Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
As the largest state park in California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park protects 600,000 acres of desert terrain. About a three-hour drive south from L.A., it might be worthwhile to make this wildflower destination a weekend trip. Nearby mountain town Julian, known for their apples, or Palm Desert, just an hour drive from the park, would make great home bases. Or, you can camp in the park, which offers designated campsites and free dispersed camping.
Beginning in early March, varieties of cactus bloom pink and yellow. Other desert wildflowers include Apricot Mallow, Desert Woolstar and Wild Heliotrope. Since the park is so large, a good place to start is at The Visitor Center where you can watch the short film, “A Year in the Desert,” and walk through the Desert Garden, which provides a glimpse into the vegetation typical to the park. There is a $10 visitor fee at this entrance. However, the park has other entry points that do not require a fee.
On your way in or out of the park, you must visit Ricardo Breceda’s art gallery, an outdoor gallery featuring the artist’s larger-than-life metal sculptures. Kids will love to roam past towering dinosaurs and rows of desert animals, cacti and other sculptures.
Walker Canyon at Lake Elsinore
Many wildflower enthusiasts know that Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is not the only place to immerse yourself in our state flower. About 60 miles southeast of L.A., Walker Canyon at Lake Elsinore is also home to the California poppy. After 2019’s unusual super bloom, which caused thousands of people to visit the poppy fields every weekend, the secret is out. According to the latest wildflower reports, this year will not see a super bloom. However, a more modest bloom is still a possibility.
The Walker Canyon Trail is a 9-mile out and back trail, which is great for hiking, running or general exploring. For more family-friendly activities, visit Lake Elsinore, SoCal’s largest natural, freshwater lake. The 3,000-acre lake offers fishing, kayaking, boating, wind surfing, jet skiing and more.
Wildflower Trail at Diamond Valley Lake
Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet is a man-made reservoir and recreation area, about 90 miles southeast of L.A. The lake and surrounding hills spring into color during wildflower season. Take the Wildflower Trail, an easy 2.1 mile loop trail, to catch glimpses of poppies, lupines, Canterbury bells and other colorful blooms. If you’re up for more of a challenge, try the Lake View Trail by foot or by bike (E-bike rentals are available starting at $35). The 22.7-mile trail wraps around the lake, featuring stunning views of native flowers overlooking the lake. To access the trail, it is $11 for parking and $4 per person trail fee.
After you’ve chased the wildflowers, spend the rest of the day at Diamond Valley Marina. With an aquatic center, swimming pool, sandy beach, children’s play area, boat rentals, and fishing, it truly is a place the entire family will enjoy.
Joshua Tree National Park
Just two and a half hours east of L.A., Joshua Tree National Park is a favorite family-friendly weekend getaway. With its many campgrounds, hiking trails and stunning Joshua Trees, it’s a worthwhile trip any time of the year. But in spring, visitors have the chance to see desert flowers like the stunning pink blooms on Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus and beavertail cactus, the greenish yellow blooms of the silver cholla, and the creamy white flowers of the Joshua Tree.
Joshua Tree National Park teamed up with iNaturalist, a free app, to report and record flower observations. Check out the Joshua Tree National Park Wildflower Watch to see where your favorite wildflowers are blooming.
On your way to the park, check out Cactus Mart, a cactus nursery featuring cacti, succulents and other desert plants, in Morongo Valley. You can browse the desert plants, many of which are blooming in spring, say hi to the resident goat and cats and take a piece of the desert home with you.
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
From early March through May, The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch comes to life with 50 acres of Giant Tecolate Ranunculus flowers. Walk through the fields of pink, apricot, yellow and red blooms, get lost in the sweet smell of sweet pea blossoms of the Sweet Pea Maze, or wander through the Fields’ latest attraction, the 5-acre Sea of Sunflowers, which are set to bloom in April or May. Other family-friendly attractions include a tractor wagon ride, U-pick Blueberries, Butterfly Garden and more.
The stunning rainbow display of flowers (not exactly wildflowers, but just as stunning) is worth the hour and a half drive south of L.A. for a day trip. However, Carlsbad has plenty of family fun to make a road trip out of it. Stay at the The Cassara Carlsbad, which is offering a “Stay and See Flower Fields Package” that includes two tickets to The Flower Fields, an overnight stay, waived parking and free shuttle to the Carlsbad Premium Outlets, beaches and The Flower Fields. While you’re enjoying wildflower season, hop on a bike for Pedal 2 Petal by Visit Carlsbad’s 8-week celebration of all things floral. Download the Pedal2Petal web app to see participating experiences, like floral scavenger hunts at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, Flower Power stand up paddle board yoga with Yoga Your Way, discounts to local businesses and more.
If you missed part one of Where the Wildflowers Are, click here.