A wet winter in Northern California means more than just an extended ski season in the Sierra. Gorgeous, colorful spring flowers are popping up all over the great outdoors and cultivated gardens, and there is no better time to stop and smell the roses with your brood. Share Mother Nature’s seasonal beauty with your budding botanists by visiting some of our favorite places for peeping blooms throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
The Living Roof, California Academy of Sciences
We’ve all traversed the underwater wonderland Aquarium, but did you know you can take your little monkeys up on the Academy of Sciences roof? Providing habitat and food for local birds, bees and butterflies, the Living Roof is also home to the densest concentration of native wildflowers in San Francisco! 1.7 million native plants cover the 2.5 acre Living Roof, such as beach strawberry, California fuchsia, and dudleya. Perennial and wildflower species were specifically chosen to flourish in salt spray and wind from the ocean. And that’s not all. This is a roof that works for it’s living, transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen, capturing rainwater and reducing energy needs for the building underneath its spectacular surface. Architect Renzo Piano’s vision for the Academy is perhaps most perfectly expressed by the Living Roof. The seven undulating hills mirror the hilly topography of San Francisco, blurring boundaries between the park and the building. The goal, as he described it, was to “lift up a piece of the park and put a building under.”
Good to Know: For a complete species list of plants, click here.
Golden Gate Park
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Hours: Monday–Saturday 9:30 am–5 pm, Sunday 11 am–5 pm
Cost: $34.95 per Adult, $29.95 per Youth/Senior/Student, $24.95 per Child (ages 4–11), Children age 3 and under admitted FREE, as are Members.
Check online for seasonal neighborhood free days and Free Quarterly Sundays.
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, Japantown
Japantown will burst into bloom in April for this year’s 50th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival. With a sprinkling of pink and white petals on the cobblestones and a taiko drum beat to Post Street, it’s sure to have something magical for the whole family. Explore the oldest Japantown in the United States, snack-it-up at the food bazaar, and learn about traditional arts and crafts. Entertainment this year features traditional Japanese dancers, martial artists and taiko drummers. Choose to graze the festival stalls, or duck in to one of the many delicious restaurant and cafe options to savor the full Japanese experience for the day.
Writer’s pick: Don’t miss the Cherry Blossom Mochi, for a seasonal sweet treat. If you love a parade, the Grand Parade takes place April 16, 1 pm, leaving from the Civic Center and making its way up Post Street.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
This remarkable 55-acre urban oasis showcases more than 8,000 different kinds of plants from all over the globe. The Garden displays many rare and unusual plants that flourish in the Bay Area climate, including collections from Australia, California, Chile, the Mediterranean, and South Africa. The spring/summer season promises petals galore, so check the Garden’s fantastic website for specific seasonal bloom times. Heads up: April to May is prime-time to catch a glimpse of bright blue wild lilac peeking out from a carpet of meadowfoam, iris, poppies and other pretty native plants in the California Native Garden. The 4-acre wild garden with over 500 species and cultivars, including a wildflower meadow, is the ideal spot for littles to explore their native habitat, while burning off some steam on the narrow winding paths. Latin names got your head in a spin? Ask one of the extra-smart docents to fill you in on common plant names and teach your petit petal a few facts to take home. Be sure to visit the Ancient Plant Garden with its cool dinosaur footprints. Keen to learn more? Tucked at the edge of the Botanical Garden, children of all ages can explore crafts and practice garden care in the Children’s Garden. Keep your eyes peeled for squirrels, geese, and even a turtle often spied at the McBean Wildfowl Pond. You’re welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy in the beautiful setting, but don’t feed the wildlife—it’s strictly prohibited.
Insider Tip: Snag a bag of seeds or a sapling at the gift shop to take home. Visit the education pages online ahead of time for printable nature worksheets, kids tour info, classes, bird-walks and story-times.
Golden Gate Park
1199 9th Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94122
Hours: 7.30 am-7 pm daily, (from now through Sept) at Main Gate. Friend Gate (north) opens at 9 am. Last entry is 6 pm.
Cost: FREE for Members and SF residents (with proof of residency).Non-residents: $8/adult, $6/seniors (65+) and ages 12-17; $2 ages 5-11; FREE for kids 4 and younger.
