildflowers appear well into August and September. Look for mountain mule’s ear, pussypaws, snow plant, western wallflower, corn lily, and lupine.

This article originally appeared online in April 2018 and in 2023; it was updated most recently on February 22, 2024, to include current information.

Deb Hopewell is a freelance lifestyle and travel journalist who spent nearly two decades working at newspapers like San Jose’s Mercury News before becoming the editor of Yahoo Travel for six years.
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