No matter what the temperature is, or whether or not there's been a "superbloom," there's one surefire way to know when spring has sprung in the Greater Los Angeles region.
Look at the trees!
While L.A. may be more closely associated with palm trees lining its sidewalks and streets, this sprawling city and its surrounding municipalities is actually a horticultural delight of varied treescapes.
Many of them are in bloom right now — or will be soon enough.
And how they got where they are today — from all over the world — tells the story of the development of Los Angeles itself.
From residential and commercial developments to the transition from streetcar culture to car culture, here are the seven most fascinating destinations in L.A. to get a glimpse of trees in full flowering mode.
1. Orcutt Ranch, West Hills, San Fernando Valley
William Warren (W.W.) Orcutt was a SoCal oil geologist and Union Oil exec who built his permanent vacation home and retirement home in the West Hills area of the West San Fernando Valley. Orcutt hired Phoenix-based architect L.G. Knipe to build an adobe ranch house, which was completed in 1926, to recreate the experience of life on an early California hacienda. The entire 24-acre property has been designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument — and today, Orcutt Ranch is a quiet, shady park and community garden managed by the City of Los Angeles and open to the public for free.
Although its centerpiece is a massive 700-year-old coast live oak tree (Quercus agrifolia) — hence the Orcutts' name for it, "Rancho Sombra del Roble," or "Rancho In the Shade of the Oak" — its floral treasures include trees like the western redbud (Cercis occidentalis, a California native), pink trumpet (Tabebuia heterophylla), and strawberry tree (Arbutus x Marina). A real highlight is the orange blossoms (Citrus sinensis) in the citrus orchard, which are in full aromatic peak in the spring as the trees just begin to bear fruit.
For more pink trumpets, which peak between mid-March and mid-April, visit the Beverly Hills Civic Center at Rexford Drive, where a few of these trees can be found directly outside the Beverly Hills Police Department. You can also find them lining New High Street in Chinatown, especially concentrated at the intersection with Ord Street.
2. San Vicente Boulevard, Brentwood
Although an import to the area, the South African coral tree (Erythrina caffra) has been the official tree of the City of Los Angeles since Arbor Day, 1966 — and one of the best places to see it in L.A. is along San Vicente Boulevard between 26th Street and Brigham Avenue, in the Brentwood Park section of Brentwood. This stretch of coral trees along the median, where the Red Line trolley once ran, was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1976 and is funded and maintained by the Brentwood Community Council.
Legend has it that these trees began as rooted cuttings from the famed Evans & Reeves Nursery on Barrington Avenue, which provided many different exotics for both residential and commercial properties — including, perhaps most famously, Disneyland. But as older trees succumb to wind and weather, they're replaced with new saplings.
Look for showy flowers in deep orange and bright red hues, which bloom throughout the winter and spring. Although you don't catch a whiff of them as you drive or walk by (they're unscented), look for birds near the blossoms — whose nectar attracts these pollinators.
3. Olympic Boulevard at 20th Street, Santa Monica
While the coral trees of Brentwood got the historic designation, these L.A. trees are found throughout the greater Los Angeles area — including just beyond Brentwood, in Santa Monica. And they're not just on San Vicente Boulevard, either — because you'll find a nice concentration of them on Olympic Boulevard between Cloverfield and 18th Street. In addition to the South African coral tree, you'll even find a couple of examples of the "naked" coral tree (Erythrina coralloides) along the median here.
What makes this stretch of street trees really special is the additional dense concentration of purple orchid trees (Bauhinia variegate) lining the sidewalks on either side of Olympic. Native to Asia and South Asia, purple orchids are common trees of Los Angeles — also found in abundance throughout Boyle Heights and in East Hollywood (Fountain Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, and Normandie) and Chinatown (on North Broadway).
From winter through spring, look for blossoms of pink and purple that look like orchids. The City of Santa Monica has an excellent online tree map, which you can search by address or species name. And if you'd like some for your own neighborhood, street, or even yard, you can apply for free plantings from City Plants, in partnership with LADWP.
