Springtime in San Luis Obispo County (SLO CAL) means the season of wildflowers. Winter rains give way to stunning pastel fields and green hillscapes most vivid from March to May. Sometimes the rain falls in such a sequence to create something truly magnificent: a superbloom. Ever heard of a superbloom? It’s when flowers compound germination within the season to truly breathtaking results. While the Superbloom phenomena is not guaranteed every spring, SLO CAL can guarantee stunning landscapes and wildflower fields as far as the eye can see. Enjoy a picnic as you take the next viral photo as you enjoy responsibly at these sure-to-be-poppin' SLO CAL wildflower meadows and viewing sites.
WHERE TO FIND SLO CAL FLOWERS
Shell Creek Road and Bitterwater Road in Santa Margarita
Good things are worth the drive. Travel east along Highway 58 past the town of Santa Margarita and turn left on Shell Creek Road where you'll find a tapestry of blooming flowers. From Baby Blue Eyes and yellow Goldfields to white-tipped Tidy Tips your eyes will gaze in wonderment at the color before you. Drive-by or pull off safely into one of the designated areas to view this display up close.
Travel a bit further east on Highway 58 until you reach Bitterwater Road and you'll spy the orangey tones of the California poppy, blues of the lupine and golden Fiddlenecks for miles.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Is your gas tank still full? Past Shell Creek Road and Bitterwater Road lies the SLO CAL National Monument: Carrizo Plain. These natural arid fields are liable to be effervescent to any degree in the springtime and insulated with the green hues of the San Andreas Fault mountain range. Watch for those hillsides to transform in those superblooms, but you’ve still got a lot to look forward to on any visit to this remote part of SLO CAL. Soda Lake offers white salts from the evaporating water pool and the Goodwin Education Center offers some outdoor exhibits to learn about Native American heritage and the unique geology of the San Andreas Fault. There are two entrances to The Carrizo Plain National Monument – the north entrance via Soda Lake Road off of State Route 58 and the south entrance via Soda Lake Road off of State Route 33/166. The monument does not offer any water, food or fuel services so be sure to fill up before arriving; The gateway communities are 60 miles before the north entrance and 15 miles before the south entrance. The south entrance is the best option for visitors leaving from SLO CAL.
Montaña de Oro State Park
How about a little closer to town? Whether you choose to hike the beautiful Point Buchon Trail for purple hues or Valencia Peak, laden with California poppies, the coastal wildflower display found in Montaña de Oro is one to be savored. Coastal bluffs lead to natural landscapes that become vivid with complexity in the springtime. Best seen on the sunniest days, these trails are the most likely to be chilly. Bring your binoculars and maybe even your mountain bike or horse to explore all of the trails this stunning destination has to offer.
Highway 1 Scenes
Drive Highway 1 west towards Morro Bay where hillsides are covered in yellow and green. Consider pulling off to meander along the Elfin Forest Trail, before you take to the coastline where you’re able to hike to the water from the Harmony Headlands State Park. Take Highway 1 all the way to Ragged Point’s public art portal, but as you head back for a glass of wine at a world-class Paso Robles Wine Country tasting room, consider taking Highway 46. Halfway to your wine watering hole, check out the Green Valley Viewing Point. This is one of the most stunning photo ops you’ll encounter in SLO CAL. Think less wildflowers this time, and more green hills.
Cal Poly’s Arboretum
Cal Poly’s Leaning Pines Arboretum maintains five of the world’s Mediterranean climate regions. Walk the paths and gardens through unique tree species from South Africa, Australia and Chile. Here, you may only see cactus and succulent blooming, unless you decide to stop into the Cal Poly plant shop on your way out to take a piece of SLO CAL home with you.
Visit SLO CAL’s Harmony Lavender Farm, located off Highway 101 in Atascadero. These beautiful fields help create essential oils, soaps and much more. A deep breath of lavender can calm the soul and send your mind directly to the famous lavender you’ve seen in France.
Paso Robles’ Sensorio
Once you think you’ve seen about every wildflower on our list (see below), think again. SLO CAL has fields glow dark after hours. Sensorio is a unique Paso Robles installation that re-opens April 15, 2021. From artist Bruce Munro, this 15-acre sprawl has nearly 60,000 stemmed spheres that illuminate the hillsides with energetic pastels after the sun goes down. Don’t worry, we’re green in many ways here in SLO CAL. Everything at Sensorio is powered by solar! So bring your special date, or the whole family for a true treat.