Want to get that deep-in-the-forest-feeling, but short on time? The Presidio is where it’s at for getting in touch with nature, even in-between naps. Take a swift or more leisurely hike with the kids leading the way, pausing to spot wildflowers, birds and butterflies along the route. With Golden Gate views at every corner, that eucalyptus smell and pretty flora and fauna, the Presidio is one of the best choices to escape the city. Lobos Creek Valley Trail, an 0.8-mile hike is an easy, quick option offering a splash of colorful wildflowers. Park on Lake Street at 15th Avenue, and walk up Wedemeyer Street to get to the trail head. No car? No worries! Take the Presidio Go Shuttle. Fancy a challenge? Take Mountain Lake Trail, a 2.6-mile hike (one-way) which runs along the southern boundary of the Presidio and includes sculptor Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line plus Mountain Lake. The trail ends up at Baker Beach, so don’t forget your bathing suit if the sun is out to play. If the over 5-mile round-trip trek isn’t in the cards, why not access the path further along at Arguello Gate near the Presidio Golf Course, or park near Lake Street and 14th Avenue instead. Check out trail maps online before you go at presidio.gov.
Bonus: Presidio Picnic—aka Off the Grid—is back through October, every Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm. Time your outing right, and you can hit up the yummy food trucks post-hike to refuel.
Ages: All ages
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, every day
Combining innovative art and exquisite design, Cornerstone is a showcase for landscape architects, artists and designers from around the world. Inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-Sur-Loire in France, the gardens connect art with nature. The landscaping changes with the rotating of designers and some with the seasons. Currently there are nine displays, including the Children’s Garden, which mirrors the flowers and plants of Sonoma. Love kitchen gardens? The five Sunset Gardens focus on food, flowers, bees and compost. After exploring the gardens, stay for lunch at Park 121 Cafe & Grill. Oenophiles can taste wines at three different tasting rooms. If beer is more your liking, check out the Prohibition Spirits Distillery Experience. Want to bring home a souvenir? Cornerstone is home to several chic shops and galleries.Check the calendar for special events this spring and summer.
23570 Arnold Dr.
Sonoma, CA 95476
Ages: All ages
Hours: Gardens open 10 am to 4 pm. Grounds close at 5 pm.
Cost: Free. Private garden tours for groups of 10 or more, $10/person.
Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes Station
Soak up all the NorCal coastline has to offer this spring. A family favorite locale with spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean, this 33,300-acre wilderness boasts wildflower hikes that will knock your socks off, and a lighthouse to seal the deal. Chimney Rock, a wildflower hot spot ,is only a short 1.75-mile round trip path, complete with lighthouse views. If you look closely you might even spy a gray whale. Abbotts Lagoon is a 2-mile hike over coastal bluffs and along the lagoon, and includes almost every single variety of coastal wildflower you can name. With California buttercups, seaside daisies, mule’s ears and iris among the wildflower bounty, Instagram-worthy moments abound!
1 Bear Valley Rd.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Ages: All ages
Hours: Daily from sunrise to midnight
Wildflowers, butterflies and birds, hiking trails suitable for grandma and tot, a beach, AND a shipwreck? Tennessee Valley ticks all the boxes! Nestled within the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Tennessee Valley and Beach is a local favorite spot for good reason. Less crowded than some of the other headland destinations, the easy 1.7-mile hike one way through the wildflower-peppered valley to the beach is an easy breezy ride, even with the littles in tow. If you’re lucky enough to time your hike with low tide, you may even get to spot the wreck of the park’s namesake, the SS Tennessee, peeking out among the surf and spray. California poppies and pretty wildflowers scatter the hills and trails, and make for a fantastic display of native blooms. Pack a snack and get trail-blazing.
Good to know: Dogs are not allowed on the main trail.