4. North Palm Drive, Beverly Hills
Horticulturalist Kate Sessions first planted the seeds for jacaranda trees (Jacaranda mimosifolia) in San Diego's Balboa Park in the 1890s — and San Diego designated it as the city's official tree in the year 2000. But jacarandas are the showstoppers of Los Angeles streetscapes when they're blooming. These South American trees literally explode in shades of purple and blue, bringing a little brightness to our annual "May Gray" and "June Gloom" of the spring season.
Since the City of Beverly Hills was first developed starting in 1907, streets were designed to showcase only one or two types of trees — an effort later led by the city's Street Tree Committee, following the Street Tree Plan of 1944. Today, the city's Urban Forest Bureau (of the Public Works Department) still utilizes an updated version of the Street Tree Master Plan as part of its Sustainable City Plan — and it's currently working on its Urban Forest Management Plan. It even has its own Urban Forest Manager (formerly known as the City Arborist), 20-year veteran Ken Pfalzgraf.
Jacaranda trees bloom best when they're located inland from the coast. You'll find more than 1,000 of them on Beverly Hills streets devoted entirely to the trees — like North Palm Drive (just south of Civic Center Drive) and North Whittier Drive, north of Wilshire Boulevard (east of The Los Angeles Country Club). Elsewhere in the Los Angeles metro area, look for jacarandas in Koreatown, South L.A., Winnetka and Long Beach (where you can hunt them down with the help of a heat map published by the Long Beach Post in 2019).
5. Lake Balboa, San Fernando Valley
You don't have to hop a plane to Washington, D.C. or finagle a reservation to a SoCal botanic garden to enjoy the spring bloom of cherry blossoms — because these trees (of the Prunus genus) literally LINE the perimeter of Lake Balboa. Enjoy them as you drive into the park from Balboa Boulevard, and then park your car and admire them on foot or by bike (rentals available) along the Lake Balboa Hiking Trail. Or, even better, book a swan boat and pedal across the lake to view them from the water.
Cherry blossoms can burst onto the scene in March or April — and then disappear as quickly as they came. But fortunately, the cherry blossoms in L.A. don't all bloom at the same time! So if you miss the ones at Lake Balboa, you can try for other locations nearby.
Other public areas where you can find cherry blossoms include Columbia Park in Torrance — where there's an annual Cherry Blossom Festival in April, pending local restrictions — and Little Tokyo, where you'll find a nice, big sakura in front of the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple and more as you head west along East Third Street until Los Angeles Street.
6. Overland Avenue between Rose Avenue and Culver Boulevard, Palms and Culver City
Weeping bottlebrush (Melaleuca viminalis) doesn't take a season off to show off its delightfully red blooms — which literally look like the brush you use to scrub the inside of a bottle. This is a year-round flowering tree, although it's probably most showy in the late spring and summer. Bees absolutely love this Australian native, so be careful when getting close to the low-hanging, bristly blooms.
While the bottlebrush is a common street tree in L.A., you'll find a particularly high density of them on Overland Avenue, through the Palms neighborhood and part of Culver City. Varying sizes of them have been planted on both sides of the street — but the best places to see them up close and on foot are the Culver Center shopping center between Washington and Venice and at the Overland Gate of Sony Pictures Studios.
7. 1200-1268 Lakme Avenue, Wilmington
Phineas Banning, "The Father of the Port of Los Angeles," had renamed what was previously known as "New San Pedro" in the L.A. Harbor region after his birthplace in Delaware — Wilmington. Although once its own city, Wilmington was annexed to Los Angeles in 1909 — and, in 1927, Banning's land holdings there were sold to William Wrigley Jr. That's now the Banning Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, near The Banning Museum, where you'll find a one-block stretch of more than 50 camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora).
W. J. Teeple of the Wilmington Nursery had them planted as part of the distinctive landscaping of Wrigley's subdivision — which he envisioned as the "Original Court of Nations." In 1990, still original to Lakme Avenue just south of M Street, they were declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
Today, these massive trees form a fluffy, yellow-green canopy that can make it feel like you're traveling through a tree tunnel — especially when they're in bloom. The camphor tree's flowers are well camouflaged, as they're tiny, off-white, and clustered high above. But it's worth taking a closer look — especially if you can catch a whiff of that medicinal camphor smell (which actually comes from the leaves). Watch out for peacocks as you take a gander.