This has been the most beautiful spring that I can remember in my 39 years. Normally golden brown due to drought, Southern California’s hills have been blanketed with wildflowers of all colors after the winter rains, and it has been SPECTACULAR! I previously covered our trips to see the California poppies in Lake Elsinore and desert wildflowers of Anza Borrego. In late March, we continued our Southern California Spring 2019 Superbloom tour with a visit to Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County, and the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve in Lancaster.
For those of you who are new to this blog, and/or our instagram feed, my husband and I are both full-time working doctors with two little boys (nearly 4 and 6). My parents live nearby and help us a lot, and they are in their early 70s. We are a very close family, and we love to travel together. We’re relatively new to Southern California (moved to LA in 2010, OC in 2013), and enjoy exploring the area. We take a couple week-long vacations each year, but sprinkle in weekend road trips throughout the year . I’m sharing our weekend superbloom tour itinerary and details with you, because these areas are stunningly beautiful right now, and I hope this information helps anyone who is considering it make the trip! I compiled information I found online with advice from helpful area locals who I communicated with via instagram, and facebook. This trip is doable over a weekend, from Orange County or Los Angeles, and for a fraction of the cost of one day at Disneyland. You can see both Carrizo Plain and Antelope Valley in one weekend, or consider visiting just one area as a daytrip if you prefer.
Friday night: We drove from Orange County to Taft, California so that we would be closer to Carrizo Plain on Saturday. I also knew we would be spending a lot of time in the car touring around the plains, so I wanted to break up the driving to make it easier for everyone. I did some research and it seems the closest large city with plenty of lodging options is Taft. According to google maps traffic prediction, Los Angeles traffic decreases after 7:30pm, so we ate dinner at home before hitting the road around 8pm. We dressed our children in pajamas and brushed their teeth before loading them into the car, so that after they fell asleep around their usual bedtime, we were able to transfer them directly (still asleep) to the hotel bed. We arrived around 11-11:30pm, and stayed at the Best Western Taft (details below).
Saturday: The next morning, we woke up and enjoyed the included hot breakfast buffet at our hotel. Around 9am, we stopped by Roots Eatery (details below) to pick up sandwiches, which we had pre-ordered on Friday, for our picnic lunch in the Park.
We then headed to Carrizo Plain National Monument, making a loop from north to south via the 33 to 58 to the 5. Our hotel reception provided a helpful guide to Carrizo Plain which can also be found online here.
Driving to Carrizo Plain National Monunent, the road from the 5 to 58 was windy and hilly, and so beautiful.
When we reached the corner of 58 and 7 mile road, we found the big field of yellow wildflowers – California Goldmines. There is a path up a hill that we saw some people taking, but there was a sign noting “private property”, so we stayed by the fields by the side of the road.
From there, we continued from seven mile road to Soda Lake road. We stopped at the Soda Lake overlook where we found blue flowers (Baby Blue eyes) and enjoyed a great view.
We then carefuly crossed the road, and walked along the boardwalk for a closer view of Soda lake and surrounding flowers. We continued down Soda Lake Road to the Goodwin visitor’s center , where we stopped for our picnic lunch. We didn’t go into the visitor center this time, but if you have the time – this is a good place to learn more about the animals and flowers of the plain. We already had much of htat information from the guidebook we got at our hotel and from my pre-trip research, and had a map of the bloom areas that volunteers handed out at the Overlook site. At the visitor center, there are several picnic tables and porta-potties. I think this might be the only restroom area in the National Monument, so make note of this!
After the visitor center we got back on Soda Lake road and it eventually became a well maintained dirt road with cows roaming around. Around Travers Ranch, there is a small dirt road to Harvestor’s field which led us to a huge patch of purple Phacelia. After we parked in the designated area, we hiked about 1 mile in and out to see the flowers up close.
General Advice for Carrizo Plain:
- Our Minivan was fine for all the main roads through the monument as noted above (Highway 58 and Soda Lake Road). It is recommended that you do not go off road without 4 wheel drive, a shovel, air compressor and other off-roading equipment.
- Please be careful driving when the road becomes unpaved, because it can pretty slippery, especially after rain. If there is rain on the forecast, the road may be bumpy if the tractors don’t have time to grade it.
- Watch your speed all the time, because the wide open scenery can distract you very easily, and you may miss a curve.
- Bring plenty of food and water, because there will not be any stores once you enter the national monument. The closest cities (Taft, Santa Margarita) are over one hour away. We spent nearly the entire day in the plain – we left Taft around 9:30am and left Carrizo Plain around 4 pm.
- Wear sunscreen and sun protection – hats, sunglasses, etc. Although it may feel windy and cool, the sun is strong here.