591 Tennessee Valley Rd.
Mill Valley, Ca 94941
Ages: All ages
Hours: Sunrise to sunset every day
Online: Visit the Tennessee Valley NPS website for more information
Mount Tamalpais State Park
Rising strong and sturdy just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is Mt Tam. What’s it got? Redwood groves, towering oaks, fantastic views of the sea—oh, and an abundance of native wildflowers, too! Hike, camp, bike and wildflower hunt to your hearts content. You’ll likely see California poppies, Douglas irises, shooting starts, lupines and goldfields splashing their colors on the slopes. Check out the regular guided hikes (for those that can handle 3 to 7 miles roundtrip, depending on the hike) on weekends brought to you by Friends of Mt. Tam. The organization also offers printable wildflower guides. If you’ve new to Mt. Tam, or haven’t explored it with a tike in tow, your best bet is to start at the East Peak Visitor Center, open only on weekends from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Inside you’ll find wildflower guides and maps to get you psyched for the hike ahead. The Matt Davis Trail is a very gentle, easy bet. Wheel-chair and stroller accessible Verna Dunshee loop, is perfect for little flower-hunters and loops around the mountaintop showing off stunning views, while providing a solid self-guided tour through local flora and fauna. For a more adventurous and heart-pounding trail, check out the Bootjack Day Use Area, which descends into Muir Woods.
Insider tip: Don’t miss the Gravity Car Barn, a tiny museum detailing railroad history, open on weekends.
801 Panoramic Hwy.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Ages: all ages
Hours: 7 am to sunset, daily
Cost: $8 for parking
Photo credit: Ray Bouknight via Flickr
Black Diamond Mines Regional Park
A lovely display of wildflowers, history and mine tours, Black Diamond Mines Regional Park needs to be on your to-do list this season. Picnic spots, camping, and more than 65 miles of trails make Black Diamond an easy, fun choice for exploring with the kids. Check out the Chaparral Loop Trail that starts at the Great House Visitor Center. Of moderate intensity (there are some stairs), it’s a fun way to spot spring blooms while working up a sweat. Keep an eye out for the Mt. Diablo Fairy Lantern, a rare wildflower that grows on the slopes.
Note: It can get hot in the summer, so pack sun hats, SPF and plenty of water to keep cool.
5175 Somersville Rd.
Antioch, CA 94509
Ages: All ages
Hours: 8 am to 8 pm, April 16 to Sept. 5
Cost: $5 parking fee; $2 per dog (free for service dogs)
Anthony Chabot Regional Park, Castro Valley
Bursting into bloom in April and May, wild roses, lupine and buttercups brighten up the 3,314-acre park. Only 20 minutes from downtown Oakland and with both grasslands and dense forests to explore, Anthony Chabot Regional Park has plenty of spring wildflowers for the whole family to identify. Download this handy Chabot wildflower guide. Looking for a quick hike? Try the Grass Valley Loop, about a 3-mile round trip. Most trails are situated in full sun and circle Lake Chabot, so the more adventurous can slap on the SPF and hike the full 8.6-mile loop around the lake. Are your kids activity driven? Check out the fishing and boating scene on the lake and pack a picnic to refuel. Restrooms and snack bar are available, and the park is stroller friendly.
Note: Check the Chabot Park website for updates on trail closures.
9999 Redwood Rd.
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ages: All ages
Hours: 8 am–10 pm, daily
Photo credit: Dustin Blakey via Flickr
Mt. Diablo State Park, Clayton
Get ready for some color when you hike at Mitchell Canyon at Mt. Diablo State Park. Mitchell Canyon area is well regarded in the area for its wildflower displays during spring. Want to make sure to see as many blooms as possible?Download an audio tour ahead of time. Alternatively, study up at the Junction Ranger Station pre-hike to impress the kids with wildflower knowledge! Check out the Rock City area where kiddos can climb on rock formations and venture through small caves. Camping is permitted, as well as biking.
Good to note: Trails aren’t great for city strollers, but jogging strollers might cut it.
96 Mitchell Canyon Rd.
Clayton, CA 94517
Ages: All ages
Hours: 8 am to sunset
Cost: $10 for parking
Sunol Regional Wilderness, Sunol
Chock-a-block with picnicking, hiking and horseback riding, Sunol Wilderness comprises nearly 7,000 acres of adventure. Flower hunters should take the Sunol Loop to Cerro Estate, a close to 5-mile trip, or pick from one of many flower-covered trails such as Indian Joe Creek, Canyon View and Flag Hill (get ready, this one is steep!). Cattle graze among the wildflower blooms, which include mustard, goldfields, lupine and the ever-beautiful orange-hued California poppies. A wildflower identification kit may be checked out at the Old Green Barn Visitor Center. Look online at the park’s website for naturalist-led program details and more specific trail info.
