Take a SoCal road trip to where the most colorful spring flowers bloom

A man harvests ranunculus from the flower fields east of Interstate 5 in Carlsbad
Martin Gonzalez harvests ranunculus from the flower fields east of Interstate 5 in Carlsbad on Feb. 28, 2020.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune, photo illustration by Jim Cooke / Los Angeles Times

Good morning, fellow Escapists. Daylight saving time is over, and this Sunday marks the first day of spring. With the promise of warmer weather and longer days comes even more opportunity for travel around the Golden State.

Eager to embrace the season’s change? Now is an especially good time to cruise down Interstate 5 to northern San Diego County, where the Carlsbad‘s famed — and highly Instagrammable — flower fields are welcoming visitors from now through May 8.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find a few road trip stops on a journey to the flower fields. What are your favorite places to visit during the spring in California? Send me a note, and I may include your recommendation in a later edition of Escapes.

A book is propped up on a chair in front of a chest of drawers, a lamp, wall art and more
All sorts of used items and vintage goods are found at Lucky Street, an antiques shop in Oceanside.
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Enjoy funky shops, farmers markets and rock shows in Oceanside

There are new coffee shops and brewpubs, surf-minimalist hotels and thrift shops galore in Oceanside, my colleague Christopher Reynolds recently reported in a Times story.

“For decades, a lot of tourists overlooked Oceanside,” he wrote, “a beach town without the frills found farther south in Del Mar and La Jolla. But maybe that reputation has reached its expiration date.”

It seems that way as you explore the town’s shops and restaurants. Here are a few of the places Reynolds foundthat you might want to visit:

  • Sea Hive: a “deceptively large” marketplace, Reynolds writes, “with 13,000 square feet of vintage vinyl, clothes, art, furniture and other weird old stuff.”
  • The Oceanside Moose Lodge #1325: A rock show venue in South Oceanside that dates back to 1948 (but swears it “ain’t your grandpa’s lodge”).
  • The Switchboard Restaurant & Bar: “Hawaiian-inspired cuisine in a building that was a communications center during World War II,” Reynolds describes.
  • The Oceanside Farmers Market and Oceanside Sunset Market: These markets run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., respectively, on Thursdays.
  • California Surf Museum: Reynolds says this “needs to be on the itinerary of any Oceanside visit.” It explains the science of waves, the history of the Boogie Board and much more.
Ranunculus at the flower fields east of Interstate 5 in Carlsbad
Ranunculus bloom at the flower fields in Carlsbad on Feb. 28, 2020.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Stroll the Carlsbad flower fields

In the early 1920s, a horticulturist named Luther Gage settled in the Carlsbad area, bringing ranunculus seeds with him to his new home. He planted the seeds next to a small vegetable farm in South Oceanside owned by Frank Frazee, whose family also began growing the blooms.

Their early efforts resulted in the sprawling fields of yellow, orange, pink and red flowers you can see at Carlsbad Ranch today. The nearly 50 acres of flowers bloom for six to eight weeks each year.

In addition to the main event — the giant Tecolote ranunculus — a trip to the ranch also includes snacks and meals available for purchase, a sweet pea maze, a butterfly garden and more.

As Reynolds reported at the end of February, the flower fields are open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through May 8. All tickets must be purchased in advance online. Tickets cost $24.95 for adults, $22.68 for seniors age 60+ and members of the military and $11.34 for children ages 3-10. These prices include the service fee.

Care to take some flowers home? Visitors can buy freshly cut ranunculus flowers at the gift shop.

A lush area with trees and shrubs at the San Diego Botanic Garden
The San Diego Botanic Garden is home to nearly 30 themed gardens.
(Encinitas Advocate)

See more flowers, plus augmented reality art

Can’t get enough flowers? Just seven miles south of Carlsbad Ranch lies another spot to see some blooms — plus more than a dozen pieces of augmented reality art.

The San Diego Botanic Garden is home to four miles of trails through nearly 30 themed gardens, including a tropical rainforest space and a bamboo garden.

An extra reason to visit: Right now, the garden is hosting an augmented reality art show titled “Seeing the Invisible.”

The contemporary artworks, created by artists from around the world, are situated throughout the garden, and visible only through the exhibition’s app — so make sure you download it before you arrive. Some of the artworks include audio, so bring headphones with you too.

Not sure what to expect? Here’s a video showing one of the artworks. Tickets to the gardens cost $18 for adults, $12 for seniors age 60+, members of the military and students and $10 for children ages 3-17.

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A couple watches bioluminescent waves glowing off the coast of Hermosa Beach in 2020
Bioluminescent waves could be easily spotted off the coast of Hermosa Beach in April 2020.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Marvel at bioluminescent waves

It’s not just flowers blossoming — a specific type of microscopic algae has also been blooming along parts of the Southern California coastline, resulting in a “light show” of bioluminescence, said Clarissa Anderson, executive director of the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System, an organization that studies the coastline and ocean.

Many remember the widespread bioluminescence along the Southern California coastline in spring 2020. While this period of bioluminescence has been less dramatic, “many of the [San Diego County] beaches have been seeing it in the last couple of weeks,” Anderson said.

Interested in seeing the bioluminescent waves for yourself? While there was a brief lull, “it appears to have come back with a vengeance,” near a Del Mar mooring where her team studies plankton, Anderson said via email. She has heard reports of bioluminescence near the Scripps Pier, about 25 miles south of Carlsbad, over the last three days.

In addition, visitors to Carlsbad State Beach spotted some neon blue light shooting through the waves in the last few weeks. Nature can be unpredictable, and it’s unclear whether visitors will be able to catch a light show this weekend, but it could be worth a shot.

📰 What I’m reading

  • Is Joshua Tree’s tourism boom a “dream” or “absolutely unsustainable”? Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds covers the changes happening in the beloved desert town.
  • It’s important to travel responsibly everywhere you go — but especially when you visit protected lands. Stephanie Vermillion interviewed national park rangers about how to leave a lighter footprint and shared their guidance in Outside Online.
  • Stressed about national park crowds? Consider visiting Bureau of Land Management areas instead. Ashley Harrell writes about “one man’s quest to document California’s most vulnerable public lands” — and his recommendations — in SFGate.
  • Paper trail maps are disappearing across ski resorts around the U.S. But some skiers are hoping they’ll stick around, reports Cindy Hirschfeld in the New York Times.
  • Palm Springs International Airport is a “pandemic economic success story.” Zócalo Public Square commentator Joe Matthews explains why on KCRW.

📸 Photo of the week

Oceanside's pier stretches 1,954 feet into the Pacific, attracting tourists, street performers and seagulls.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

Song: “Flower Power by Greta Van Fleet

Favorite lyric: “She is a lady, comes from all around. So many places, but she’s homeward bound.”

Where to play it: As you pass by San Onofre State Beach, just south of San Clemente