San Diego in Bloom

Balboa Park in full bloom.

The county’s blossoming flora in springtime packs some serious flower power.

By Sarah Daoust.

Spring has indeed sprung in America’s Finest City—where our parks and gardens come alive with some of the most stunning and diverse foliage in the U.S. We rounded up our favorite spots to stop and smell a rose … and thousands of other flowers, too.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Winter rainfall transforms the park into a Technicolor oasis of blooming wildflowers in spring; late March and early April are ideal to see them. Located approximately 60 miles east of Escondido, Anza-Borrego is the largest desert state park in California and the second largest state park in the U.S.—spanning 640,000 acres of hiking and biking trails, 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, historical landmarks, natural preserves, paleontological sites, more than 4,500 cultural sites, campgrounds, canyons and caves. A visit to the park to hike the Palm Canyon Trail and see the spring wildflowers in full bloom makes for a lovely day trip. 200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs. parks.ca.gov/anzaborrego

Mission Trails Regional Park
With more than 7,200 acres, 65 miles of trails, and areas for rock climbing, mountain biking and camping, Mission Trails is the sixth largest municipally owned park in the U.S. and the largest in California. And, located just off Mission Gorge Road, the park’s location within city limits is truly dynamic. Some of its trails climb the rugged, boulder-strewn hills; some cut through one of the last expanses of natural grasslands in the San Diego area; some follow the stream that eventually becomes the San Diego River; and some pass by ancient flat rocks with the indentations of the morteros and metates used for centuries by the Kumeyaay Indians to grind their acorns and seeds. The park also includes the 1,593-foot-high Cowles Mountain, a cardio-workout trail with mountain-to-ocean views for a reward at the summit. As for wildflowers? In springtime, find them everywhere you look. 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego (the park stretches between Mission Gorge, Tierrasanta, San Carlos, Santee and La Mesa), 619.668.3281. mtrp.org

The Flower Fields
Last year alone, more than 260,000 locals and visitors explored this special pocket of North County. Roam along Carlsbad Ranch’s softly rolling hillsides, where 50 acres comprising more than 100 floral species—tecolote ranunculus flowers, orchids, roses, sweet pea blossoms and more—have sprouted up for their moment in the sun. Open daily from March 1 through May 12, the property also features landscaped display gardens, a sweet pea maze, flower-filled greenhouses offering gardening classes, cymbidium orchid and historical poinsettia displays, and a picnic area. A wedding stage—flanked by three separate themed gardens—can be booked for romantic, storybook nuptials. Inside the ranch’s 200-seat reception hall, Paul Ecke Jr. Barn, check out the new Legacy of Colors video detailing the history of The Flower Fields. And keep an eye out for upcoming music festivals and after-hours events. 5704 Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad, 760.431.0352. theflowerfields.com

Balboa Park
The city’s 1,200-acre cultural hub (home to 17 museums and multiple performing arts venues) is brimming with enchanted gardens. Some of our favorites include the 12-acre Japanese Friendship Garden, whose cherry blossom trees bloom each spring; the impeccably manicured Alcazar Garden, with its maze-like rows and flower-trellised pergola; the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, a 3-acre oasis of 1,600 roses and 130 varieties; and the Botanical Building, which beckons with the park’s famous lily pond fronting it, and houses 2,100 permanent plants and seasonal flower displays. balboapark.org

Art Alive
See an iconic San Diego cultural hub in full bloom. One of the most anticipated museum events of the year, Art Alive at the San Diego Museum of Art returns for its 38th installment, April 12-14. In this nationally acclaimed annual floral exhibition, nearly 100 competing floral designers from SoCal and across the U.S. will transform works from the museum’s permanent art collection into stunning floral sculptures and installations, essentially creating an intricate and elaborate flower version of each artwork. This year, the museum’s rotunda will be overhauled into a one-of-a-kind, flower-filled wonderland—courtesy of designer Jennifer McGarigle. Festivities also include the opening of the museum’s new photography exhibition, Alfred Eisenstaedt: Life and Legacy, on April 12; and the Bloom Bash on April 12, with flower-themed cocktails, bites by top local restaurants, live music and dancing. 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park, 619.232.7931. sdmart.org/artalive

Coronado Flower Show
This isn’t just any flower show; it’s the largest tented flower show in the U.S. and a Coronado tradition since 1922—comprising nearly an entire city block. This year’s theme is “Flower Power: A Look Back at 1969,” so expect retro-themed flower displays, floral competitions, demos, lectures, live music, food vendors, and a beer and wine garden. April 13, 1 to 5 p.m.; and April 14, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Spreckels Park, Coronado. coronadoflowershow.com

San Diego Botanic Garden
Explore among 4 miles and 37 acres of gardens, trails, serene vistas, flowering trees and towering palms—with new foliage blooming year-round. The property is home to the largest bamboo collection in the U.S., the largest interactive children’s garden on the West Coast, a tropical rainforest, desert gardens, rare and endangered native California plants, a subtropical fruit garden, a handful of international gardens, and even an herb garden. The Botanic Garden also hosts composting workshops, cooking classes, birdwatching tours and special events such as its annual Chocolate Festival on May 11. 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, 760.436.3036. sdbgarden.org

Photo by Jay Beiler.

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