Good to Know: Be sure to bring your own pre-filled water bottles—there’s no drinking water in the park.
1895 Geary Rd.
Sunol, CA 94586
Cost: $5 for seasonal, weekend and holiday parking. $2 fee for dogs, but service dogs allowed for free.
You don’t have to travel all the way to Great Britain to see a classical English garden. Historic Filoli is a Northern California country estate on 654 acres—and 16 of those are a series of amazing Renaissance style gardens, which are open to the public to explore. If you have questions, docents are on hand to answer them. At the Visitor and Education Center, you can get an overview of the story behind the Georgian country house and the evolution of the breathtaking gardens through a brief orientation video. Self-guide booklets are also available for purchase. After exploring, treat everyone to a snack or lunch at the Quail’s Nest Cafe. Since Filoli is celebrating its centennial, there’s lots to celebrate!
86 Cañada Rd.
Woodside, CA 94062
Ages: All ages
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm
Cost: $20/adult, $17/senior (65+), $10/ages 5–17, FREE/ages 4 and younger.
San Bruno Mountain State & County Park
Less than 15 minutes from downtown San Francisco, with easy access from Daly City and Colma, San Bruno Mountain offers a vast selection of guided and free-to-roam hikes. The Summit Loop Trail, which is a moderate 3.1-mile hike, offers wonderful views of wildlife and native plants, including occasional reports of the endangered Mission blue butterfly sightings! Grab your magnifying glasses and prep the kids ahead of time. Whoever spots one first gets pancakes for breakfast!
Good to know: Although this is a California State Park, it is maintained by the County of San Mateo and admission is not included with a State Park Pass. A San Mateo County Annual Park Pass is $60, and includes free parking privileges.
555 Guadalupe Canyon Pkwy.
Brisbane, CA 94005
Ages: All ages
Hours: 7 am–8 pm, daily. (April–August)
Edgewood Park & Natural Preserve, Redwood City
One of the South Bay’s best wildflower viewing parks is just a short skip off I-280. Exit near Redwood City and get ready to be blown away by what Edgewood Park has to offer. For starters, 467 acres of woodlands and grasslands are home to an abundance of wildlife, wildflowers and plants. The park’s proximity to the coast means wildflowers bloom throughout spring and into June. You might even see a rare Bay checkerspot butterfly flutter by. Check out Friends of Edgewood for info on their spring docent-led wildflower, bird and junior explorer walks. Try the Franciscan Trail for an easy-to-moderate 1.4 mile hike through wild, rustling grasslands. Be sure to take a rest at one of the many benches along the way and soak up sweeping bay views. The 3.5-mile Serpentine Trail is flatter, moderate in difficulty and fab for viewing spring blooms. The 2.5-mile Sylvan Trail is another popular choice for families.Needless to say, almost any of Edgewood’s trails will leave you feeling satisfied and itching to come back next weekend. For those with older kids or more energetic go-getters, the Edgewood Trail is the one for you. Approximately 2 miles long with a fairly steep incline, it’ll get your heart racing and your little ones all tuckered out by bedtime. In the spring, docent-led wildflower walks take place Saturdays and Sundays, 10 am to 1pm.
Insider tip: Plan your trails ahead of time by looking at Edgewood’s guided wildflower walks online. No dogs are allowed in Edgewood Park.
10 Old Stage Coach Rd.
Redwood City, CA 94062
Ages: All ages
Hours: 8 am–8 pm, daily (April through Labor Day).
Part family amusement park, part gardening showcase, Gilroy Gardens is a must on your to-do list! All of the attractions and rides—which range from the most teeny-tot friendly to a couple of roller coasters even your big kids will like—are embedded in artfully designed landscaping. Stop by the displays and point out the many different varieties of flowers and trees, plus the cool water elements and rock formations. There are six resplendent gardens to discover. Best of all, these paths are stroller friendly, so when those little adventurers needs break, they can chill while moms and dads take in the manicured wonder of the gardens.
