Wildflower viewing in the East Bay begins its season in March with the emergence of shy woodland beauties like trillium, toothwort, and the surprisingly lovely fetid adder's tongue. By mid-April the flowers are not so coy, and can be found by the dozens and hundreds out in the open. The rounded rolling meadows of Sunol Regional Wilderness provide some of the best wildflower viewing April through May, with perambulatory opportunities that range from a flat, self-guided nature trail of less than a mile to mountain bike routes that loop up and down the ridges. The visitor center has flower ID kits that you can check out and take along on your walk so you can call the red maids, zigadene, bird's eye gilia, and owl clover by their proper names.
For the largest range of wildflower varieties, including some that grow nowhere else on Earth, you'll need to go twenty miles from Sunol to our own East Bay mountain. You might be lucky enough to see the Mount Diablo jewelflower, the Mount Diablo phacelia, or the Mount Diablo fairy lantern: Try the trail up Mitchell Canyon on the northern side of the state park.
It might seem like cheating, but a visit to the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park can reveal what's blooming from the Southern California desert to the Humboldt rainforest and everywhere between. This comprehensive living library of California native plants is one of our East Bay treasures, open daily and free. And don't forget the UC Botanical Garden's native California section. It includes a spacious picnic area in a grove of old oaks, near beds of flowering bulbs like triteleias and alliums. Admission is free on Thursdays.
The ultimate urban wildflower viewing experience takes place on Mother's Day weekend in mid-May, when the California Native Plant Society puts on its annual flower show at the Oakland Museum of California. The week before, CNPS members scatter to every one of the state's diverse habitats and return with blooming native flowers to display, carefully labeled, for two days only -- an extravagance of botanical riches that's not to be missed.
-- Gina Covina