For just 2 months each year, a large swath of land in Carlsbad, California bursts with color as thousands of buttercups bloom in The Flower Fields. It’s a joy to see the flowers from the car speeding down Interstate 5, but the best way to enjoy them is to buy tickets and tour the fields where they are planted.
85 years of cultivation resulted in the multi-layered ranunculus in 13 different colors that visitors see today. All this was possible thanks to a long friendship and partnership between two florists, Edwin Frazee and Paul Ecke. Over time, they expanded a basic farming operation into a springtime destination much loved by locals and tourists alike.
1. How to get there
Located about 30 minutes north of San Diego and 90 minutes south of Los Angeles, The Flower Fields is best accessed by car, as public transportation is limited in this area. The entrance is a short distance from Interstate 5, next to the Carlsbad Premium Outlets.
2. Visit between late March and early May
Ranunculus are in bloom for only 2 months a year – typically March and April – so if you want to see them, check the opening dates on The Flower Fields website and get your tickets. If you’re looking for a really special way to celebrate Mother’s Day, consider visiting on Closing Day and seeing the many acres of flowers with Mom.
Pro tip: If you want to keep track of exactly when the flowers are going to bloom, go to the website and click on the “Bloom Status” button in the top right corner.
3. Buy tickets in advance
Tickets must be purchased in advance online. Those who have visited in recent years will remember the many ticket booths at the entrance, but during the pandemic, The Flower Fields switched to online sales just to keep track of the number of guests. Hours are 9am to 5pm and tickets are sold at a specific time. Visitors should allow approximately 2 hours for a visit.
4. Avoid the Crowds
Fields of flowers in pink, orange, red, yellow and white are sure to attract a large number of visitors. In fact, over 100,000 people visit each year. Anyone who wants to avoid the busiest times should plan to come from Monday to Thursday, preferably during opening hours.
5. Be prepared to walk
Planted on over 50 acres on a gentle hillside, enjoying the fields of flowers will require a hike. Come prepared with comfortable shoes and clothing. Walkers, strollers and wheelchairs will have a hard time navigating the uphill dirt paths.
If you have limited mobility, consider purchasing a ticket for the tractor wagon ride. The open-air wagon, pulled by a John Deere tractor, is a fun way to see the flowers from a slightly elevated vantage point. An audio recording tells the story of The Flower Fields. Boarding ramps are available for anyone who needs help getting into the car. Tickets can be purchased on site.
Pro tip: Your hike will likely start after parking. While there is no charge to park, the car park is large and on busy weekends you can walk 5-10 minutes to the front gate.
6. Buy flowers at the Armstrong Garden Center
While you can’t pick the flowers, you can purchase them after your visit to the adjacent Armstrong Garden Center. This popular Southern California garden store sells small bouquets of ranunculus in every available color. They also have a wide variety of plants, garden items, and home decor.
7. Look for photo opportunities
One of the best reasons to visit The Flower Fields is for the photos. It’s hard to imagine a better setting than thousands of colorful and delicate buttercups. Fortunately, dozens of websites have been created for visitors to pose. Wait your turn in line and strike a pose.
It is important to know that walking through the fields is not allowed. Visitors must observe all cordoned off areas to protect the flowers.
Pro tip: If taking the perfect shot is important to you, arrive early. Queues for photo sites can get long, especially on weekends.
8. Enjoy the many other attractions
Don’t stop after exploring the ranunculus fields, but make sure you stay to see all the other attractions.
A great photo opportunity is the Fountain Garden, a collection of colorful flowers surrounding a circular water fountain. The Sweet Pea Maze is a unique floral maze that envelops participants in the scent of flowers. If you are visiting with children, be sure to explore Santa Claus Park, which is filled with fantastic little houses. Among the newer attractions is a 5-acre patch of sunflowers in all colors. If you are lucky, you can pick half a liter of blueberries; look for signage on site if the fruit is ready.
Poinsettia lovers won’t want to miss the Historic Poinsettia Display, a 1,500-square-foot greenhouse filled with world-famous Paul Ecke poinsettias, including 20 rare varieties.
9. Take a snack break
If you get hungry, choose from several food vendors including Pizza Trolley, Sweet Swirls Ice Cream, Rollin’ Beans Coffee Company and Kettle Kernels Popcorn.
For something extra special, head to the Strawberry Shack of Carlsbad for award-winning strawberry shakes, strawberry shortcake sundaes and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
10. Attend an event
Every year, The Flower Fields hosts a variety of public events, making it possible to experience the site from a different perspective. This year will include Tea In The Garden, a wreath workshop, a charcuterie workshop, Picnic and Flowers, a sunset wine tasting, and a meditation and sound healing workshop. Details about each offer are available on the website.
11. Explore the village of Carlsbad
If you’ve driven a long way to visit The Flower Fields, why not extend your day and explore nearby Carlsbad Village? This charming part of town borders the beach and offers boutiques, cafes and restaurants. It’s perfectly flat, making it easy to walk anywhere.
For lounging on the sand or splashing around in the water, head to South Ponto Beach or Carlsbad State Beach. Both are popular with surfers, so keep an eye on the water to see who’s catching a wave.
For a hearty breakfast, head to the Beach Break Cafe. Locals have long loved this place known for its generous portions and great coffee. If you prefer comfort food, try Village Kitchen & Pie Shoppe, a Carlsbad institution since 1994. If you happen to be around for dinner and want something really special, try Campfire, recently recognized with a Michelin Bib Gourmand award.
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