3050 Hecker Pass Hwy.
Gilroy, CA 95020
Ages: All ages
Hours: Friday, 11 am–5 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 10 am–6 pm (April–May); open daily June–mid-August.
Costs: $35—$39/ages 3 and up; free/age 2 and under. Parking is $15.
Henry W. Coe State Park, Morgan Hill
It’s California’s second largest state park at 87,003 acres, but many haven’t even heard of it! Rugged, varied and beautiful, Henry W. Coe State Park has a wide range of areas to explore and native plants to uncover. Look out for mountain lions! Also, this might be a good choice for those with older kids. Because of the elevation, make sure your kids are prepped and well-fed as they will be climbing steep hills. Start at the visitor center to run over your hiking options with the staff, or call ahead to fine-tune your hike plan. The park calendar lists wildflower walks, usually scheduled at 11 am and 1 pm, on Sundays. If you’re after spring colors, take the Springs Trail/Forest Trail Loop. Rangers recommend the Manzanita Point Road to see an incredible array of nature’s blooms.
Good to know: Dogs are not allowed on the trails, only in the parking lot and around the visitor center.
9000 E. Dunne Ave.
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Ages: This one is for the big kids due to the steep hills.
Hours: Open around the clock, daily
Cost: $8 for parking
Online: Visit the Henry W. Coe State Park website
Calero County Park, San José
Calero County Park is located in San José’s most southern edge and surrounds the Calero reservoir. For an easy and brief hike, simply stroll to the Los Cerritos Pond, less than a half-mile from the trailhead. Looking for more? Older kids can handle the 2.6-mile hike that includes the Figueroa, Vallecito, Peña and Los Cerritos trails. Seeking out the best blooms requires more momentum here. Take the Chisnantuk Peak Trail, a moderate to strenuous hike, but note that it requires an 8-mile roundtrip journey and isn’t stroller-friendly.
23201 McKean Rd.
San Jose,CA 95120
Ages: All ages, but some hikes more suitable for older kids
Hours: 8am—sunset, daily
Cost: $6 vehicle entry
Online: Visit the Calero County Park website
Worth the Drive
Located about 280 miles east of San Francisco, Mono County is on Yosemite National Park’s eastern entrance—and an incredible place to peep blooms with young hikers. If driving, US Highway 395 is the way to go. Catching Mono County wildflowers in bloom depends on winter snowfall accumulation and the speed with which it melts. Wildflowers at higher elevations tend to peak later in the season. Many trails and meadows are dappled with color throughout spring and summer.
The Agnew Meadow/Wildflower Nature Trail meanders through Reds Meadow Valley west of Mammoth Lakes. Once the road from Minaret Vista to Devils Postpile opens in the spring, this trail is an early season spectacle (June and July) and includes larkspur, lupine, lilies and columbine. Rock Creek Canyon between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop boasts diverse, stunning displays in mid- to late July and into August. Popular subalpine varietals include lupine, tiger lilies and bull elephant’s head. McGee Creek is another seasonal flora and fauna favorite. Located just north of Crowley Lake, it is one of the Eastern Sierra’s most popular spots for wildflower photography. Mule’s ears, lupine, bird’s beak and phlox are often found in abundance. Parker Lake, a leisurely 2-mile trail, is at the north end of the June Lake Loop. Here, hikers will see sulphur flower, balsamroot and mule’s ears. Be on the lookout for quaking aspens, where some Basque shepherds carved names, dates and even poetry. On Tioga Pass, Nunatak Nature and Bennettville Trails are late summer nooks for scores of flower like rock cress, draba, red and white leather, penstemon, crowded lupine and dwarf bilberry. Tioga Pass is home to Saddle Lake Loop, a 4.2-mile trail, perfect for a variety of skill levels. Nunatak is especially nice as it’s an easy half-mile, paved and dog-friendly. Bennettville—complete with a cool abandoned mining town—is considered moderate, but remember that you’re at a 9,500-foot elevation. Speaking of, due to the higher elevation flowers here tend to bloom later with a short growing season.
Good to know: Before you go, download Wildflower Hot Spots of the Eastern Sierra guide, or pick it up at visitor centers in Mono County for a small donation.
Where are your favorite places for spying spring blooms in the Bay Area or farther afield? Share with us in the comments below!