Chances are if you’re reading this you’ve heard that Southern California is experiencing a “super bloom” this year. This is the first time we’ve gotten significant winter rains in almost a decade and all the wildflowers are blowing up. Currently there’s a place in the Central Valley called Carrizo Plain National Monument that is “super blooming”. I saw some picture of it last week and I knew I had to go.
So this weekend, even though my wife was working, I threw my three year old, my dog, and a duffel bag in my car and just drove down there to see what it was all about. Long story short:
It was f**ing amazing. One of the best things I’ve ever seen.
If you live within a days drive of Carrizo Plain you need to stop what you’re doing and just go there. Seriously. How many things in life do we wait on and say to ourselves “I’ll do it next time, it’ll still be there.” This won’t. This super bloom has already peaked and it will shrivel up and die very soon under the unrelenting Central Valley summer sun.
This is what I love about these wildflower displays — it reminds you that life is fleeting and if you don’t do the things you want to do on a regular basis then you’re just not living deliberately. Be deliberate. Go see the wildflowers on Carrizo Plain. Your chance is running out. Yeah, I’m laying down some serious FOMO on you. I hope you’re feeling it.
How To Go
Carrizo Plain is basically in the middle of nowhere. There is no cell reception, no gas, no food. So stock up your car before heading there.
The plain is about 1.5 hours from the nearest civilization (which is the Paso Robles area). It’s about 4.5 hours driving from San Francisco. It’s far enough to not be an enjoyable day trip. When I was younger, I might’ve done this as a day trip. But with a three year old in tow — this definitely became an overnight thing. There is an option to camp in the foothills of Carrizo Plain, but again with a three year old, I didn’t feel up to camping on the cold Plain (it gets down to upper 30s at night). So instead I just booked a night at the La Quinta Inn at Paso Robles.
Random aside — La Quinta Inn is pet friendly — it’s the only major hotel chain that welcomes your dog for no extra fee. Pretty awesome. To the best of my observation almost 100% of the people there (including me) were taking advantage of it. Furthermore, the place was 100% booked. I reserved the last room. It makes me happy to see a company find their niche (i.e. people that want to travel with their pet) and totally OWN it.
Where To See the Flowers
I spent two days out on Carrizo Plain tracking down wildflowers — Saturday late afternoon/evening and Sunday morning/early afternoon. I hit up all the places in the northern part of the Plain. I think there are some additional areas way far in the south, but it takes over an hour of driving along a dirt road to get there. Didn’t have time for that.
I’ve marked all the key wildflowers spots on the Google Map below. There are four main areas to see. All are easily accessible by car, though you have to drive on unpaved roads. Most of the unpaved roads are in really good condition. The two I drove on, the Seven Mile Road and the San Diego Creek road were no problem for my little Toyota Matrix. I think Elkhorn south of Wallace Point gets sketchy though, as does some of the other smaller side roads. Just be smart and you’ll be ok. The biggest problem I faced was the two way traffic on some of these roads — you have to find safe places to pull over and let the other cars pass. That gets sketchy sometimes.
If you have a full day, here’s what I recommend:
- In the morning, hit up the Soda Lake Visitor’s Center to get some information and a map.
- Then hit up the Field of Infinite Daisies just south of the Visitor’s Center. You will spend a lot of time taking pictures at all of these places. Plan for that.
- Drive north for a few miles and turn right off Soda Lake Road and hit up the Flowers on the Alkali Flat. You can walk out onto the weird alkali encrusted lake bed if you want. Be warned though, its kind of like quicksand because of the wet mud underneath.
- Drive slowly north up San Diego Creek Road toward the intersection of Seven Mile Road and the 58. Stop to take lots of pictures of the daisies and Soda Lake along the road.
- In the afternoon , hike up the Temblor Range. The light should be coming in from the west and be perfect. I recommend hiking as far as you can — about 1.5 to the top of the hill — for some amazing views of the bloom on the mountains.
- For sunset I recommend either staying in the Temblor Range area or driving back down San Diego Creek Road to the daisy bloom by Soda Lake. The light is really nice there and you can get a great reflection off the lake.
Below I’ve given a short description of each of the four locations (and attached a bunch of pictures). Hope you all enjoy. Go there. You won’t be disappointed.
This place is the the best of the best. If you only go to one place, make it this one. The mountains are COVERED in flowers here. It looks like someone just dropped paint from the air onto the mountains. I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz while I was hiking around there.
You can get some good views near the car, but if you want the killer views you have to hike up the mountains a bit. There’s a well worn trail that lots of people were taking. I hiked about 3 miles round trip here (with a 35 pound human being on my back) to get some of the views below.
Infinite Field of Daisies
Just south of the Soda Lake Visitor Center there is an infinite field of daisies right by the side of Soda Lake Road. It’s yellow as far as the eye can see. This is probably the easiest place to access. No hiking, no off road driving.
Alkali Flats of Soda Lake
The southern end of Soda Lake right where you turn off onto San Diego Creek Road from Soda Lake Road has an amazing bloom. There are a variety of species blooming there. Not just the yellow daisy. There’s white flowers, purple flowers, and other smaller yellow flowers. It’s smells amazing there as well.
Soda Lake itself is kind of a cool landmark. Apparently, all of the water from surrounding mountains drains into Soda Lake without an outlet to the ocean. In the summer the lake dries up and makes this weird alkali flat.
I went here on Saturday afternoon right after a big rainstorm. The clouds were breaking up over the sky and created this drama to the picture you just can’t get where there’s clear sunny skies.
Sunset Daisy Field
There is a gigantic daisy field is along the unpaved San Diego Creek Road which connects Elkhorn Road with Soda Lake Road. I think this is the best daisy field on the Valley floor. I watched the sunset from here on Saturday evening. Again the clouds were amazing that evening post rainstorm. there were just sitting on the Temblor Range — posing for me. Sunset was a technicolor light show.
If you’re read this far you should just throw some food and water in your car and just start driving down to Carrizo Plain. Do it. You won’t regret it.