When, Where, and How to See Wildflowers in and Around LA
Everything you need to know to get responsible, ethical, sustainable, totally sick selfies with native plants for a potential superbloom.
It may be hard to see it from under the interminable cover of rain clouds, but there is one silver lining to Southern California’s historically wet winter: It sets us up for a big wildflower bloom this spring. Conditions shift fast, and it’s hard to predict whether we’ll have a superbloom, per se, but there’s a good chance local flora will pop in a big way. To make the most of this spectacular season, we’ve put together an explainer on the best places to see a superbloom around LA, from local hikes to desert drives. And we’ve got some tips on how to make sure you’re an ethical, responsible, and wise flower finder too.
There will be fields of poppies, undulating blocks of electric coral like crushed ice at the bottom of a cup of Orange Bang. For Evan Meyer, the executive director of the Theodore Payne Foundation, it’s the kaleidoscopic array of native plants that’s most exciting. “Going out in the spring and saying, ‘Hey there are 30 different types of flowers that all look different’—being able to appreciate that diversity is a big part of it,” he says.
Meyer is a botanist, so he’s just as happy spotting a single oddball plant, maybe a particularly shapely Ceanothus or a surprisingly tall Owl’s Clover, as he is marveling at a whole hillside of a single flower. And the rest of us should take a lesson there, too. It’s easy to get lost in the splashy photos of high desert hillsides full of flowers, but there is thrilling beauty to be found in patches and spots all over the region, sprouting along trails, in parks, next to freeway onramps, and in any open space that gets reasonable water and sun.
Southern Californians have access to a wide variety of subclimates—deserts, mountains, and coastline, each of which has its own set of wildflowers that will bloom this spring, and each of which holds untold beauty to discover.
Meyer says that searching for wildflowers “is a really incredible and special event, and it’s something that makes it wonderful to live in Southern California,” but there’s one important caveat: “It’s also something that we have a responsibility to do ethically.”
To that end, Meyer has a few general rules for ethically, sustainably, and responsibly seeing the superbloom in Southern California:
1. Always stay on trails. As Meyer puts it, “These plants are very sensitive to being walked on, and if you go out to get the perfect selfie you’re going to kill a bunch of plants, diminish the next superbloom, and diminish this year’s for everyone else.”
2. Don’t pick flowers. “The flowers are creating the next superloom this season,” Meyer says. “This mass bloom of flowers means a mass production of seeds, and at the end of the season those seeds are going to fall into the ground to await the next year to redo the whole cycle. So if you’re out there picking flowers, you’re removing seeds from that environment, and if a bunch of people do that it’s going to have a really detrimental effect.”
3. Be a good visitor. It’s important to remember that people still live, work, and spend time in these places year-round, and so when you drive out from the city into a more remote area keep the essentials in mind: “Be respectful, carry your trash out, just basically be a decent human,” Meyer says.
Meyer has one other guideline that’s more for your own sanity than anything else: “If you’re seeing it trending on social media, it’s probably not where you want to be.”
A potential superbloom will generate tons of interest from all across the region and beyond, and the hot spots are likely to be crowded, congested, and chaotic, especially in the more remote places which aren’t designed to handle a sudden huge influx of visitors. Instead, he says, you may benefit from focusing on the quieter places; look on riverbanks and in meadows along any trail you like, take in the large scope of blooms but also the individual plants. “The more you are willing to search and seek out,” says Meyer, “the more inspiring it’s going to be.”
This week, Meyer will be expounding on all of this and more at a free online seminar called “Behind the Bloom” presented by the Theodore Payne Foundation. Meyer will discuss the history and science of wildflower blooms, more tips for ethical viewing, Indigenous land management and wildflower cultivation in Pre-Colonial California, and the cultural phenomenon of the superbloom. The event is Thursday, March 2 from 6 to 7:30 pm, and will be available on YouTube thereafter.
On March 3, the Theodore Payne Foundation’s much-loved Wild Flower Hotline will go live for its 40th year. Each Friday from March 3 into late May, the foundation will post a recorded message detailing the status of wildflowers at various locations across Southern and Central California, from local LA spots to destination fields all over the region. All you have to do is call 818-768-1802 extension 7 to get the latest intel.
In the meantime, we’ve put together a short list with Meyer’s help, featuring a few great places to see the superbloom near LA.
Where to See the Wildflower Superbloom 2023
Top of Reseda Trail
If you cruise along Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, it’s hard to picture the wide, busy industrial street taking you anywhere that could be called picturesque. But if you follow the road south it eventually winds its way up into the Santa Monica Mountains, where it shrinks and peters out into the dirt at the Top of Reseda Trailhead. From the parking lot there are tons of trails that branch off and crisscross the expansive Mulholland Gateway Park, and it’s one of Meyer’s favorite local places to explore. Already, he says, the ceanothus have been going crazy, painting the hillsides white, and they’re now being joined by clarkias and more.
The San Gabriel Mountains are a treasure, a vast and verdant range with fantastic hiking, camping, biking, and more. There will be wildflowers blooming all throughout the mountains this season, and well into summer at higher elevations. But you don’t have to drive way up into the mountains to find flowers—Eaton Canyon is at the top of Pasadena, right at the base of the San Gabriels, and it’s a lovely place to poke around, take a fairly easy hike and examine lots of blooming flowers on your way to the justifiably beloved 40-foot waterfall at the end of the trail.
Charmlee Wilderness Park
With cooler temperatures and gorgeous ocean views, the coastal bluffs around Malibu are some of the most beautiful places to see wildflowers. Charmlee Wilderness Park covers some 532 acres of hiking trails, picnic areas, and open space off of Encinal Canyon Road overlooking the spectacular coastline. The hiking is pretty easy and trails are well-established, so it’s a great place for a casual hike on your way to or from the beach. And you absolutely cannot beat the smell of Pacific Coast plant life, sage and brush mixed with salty ocean air.
Eastern San Luis Obispo County
If you’re looking for the full kaleidoscopic majesty of a superbloom, Carrizo Plain may be your best bet. The arid plain is about three hours north of LA in the San Joaquin Valley. Though it’s dry and dusty for much of the year, it explodes in color after a wet winter and provides a little glimpse into what the valley may have looked like before becoming the modern-day center of industrial agriculture. Carrizo Plain flies a little under the radar relative to some other spots, so it’s a great option if you’ve got the time to get out of the city.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Eastern San Diego County
The vast desert park has grown particularly famous for wildflowers after the true superbloom of 2017, but even when things don’t rise to that level there are gorgeous flowers to be found here. It’s about a three hour drive from LA, and it’s definitely worth checking their website to see which specific parts of the park have wildflowers before you set out. As of late February, there were sand verbena, desert sunflower, and desert primrose in bloom at various locations, with more coming through the spring.
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