By Lee Foster
(Author’s Note: For 2017 wildflower viewing, the first week in April will be optimal for a grand exuberance in the San Francisco Bay Area, given our abundant winter rains and the warming effect of March. Here are my five favorite viewing areas.)
Especially after a winter of substantial rain, the refreshing presence of wildflowers makes spring a joyous annual travel time in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Wildflowers please the fortunate viewer in many ways. Golden carpets of the small goldfields flowers or abundant clusters of poppies delight the eye and lift the spirit. More delicate flowers, such as Douglas iris, reward a searcher in the shadier woodlands.
Goldfields wildflowers and seascape at Chimney Rock in Point Reyes
Highly specialized dashes of color, such as red larkspur, add punch to the green tapestry of spring.
The variety in wildflowers stuns the imagination. Identifying wildflowers can excite some detective passion. The first reality is simply to enjoy the flowers. But knowing their names and collecting a personal record of memories in seeing them can be an enriching experience. Brochures at locations and guidebooks are available.
The life force surging forward in a wildflower seed is a wonder to behold. Beauty in wildflowers is a blatant sexual effort to attract pollinator insects and perpetuate the species. Conditions of germination that trigger a seed are cagey, sometimes not allowing all to sprout at the same time, lest unfavorable conditions wipe out the species.
Five places in the Bay Area rank among the most pleasing wildflower outings of my experience.
-1. The Chimney Rock area of Point Reyes, near the lighthouse on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, is my single favorite place to experience wildflowers.
Chimney Rock presents an enormous variety and abundance of wildflowers, ranging from California buttercup to seaside daisy. The ocean cliff ambiance provides a rugged landscape.
With a little attention to detail, you will see more than 25 varieties of wildflowers on a sunny afternoon here. Bring a picnic. A brochure, posted behind glass at the parking lot, will help identify the local wildflowers.
-2. The Pantoll Ranger Station, midway through Mount Tamalpais State Park, allows access to a gentle hike in a wooded area, the Matt Davis Trail. Park at the Pantoll lot and check in with the ranger before hiking on the trail.
Ask the ranger to see the lovingly-crafted book on the wildflowers of Mount Tamalpais, in three-ring binder form, produced by Jim and Doris Vitek. Take it to a picnic table near the ranger station and look through it. This couple loved Mount Tamalpais and spent a lifetime cataloguing the nuanced beauty of its wildflowers, including their locations. Their passion and their intellectual precision are apparent.
Then hike out along the trail, which has both sun-drenched grassy hillsides and cool moist forests. You’ll see white Douglas iris in the shady forests and morning glory on the sunny grassy hillsides.
-3. Mount Diablo State Park, on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay in Contra Costa County, is a wondrous drive-through spring wildflower setting.
I like to drive in from the north side and enjoy the abundant poppies along North Gate Road in the typical oak and grassland environment. It is likely you will also see flocks of wild turkeys here. The elevation change at Mount Diablo shows flowering from early spring at low elevations to much later in the spring near the peak.
At the Junction Ranger Station, where Summit Road turns east to the peak, a brochure posted behind glass will help you identify the flowers.
The drive to the south entrance shows many more flower-filled hillsides, with bush lupine in abundance.
-4. The San Antonio Valley south from Livermore, via Mines Road, is the wildest backcountry drive that I know of in the Bay Area.
Goldfields wildflowers in San Antonio Valley, near Mt Hamilton
Choice wildflower areas flourish near where Mines Road changes its name to San Antonio Valley Road, at the junction with Del Puerto Canyon Road. The single dominant experience is vast carpets of a small yellow flower known as goldfields, Baeria chrysostoma, in a semi-grazed landscape. You will find vast landscapes of this delicate gold flower stretching for long distances.
I like to do this drive from the San Jose area, across Mount Hamilton, with a stop at the Lick Observatory, and then end up at Livermore. But be warned that this is a remote and twisty road, good only for the patient and careful driver.
-5. Edgewood County Park and Natural Preserve on the Peninsula is one of the most biologically rich 467 acres in Northern California, with more than 500 plant species. Many species grow here because of the diverse habitats, from grasslands to dense forests. The serpentine rock outcroppings are also particularly hospitable to certain wildflowers and native grasses.
Bay Area Wildflower Travels: If You Go
Get more information for Point Reyes at http://www.nps.gov/pore, Mount Tamalpais at http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=471, Mount Diablo at http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=517, and Edgwood at http://www.friendsofedgewood.org. Remote San Antonio Valley lacks an Internet champion extolling its virtues.
For a more thorough discussion of Spring Wildflower outings, with some lodging and dining suggestions, plus an engaging slideshow, see my full chapter on this subject in my book Northern California Travel: The Best Options at http://fostertravel.com/spring-wildflower-adventures-in-the-greater-san-francisco-bay-area/.
Outdoor adventures in the San Francisco region figure prominently in my books/ebooks. One is titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.