Saturday evening: Heading to Lancaster
After leaving Carrizo Plain, I had wanted to visit the Wind Wolves Preserve, but it was already getting late in the day and everyone was tired from flower and sight-seeing, so we drove directly to Lancaster. As we drove east on the 138 highway, there were huge patches of poppies and wildflowers along the roadside. As the sun set, it was so beautiful that I had to pull over for us to stop and enjoy the view .
Once we made it to Lancaster, I checked yelp for recommended restaurants for dinner, and then with bellies full, we settled in at our hotel – Townplace suites by Marriott Lancaster (details below).
Sunday : Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve 15101 Lancaster Road, Lancaster, CA
I had ambitious goals of waking up early, having breakfast, and leaving for poppy reserve by 7:30am (to arrive by 8am). However, when you travel as a group and family with littles and seniors (ages 3 to 71), you have to be flexible. We ate breakfast at the hotel, and left the hotel around 8:30am. By the time we reached the preserve around 9am, there was no parking in the lot ($10 to park there). There was a ranger blocking the entrace to the parking lot and although he did let a few people in, he explained that he was only letting in those with disability placards. He advised us to find a parking spot on Lancaster road, with everyone else. We took the closest spot we could find, about a mile from the start of the paths at the Poppy Reserve.
Apparently there are 8 miles of trails throughout the reserve, with the most popular being the South and North Loop trails with a quick side trip to the Tehachapi Vista Point. You can stop in at the visitor center (it usually opens in early March) to get the latest updates on where the most flowers are blooming. Trail maps were also available at the start of the trail. Since it was “peak bloom” and there were literally flowers everywhere, and I didn’t have any specific hikes in mind with the family, we just started walking up the hill and around a few trails until we reached our fill of flowers for the day. We ended up spending about 3-4 hours at the reserve, leisuring walking and taking it all in. I had been a bit nervous that the reserve would be underwhelming, especially after I’ve taken my family to Walker Canyon, Anza Borrego and Carrizo Plain, but we all agreed it was an incredible sight to see and highlight of our entire spring wildflower tour. My dad even got on his phone to facetime his brother, and my husband (initially skeptical -what is the big deal and why are we driving all over for flowers?) facetimed his family in Canada to share the beautiful views.Tip: If the poppies aren’t in bloom when you visit, seven miles west from the reserve is Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park, a native Joshua tree and juniper woodland. We didn’t visit this time, because we were heading to Joshua Tree National Park the following week, but it’s definitely on our list to visit if we return to Lancaster.
General Advice for Antelope Valley:
- It was already pretty busy at 9am on a Sunday, and there was no parking at the lot. We ended up parking on the road as close as possible, and had to walk a good mile to the start of the reserve hiking trails.
- We parked on Lancaster Road (free parking vs $10 in the reserve parking lot)
- As the day progressed, there was a long line of cars to get into and/or close to the reserve.
- If the line is too long, there are poppy fields on the hills along Lancaster road on the way. However, if you have the time, I definitely recommend visiting the reserve to really get a good sense of how expansive the poppy bloom is, and for the panoramic views.
- Bring sunscreen, hat, comfortable walking shoes, water, and your camera!
- Best Western Taft, 203 S 6th St, Taft, CA 93268, rooms were around $100-$125 for a Friday night in March. Hot breakfast included.
- Townplace suites by Marriott Lancaster, 2024 West Avenue J 8 Lancaster California 93536 USA We used our SPG points, but rooms also seem to be around $150 range for Saturday night. Hot breakfast included.
- We are a family of 4 plus grandparents, so I booked two rooms at each hotel. These hotel rooms were family friendly, spacious and comfortable.
- I packed a bunch of snacks and water for the road, knowing that there wouldn’t be any access to stores once we were in Carrizo Plain.
- The best decision I made was to order sandwiches in Taft. Not a lot of stores are open on the weekends, and I found out that Roots Eatery (661) 745-5050 is open on Saturday from 9am to 3pm. I messaged them before our trip to confirm their hours, and they strongly recommended we call in our sandwich order Friday so that they could be ready the next morning. They offer two sandwiches – ham and swiss, and turkey avocado. The sandwiches come with sides including potato salad, cole slaw, fruit is an extra cost.
Helpful links and information;
- Carrizo plain national monument map and guide
- California through my lens Carrizo Plain guide
- Modern hiker antelope valley poppy preserve guide
- Visit California – Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
- Hillside daisies, goldfields and blue valley phacelia are most prominent, according to the Wild Flower Hotline.
- Recent article about the superbloom in Carrizo plains
Wildflower Appreciation Tips:
- Don’t pick flowers, take only pictures
- Please stay on the trails. Don’t sit, stand or lay in the wildflowers.
- Check rules about drones. They are not allowed at the poppy reserve.
- Drive carefully, cautiously. Park in designated areas.
- Leave no trace (there are no trash cans in either of these locations. Be prepared to pack everything you bring out)
*Please note – this is NOT a sponsored post. I researched, planned and booked the hotels for this trip. All opinions expressed in this post are our own.