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5 ways to see phenomenal flowers in Southern California

GIF of illustrated butterflies atop a photo of yellow flowers.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument, on the Central Coast, in 2017.
(Photo by Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Li Anne Liew / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, fellow Escapists. It’s spring wildflower season in Southern California, and you may be conjuring images of the great superbloom of 2019. That year, California poppies blanketed parts of the Antelope Valley, and the Carrizo Plain National Monument was dotted in tidy tips and owl’s clover.

2022’s wildflower showing isn’t as impressive, but there are still plenty of ways to get your flower fix. I’ll share five of them. Where are your favorite places to see flowers? Send me an email with your favorite wildflower spots, gardens and nurseries, and I may include them in a future edition of Escapes.

Stay up-to-date with a wildflower hotline

An illustration atop a photo shows small lines radiating from the tops of purple flowers.
Wildflowers bloom at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in 2020.
(Photo by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Li Anne Liew / Los Angeles Times)

Seasoned California wildflower fans know that blooms can be tricky to predict — that’s why the Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline is a particularly helpful tool.

Each Friday from March through May, the foundation posts a recorded update — voiced by actor Joe Spano — explaining where travelers can spot wildflowers across Southern and Central California.

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Last Friday, the foundation recommended Malibu Creek State Park, among a few other places, as a promising destination to catch some blooms.

“There are ample wildflowers along the trails at Malibu Creek State Park,” said Spano in the recording. “Much of the area is still recovering after the 2018 Woolsey fire, and you can encounter some of the traditional fire-following species.”

This includes bright red chia, purple owl’s clover and yellow bush poppy, Spano said.

If you go out searching for wildflowers, the foundation urges you to stay on paths and trails, stand only on bare ground, take only photographs, and leave flowers unharmed.

Take in the view at Lompoc’s flower fields

An illustration of three wildflowers against a pink background.
(Li Anne Liew / Los Angeles Times)

Lompoc is often bypassed by road trippers charging ahead from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo on Highway 1 — but you shouldn’t make this mistake, especially during the spring and summer.

The Lompoc Flower Fields typically bloom from April through September. Larkspur, delphinium and Queen Anne’s lace have already been harvested from commercial fields, while wild mustard covered the hills as of mid-April. Keep an eye on Explore Lompoc’s bloom tracker to make the most of a visit north to see the flowers.

If you go, avoid walking into the fields, which are privately owned. Vehicles must be kept on paved roads when enjoying the flowers and taking photos.

Visitors can delve even deeper into the “Valley of Arts and Flowers” by attending the 67th Lompoc Flower Festival, held May 6-8. The celebration will include music, carnival rides, arts and crafts exhibitors, food and more.

See Van Gogh’s flowers in Santa Barbara

Superbloom or no superbloom, you can catch plenty of flowers — both natural and manmade — in Santa Barbara this spring.

Right now, 20 artworks by Vincent van Gogh are on display as part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s “Through Vincent’s Eyes” exhibition, along with art by artists Van Gogh especially admired during his lifetime.

Entrance to the special exhibition, which will run through May 22, costs $25 for nonmember adults. Docent-led tours, included with the ticket, are offered at 1:15 p.m.

Lots of corresponding events are taking place across the coastal city too. Just a mile away at MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, visitors can step into Van Gogh’s art — walking around his famous bedroom chair, for example — with a virtual reality experience. “The Night Café” will run through May 21.

Find more Van Gogh-themed events in Santa Barbara here.

Of course, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is also in bloom. Now through Aug. 22, the garden is home to three exhibits demonstrating “how native plants are a solution to both the climate and biodiversity crises.” Reservations must be made in advance.

Hoping to see some wildflowers while in the Santa Barbara area? Here’s a guide to Figueroa Mountain’s wildflower species, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It may be helpful to print it out and take it with you on hikes.

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Pop by some of SoCal’s best nurseries

On your way to or from the Central Coast, there are a few different nurseries worth stopping by.

In 2020, Times contributor Sharon Boorstin recommended visiting Greenwood Daylily Gardens in Somis, between Moorpark and Camarillo. The wonderland of daylilies, irises and other blooms is only open to the public on Saturdays from April through June, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Twelve miles away from Greenwood is Otto & Sons Nursery, also recommended by Boorstin in her article. You can visit the Fillmore nursery by signing up for its Citrus & Blueberry Class on May 7 or a Rose Care Class on June 18.

Take a peek at L.A.’s private gardens

Brick paths are seen in a lush garden. In the background is a patio with chairs and a table.
Mike Esparza created an “English gentlemen’s garden” around his Long Beach home. His garden is part of the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Of course, Angelenos don’t need to venture past the city’s limits to find stunning blooms. Times writer Jeanette Marantos recently rounded up a list of this spring’s private garden tours in and around Los Angeles. Here are a few upcoming tours:

Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour (April 30-May 1): Visitors can see dozens of gardens, from Long Beach to San Clemente, on this self-guided tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some of the gardens are open to visitors on just one day. Take a close look at the interactive map to plan your visit.

Inspired Garden Artistry’s Spring Garden Tour (May 1): These self-guided tours spotlight private gardens in View Park, Windsor Hills, View Heights and Ladera Heights. The tour includes “a sports lover’s dream yard, which features a basketball and tennis court, putting green and pool,” Marantos reports.

Open Garden Day (May 7): Two neighborhoods of vintage homes in north Santa Ana are the destination for this garden tour.

The Garden Conservancy Los Angeles Open Days Tour (May 14): Five private gardens in L.A will be on view. Preregistration online is mandatory for each garden.

Wandering and Wondering: A weekly Q&A section

An illustration of a butterfly and the letters "Q&A."
(Li Anne Liew / Los Angeles Times)

Welcome to the first installment of Wandering and Wondering! If you have a travel-related question, send me an email and I may feature it here.

To kick us off, I’ll start with a question that was posed on Reddit earlier this month: “What are your favorite small museums in/near LA?

I encourage you to take a spin through the responses. People mention some well-known L.A. spots, such as the Skirball Cultural Center, Hammer Museum and Museum of Tolerance, as well as the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

The Long Beach Museum of Art and the Museum of Latin American Art were also included among the responses.

I have had a few of the more obscure museums mentioned — such as the Valley Relics Museum and the Museum of Neon Art — on my L.A. bucket list for quite some time. I’m also intrigued by the International Printing Museum in Carson, which offers book-binding and letterpress-printing classes.

Finally, as a massive fan of train trips, I feel compelled to add the Travel Town Museum to the list. It’s dedicated to “preserving and celebrating the rich railroad heritage of Los Angeles.”

What are your favorite small L.A. museums? Send me your recommendations.

🎸 Road song

"Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers

Where to play it: while hopping the fence at the Huntington gardens, just like in the song (just kidding — please enter through the official entrance).


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