Looking to add some color to your life? Our special stretch of Highway 1 has you covered. Brittlebrush, poppies, bluebells, lupine, sand verbena, and evening primrose are just a handful of the incredible wildflowers that bloom on the Central Coast. While the Carrizo Plain is known best for its annual “superblooms,” another bloom can be found on Highway 1. Most hiking trails offer wildflower viewing opportunities when in season — among other perks like ocean panoramas and access to wildlife. Of course most of our other wide open spaces are also wildflower hotspots as well.
The California Native Plant Society of San Luis Obispo publishes a list of the plants that can be found throughout SLO County. Bring this list along with a bottle of water, a hat, your phone or camera, and experience natural color unlike anywhere else. To sweeten the deal, you’ll find easy parking and plenty of space in which to explore.
Ready to experience petal peeping at its finest?
Welcome to nature’s paint box, right here on Highway 1.
Wildflowers at Fiscalini Ranch
This beloved preserve features over 17 miles of hiking trails, densely wooded forest, coastal plains and rugged coastline. Given the variety of terrain, a wide sampling of wildflowers grow here throughout the year. No visit to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is without its botanical splendor, but springtime is when Cambria’s wildflowers pull out all the stops. After the rains of winter and under a warm sun, blossoms and greenery grow in abundance — but the picture-perfect moment is unpredictable and fleeting. Your best bet for seeing wildflowers at their peak here? Come during April and May. These are the most dependable months of the year for walking along rolling coastal hills awash in color. Look for California poppies, sticky monkey flowers, wild radish, lupine and mustard. At their peak, hues of lavender, yellow, pink, and white soften every vista and turn this favorite open space into a watercolor. For a more in-depth exploration of the flora and fauna at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, check out the Fiscalini Plant Guide. The preserve has several entrance points, with the most common being the South Windsor Boulevard entrance, at the start of the Bluff Trail. To reach the trailhead, park on the south end of Windsor Boulevard on Cambria’s north side, in the Seaclift Estates.
Wildflowers at Estero Bluffs
Estero Bluffs State Park offers 353 acres of unspoiled California coastlands, including a wealth of wild poppies in spring. When they set the landscape ablaze, these poppies harken back to the days of the native Chumash and Salinan population that lived on the Estero Bluffs. These indigenous people used the delicate poppy for food and oil — precious resources for this area’s earliest inhabitants. Today, poppies signal the passing of winter, the birth of spring, and the abundance of summer. Look for carpets of California poppies among the native grasses at Estero Bluffs, such as Indian Paintbrush and native purple needlegrass. Walk the 4 miles of trails that run parallel and perpendicular to shore, and take in the fresh sea air paired with views of the Pacific, framed with poppies. The state park also features dunes, coastal scrub, wetlands and rocky outcrops where poppies can also be found in spring. To find the Estero Bluffs, look for informal parking areas and gravel turnouts on Highway 1 north of Cayucos. For the easiest spot to access parking and trails, look for where San Geronimo Road crosses Highway 1.
Wildflowers at Los Osos Oaks
This quiet preserve off of Los Osos Valley Road is most famous for its ancient oak trees that date back eight centuries. But many visitors don’t realize that the oaks tower over wildflowers, as well, particularly in spring. With the rains of winter and the warmth of spring, the Los Osos Oaks Nature Preserve becomes carpeted in bright blooms. Spanning 90 acres of coastal dunes habitat, the preserve’s oaks stand anywhere from 5 to 25 feet high, creating a canopy. This protects the native flowers that have bloomed here since the days of the Chumash and Salinan people, before any Europeans arrived. Bring your lunch and sit on one of the park’s benches, enjoying the color that unfolds before you, particularly in March and April. Look for California poppies, bush lupine, mustard and sticky monkeyflower. To see these wildflowers for yourself, drive to 1813 Los Osos Valley Road, where the trailhead stands. Park in the free parking lot and follow signs into the oak grove.