Nipomo Flower Market
Nipomo is known for having one of the most temperate climates, well suited to ornamental horticulture. Travel the back roads and you're sure to find fields and greenhouses filled with gladiolas, roses, marigolds, mums, delphiniums and more. Each April the Central Coast Greenhouse Growers Association holds an open house, where the public is invited to tour their facilities. Visit the Nipomo Flower Market cooler to be treated to a wild array of stunning flowers. With a 92-acre farm, be sure to call ahead for any special requests.
San Luis Obispo's Plaza Pop-Up Livestream (above)
Through the month of May 2021, Mission Plaza bloomed with a multi-tiered public art display as part of the City of SLO-funded Plaza Pop-Up Program, in partnership with Downtown SLO. Downtown SLO worked with a variety of local artists, including Cal Poly’s Rose Float team to evolve the plaza throughout the month, culminating with a live flower installation. Decorated entirely of natural elements such as dried floral and produce, the exhibit will depict a story of resurgence and change. Additionally, visitors to downtown enjoyed Downtown SLO's expanded May Flower Initiative, including nearly 90 businesses with windows adorned with painted flowers, and a map and suggested walking tour posted in Mission Plaza.
TYPES OF FLOWERS
10 flower varietals on the Harmony Headlands trail
- Mustard Evening Primrose, Eulobus californicus - Outside of the famous orange poppies, this may be the most common and well-known of the wildflowers on the Central Coast. They brighten the hillsides of SLO CAL every year and are especially abundant in the spring after a rainy winter.
- Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis - A contrast to the yellow and purple blooms, these beauties are bright red tufts that pop in small bunches along the trail.
- Lupine, Lupinus spp. - This is an especially cheerful purple flower that you can find on almost every SLO CAL trail in the spring.
- Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum - A perennial herb that grows throughout California usually containing two to 15 flowers, which have a blue, blue-purple, pink-purple, or white surrounds.
- Bermuda Buttercup (a.k.a. Sour Grass), Oxalis pes-caprae - A weed to some, a zesty mid-hike snack to others, this edible flower isn't native to California, but adds a beautiful bright yellow speckling to the hillsides.
- Tall Purple Ones - Growing in clusters that run up the hillside from the creek to the trail.
- Seaside Daisy (a.k.a. Seaside Fleabane or Beach Aster), Erigeron, glaucus - Another common wildflower native to the California coast, these friendly flowers bloom most, if not all, of the year.
- Yellow Cluster One - Sunny yellow cone-shaped blooms captures the eye on your way back to the trailhead.
- Coast Morning Glory, Calystegia macrostegia - The Coast Morning Glory are the white, trumpet-shaped blooms that intermingle with the bright orange poppies like cousins frolicking in the grass.
- California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica - The California state flower, the small, bright orange poppy once served as food and medicine, in spite of being the benign version of its red cousin. Like the Morning Glory, it closes its bloom to retain heat when the sun hides in the clouds or sets.
HOW TO VIEW RESPONSIBLY
Yes, our SLO CAL wildflowers, hiking trails and viewing spots are a treasure. Help keep them that way by minimizing the impact of your visit on nature. In recent years, the spring wildflower season has been cut short due to onlookers stepping on the flowers during their quest for the perfect photo.
The flowers aren’t the only ones harmed by the increase of visitors. The Carrizo Plain National Monument is also the largest protected habitat along the Pacific Flyway and is home to the highest concentration of threatened and endangered wildlife in California. In order to continue to preserve this natural gem, we must take it into our own hands. Here’s how to protect the flowers this year.
Park rangers ask that visitors not jump any fences, or other types of boundaries to be closer to or in the flowers or wildlife. Staying on the trails and keeping a safe distance from animals is recommended. Always be sure to pick up any trash or waste before you leave to keep the natural beauty of our SLO CAL landscape. In order to preserve the natural resources and maintain the beauty of the plains, just take a step back and enjoy the view.
If you're looking to adventure, you won't have to wait much longer. The flowers begin blooming in March, so get ready for a sight unlike any other.