California Nature


California Monarch Butterfly Watching

Who doesn't love watching the wonderful Monarch butterfly? Its brilliant orange latticed wings are such a delight to see in action. And thousands of people annually flock to see them in California's Monarch wintering spots.

The Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) can't take freezing winter temperatures. To survive, the Monarch migrates to safe overwintering sites that are neither cold enough to kill it, nor so warm that it wastes precious energy flying too much.

Goleta Butterfly Grove in Sperling Preserve
Holister Road, exit Beach Access Rd.
Goleta, CA

From mid-November through mid-February docents are available on weekends from 11am-2pm. The grove is available for viewing every day during daylight hours. During the cool early mornings, you can see the largest amount of butterflies. However they are most active on warm afternoon.

Pacific Grove's Monarch Grove Sanctuary
263 Grove Acre Avenue
Pacific Grove CA 93950

Downtown Pacific Grove on Ridge Road off of Lighthouse Avenue. The sanctuary is open everyday from sunrise to sundown and is free. It is highly advised for visitors to visit the sanctuary while a Museum sanctuary Docent is present to answer questions show the monarchs in viewing scopes. Arriving in October, the Monarch Butterflies cluster together on the pines and eucalyptus trees of the Sanctuary. Their migration to Pacific Grove is so unique and inspiring that Pacific Grove is nicknamed "Butterfly Town, U.S.A." The community has always welcomed the butterflies and sought for their protection. Citizens of Pacific Grove voted to create an additional tax to create the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, led by dedicated volunteers.

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

Central Coast (Pismo Beach) boasts one of the largest Monarch colonies in the nation, hosting an average of 25,000 butterflies. Each year thousands of vibrant orange and black Monarch Butterflies flock to Pismo Beach, seeking shelter from the freezing northern winters. From late October to February, the butterflies cluster in the limbs of a grove of Eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach. The grove is easily accessible. It is located on State Highway 1 at the south boundary of the city limits of Pismo Beach. During the season the Docent Trailer opens at 10am and closes at 4pm daily. Daily talks happen at 11am and 2pm, weather permitting. For more information or directions, please call the Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce at 800-443-7778.

Santa Cruz Natural Bridges State Beach

Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve is the only State Monarch Preserve in California. Monarch Grove is a wintering home protecting up to 100,000 Monarchs each winter from human encroachment or harm. From mid-October through mid-February, the Monarchs roost, attracted by the area's mild ocean air and eucalyptus grove until spring. In the spring and summer, the butterflies live in the valley regions west of the Rocky Mountains where milkweed, the only plant a Monarch caterpillar eats, is plentiful. Monarch migration is variable, and numbers vary each year. Before you visit, call the park for current information on the population.

The Monarch Grove access area is limited to a handicap accessible boardwalk and observation area. The grove contains eucalyptus trees which are located in a canyon, providing the Monarch needed shelter from the wind. These winter flowering trees are also a convenient food source for the butterfly. On chilly days when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, the butterflies cluster together in the eucalyptus trees for warmth. A demonstration milkweed patch allows the curious to look at Monarch eggs, caterpillars and chrysalides. For about half a year, the Monarch larva eats only the milkweed plant.

Docent-led butterfly, tidepool and nature trail tours are available. Large groups should reserve beach use and tours by phone at least 2 weeks in advance. Special event reservations should be made at least 1 month in advance.


Monarch Butterfly Roosts in California
Winter Sites (from north to south)

Fremont, Ardenwood Historic Farm, in the North Woods between the railroad tracks and the north fence boundary.

Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges State Beach, a site accessible to everyone

Pacific Grove Monarch Grove Sanctuary, monarch butterfly grove near Monterey

Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, through the Environmental Campground to Cooper's Cabin

Morro Bay State Park, typically around campsite #116

Pismo Beach, Pismo State Beach, at the south end of the North Beach Campground

Ventura, Camino Real Park

Malibu, Point Mugu State Park, Big Sycamore Canyon (an autumn site)

Long Beach, El Dorado Nature Center

Encinitas, Monarch Butterfly House at 450 Ocean View Avenue (800) 606-6627

San Diego, UCSD (La Jolla Shores Dr at Azul St)


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