Wildflowers at Montana de Oro
For those in the know, it may come as no surprise that this sprawling state park boasts wildflowers. The name Montana de Oro refers to the “mountains of gold” poppies that cover the hills in spring. Temperate coastal weather makes for perfect growing conditions along Montana de Oro’s dunes, bluffs, prairies and hills. Here, find more than just California poppies. Look for yarrow and mustard, wild iris, goldfields, lupine and many more. Hiking, biking and horseback riding are the best ways to access views of these wildflowers, as well as simply driving through the park. For a quick hit of springtime blooms, head to the Bluff Trail; find the trailhead off Pecho Valley Road, just beyond the Montana de Oro Visitor Center. (Park in the lot across from the sign for the Valencia Peak trailhead.) Or for a more immersive wildflower experience, reserve your spot on the Point Buchon Trail. This trail can only be hiked with a guide, and only a handful of hikers at a time.Be sure to reserve your place on the trail in early spring to ensure you get the best view of all the blooms along the coastline.
Wildflowers at Pismo Preserve
After winter’s wet weather, the hillsides at the Pismo Preserve begin to warm, compelling wildflowers to push through the damp earth. The result? Large swaths of yellow, purple and orange that cover the mountains looking down to the Pacific. Hike the preserve’s 880 acres and 11 miles of trail and ranch roads to catch these colorful views for yourself. See the Central Coast as it once looked: unspoiled, wild and free. Hunt for California poppies, mustard, and lupine, as well as Baby Blue Eyes, a blossom with five soft blue petals and a white center. These are native to the Central Coast and have been called one of the “best known spring wildflowers. (In fact, their seeds are commonly included in commercial wildflower mixes.) To experience the beauty of the Pismo Preserve’s bounteous color, start at the parking lot and take the Discovery Trail or the Lone Oak Trail. These offer some of the best coastal wildflower views around. The Pismo Preserve is located just off Highway 101; take exit 191B in Pismo Beach. Find the parking lot on the east side of the freeway, at the southern end of Mattie Road.
Wildflowers at Lopez Lake
Depending on the time of year, Lopez Lake can be covered in carpets of wildflowers colored bright orange, yellow, blue and violet. Around late March, blossoms begin to pop up across the hills and saddles that surround Lopez Lake and beyond. By the time early April arrives, these areas can be blanketed in jewel tones. During their peak, the most widely-found flower is the beloved California poppy. These turn the hillsides a deep goldenrod color that can be seen for miles around. Other common wildflowers in the spring include tidy tips, goldenfields, arroyo lupine, mustard, fuschias and owl’s clover. For some of the best petal peeping at Lopez Lake, take a morning or afternoon to hike the 7-mile Duna Vista Trail loop. This ridge along the Wittenberg Arm offers spectacular views of the lake all the way to the Oceano Dunes and the Pacific. To reach the trailhead, enter the Lopez Lake State Recreation Area off Lopez Drive. Pay the day-use fee at theranger station and follow the road to its end. Park in the turnout on the left and follow signs for the Duna Vista Trail.
Wildflowers at Oceano Dunes Trails
Many visitors are surprised to find wildflowers growing in coastal dunes, but these can be some of the best places to look for seasonal color. On the trails that wind through the Oceano Dunes, find native plants arroyo willow, California sagebrush, and sand verbena. And among those, look for tender blossoms of bush lupine and Baby Blue Eyes, also called Menzies’ baby blue eyes. These little, low-growing blue flowers are some of the most beloved native blooms in North America for their sweet color and size. One of the best ways to see wildflowers here is along the 2-mile Oceano Dunes Preserve Trail. This takes in the 570-acre Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve. Park in the Grover Beach Day Use Area at the west end of Grand Avenue and find the trailhead opposite the entrance to the parking lot. You’ll also find native color along the Guiton Oceano Lagoon Trail off Pier Avenue. This 1.5-mile hike that starts on the east side of the Nature Center by the Pismo State Beach-Oceano Campground parking lot.
Wildflowers at Nipomo Native Garden
Tucked back from the artery of Highway 101, the Nipomo Native Garden highlights the native plants and flowers of this biologically diverse area. Here, find a curated sampling of wildflowers not easily seen elsewhere, like Blue Witch Nightshade, California Peony, Purple Clarkia and Blue Wooly Stars. These and many others can be seen on the half-mile trail that weaves through the 12-acre garden, which is maintained entirely by volunteers. Flora and fauna native to the nearby Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes can also be found among the riches of this local effort. Enjoy a quiet moment on one of the trail’s benches or take in the plants one by one on a leisurely stroll. To find the Nipomo Native Garden, take the Tefft Street exit off Highway 101 and drive west. At Polmeroy Street, turn right, then turn left on Camino Caballo. Take another right on Osage Street and park on the street outside the garden’s entrance.