This California display blooms on a hill overlooking the sea.
1 of 6Photographer Fran Gealer
I’d rather have flowers on the table than diamonds around my neck,” my mom often says, especially right before Mother’s Day.
I thought of her during a visit to The Flower Fields, overlooking the beaches of Carlsbad, California. There, 50 acres of blossoms wash the hillside with an unparalleled spectrum of color, offering visitors—and their mothers—much more than cut flowers in a vase. Bright reds, whites, oranges, pinks, and purples stand out against the deep hues of the Pacific, at the bottom of the incline. This working flower farm opens to the public in the spring perfect timing for Mom’s special day in May.
2 of 6Photographer Fran Gealer
Sea of Blooms
“I know of no other place like it,” says Los Angeles visitor Octavia Spencer. “Where else can you spend half the day playing in the ocean and the other half floating in a sea of flowers?”
Botanist Luther Gage first brought ranunculus, also known as Persian buttercup, to Carlsbad in 1921, when he returned from England with a batch of seeds. But the Frazee family is most responsible for the town’s -vibrant coastal hillsides. Edwin Frazee, whose father worked with Luther, realized that ranunculus bulbs thrive in a mild climate with sandy, well-drained soil, just like that found in sunny Carlsbad.
3 of 6Photographer Fran Gealer
Edwin began raising the flowers near Camp Pendleton in the early 1930s. Soon, residents and tourists driving between Los Angeles and San Diego dubbed the colorful swath “The Flower Fields.” The name stuck, and a tourist destination emerged. In 1958, operations expanded to include the current hillside location along Interstate 5.
4 of 6Photographer Fran Gealer
The fields, which now include a variety of flowers, continued to gain -popularity over the years. But in 1993, due to rising costs, the Frazee family had no choice but to terminate their lease on the seaside hill.
Carlsbad’s residents didn’t want to see their beloved attraction disappear. After fervent requests, the Coastal Conservancy granted the city $1 million to subsidize the fields. Today, in partnership with the Paul Ecke Ranch, the fields produce up to 8 million bulbs annually, which are distributed all over the world.
5 of 6Photographer Fran Gealer
“My parents brought me here every year as a little girl,” explains Tracy Gastelo, an area resident visiting with her husband, Steve, and daughter, Gabrielle. “The fields are just so beautiful, and I want my little girl to experience them as I once did.” Gabrielle, 9, runs with her friends through numerous paths among the flowers. Tractors pull open-air wagons along the fields’ perimeter to give visitors a spectacular view.
As I look around, I see dozens of families, young and old, scattered throughout this blooming oasis. Maybe it’s because springtime is in the air and Mother’s Day is around the corner, but it seems the fields leave visitors with smiles 50 acres wide.
6 of 6Photographer Fran Gealer
Hours of operation: Open to the public daily early March through early May.
Prices: adults, $10; seniors (age 60 and older), $9; children (ages 3–10), $5; ages 2 and under enter free.
Season passes: adults, $20; seniors, $18; children, $10.