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    Spring California Flower-Viewing Road Trip

    By John Chen–

    Spring 2021 has officially arrived, and we all know too well that spring ushers in a new, fresh start, and the beginning of something promising, and something full of excitement and potential. After a dark winter, rooted in stagnation and hibernation, it is time for the next chapter. It is time to take advantage of the virility of life, treasure the vitality of hope, and see the vibrant colors of spring. Go outside and revel in the beauty of our mighty springtime Mother Earth. Get out and get a dose of vaccine for our mental and emotional strength and health.

    Although not a connoisseur of spring blossoms, in particular wildflowers, I have learned to appreciate how fields and orchards of colors calm me, make me smile both inside and out, and make me genuinely feel good about life along with all its hopes and promises. Go outside with me. See, feel, and smell what I am talking about.

    Although there are numerous excellent places to view and appreciate the colors of spring, allow me to take you on a flower-viewing road trip to some of the places I have enjoyed over the years, some well-known, others hidden gems.

    Our road trip starts at the Presidio in San Francisco. Walk along the coastal cliffs from mid spring to early summer and you will be rewarded with vibrant native wildflower blossoms that canvas the clifftop meadows and drape the rocky cliffsides. This relatively easy stroll, including dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most picturesque sites I have ever seen, especially during spring with wildflowers covering every square inch of the landscape.

    Continue down CA HWY 1 (California State Highway 1) from the Presidio past Half Moon Bay and you will encounter enormous fields of spectacular bright yellow wildflowers on both sides of the highway. It is as if someone took a giant brush and painted many of the coastal fields yellow. One important note when stopping for photos and that all important selfie: some of the fields are on private property and may require an entrance fee.

    Not too far south on CA HWY 1 are several local and state beaches such as San Gregorio that sport clusters of colorful wild sand flowers along the coast. These flower ground coverings and bushes come in yellow, white, violet, purple, orange, lavender, and pink. Set up your beach gear and listen to the waves crashing while enjoying all the surrounding bright colors.

    Presidio, San Francisco

    Next, take U.S. Hwy 101 south, then CA Hwy 152 east and head inland to I-5 (Interstate 5) going towards Central California where acres and acres of orchards run parallel to the major throughway. If you have never driven on I-5 and other nearby highways in the Central Valley during late winter and early spring, this is a must! We have all seen a single or maybe a small group of cherry and plum blossom trees. Their beauty is certainly striking. Now imagine orchards upon orchards of similarly vibrant walnut, apricot, and peach trees all sporting plumes of white, pink, and magenta sprawled over hundreds of acres. I guarantee this brilliant display will put a smile in your heart.

    Keep heading south on I-5 until you hit the infamous “Grapevine.” On the top of the mountain range at Fort Tejon, from mid to late spring, you will see thousands of golden to orange poppies covering the mountainside, especially the spring following a particularly wet winter. It is quite a sight to behold driving on the interstate.

    Staying with the poppy theme, from I-5 in the Grapevine take CA HWY 138 east and you will come to the grandaddy of poppy viewing, the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. This little-known state park is stunning every spring. The easy hike takes you up and down several lazy hills completely covered in our Golden State flower. But be aware that poppies only open when there is direct sunlight, so choose your visit day and time wisely.

    Follow CA Hwy 134 east and then head south on CA Hwy 14. In a mere 30 minutes, you have arrived at the outer skirts of our southern megalopolis, Los Angeles. On this drive and on other highways in the San Gabriel Mountains you should see hundreds of stunning blooming agave plants, some towering over 10 feet in height!

    Once in Los Angeles, head east on I-210 towards the San Gabriel Valley and stop at the Descanso Garden, the Los Angeles Arboretum, and the unparalleled Huntington Library and Gardens. Both the Descanso and the Arboretum house thousands of flowering plants that bloom magnificently during spring all the way into fall. The Arboretum, in particular, is home to dozens of wild peacocks sometimes running amok in the street of its host city, Arcadia.

    The crown jewel of flowering gardens, in my opinion, is the Huntington Library and Gardens with hundreds of thousands of flowering plants, bushes, and trees blooming year-round. The colors are most spectacular from early spring to mid-summer. With

    16 themed gardens covering 120 acres, the Huntington is a flower lover’s dream come true. My personal favorites are the Japanese, the Chinese, the desert, and the rose gardens. Did you know that, during spring, the desert garden is a sea of competing bright colors courting pollinators across many species? If you are in the Los Angeles area, check out the Huntington. You just might fall in love!

    Continue east from the Huntington on I-210 past San Bernardino. Drive north on CA HWY 18 and head up the mountains towards Big Bear Lake. On this road trip, the highway is the destination, not the lake. You will see, from elevation 2,000 to 4,000 feet, hundreds of small to giant tree-like plumes of ultra-bright wild yellow flowering bushes lining the sides of the road. They are impossible to miss and impossible to ignore.

    Drive down the mountain back to I-210 west and then take I-215 south to your final destination, Diamond Valley Lake Wildflower Trail. This trail is extremely popular during spring because it takes visitors on a wildflower journey through rolling hills and lakeside. Here you will feel compelled to take selfies and share them all over your social media.

    Now that you have completed my recommended spring California flower-viewing road trip, I hope your mind is invigorated. I hope your senses receive a jolt of fresh beginning and a renewed clarity. And I hope your heart is filled with hope and promise this spring after our long struggle with, and imprisonment from, a pandemic. Most importantly, please don’t forget to vaccinate your body and vaccinate your spirit.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.

    Published on April 7, 2021