Where to See Monarchs in California
The mild winters of the California coast are a perfect haven from the harsh cold weather found in our country’s interior. Monarchs take advantage of this climate and often use the same overwintering sites year after year. Congregations of overwintering monarchs have been found at more than 400 sites along the California coast, from Mendocino County in the north to San Diego in the south. For many people, the arrival of autumn along the California coast is marked by the flutter of orange and black as monarchs arrive at these groves and settle in for the winter.
The last few years have witnessed low numbers of butterflies throughout the region compared to the late 1990s, but there are still many places to view overwintering monarchs and get involved! Below you will find information on several overwintering sites and related events that are open to the public. Please keep in mind that monarchs are generally present from October through February and overwintering populations may peak at different times. Many of these sites also offer docent programs for those interested in volunteering during the overwintering season. Please check the grove’s website to find updated information about these opportunities as well as hours, locations, and entry fees. Enjoy exploring this amazing phenomenon!
The monarchs roost in the North Woods between the railroad tracks and the northern fence boundary.
Guided Walks to the Monarch Grove
Walks are approximately one mile round-trip on flat trail, partially paved. Usually wheelchair accessible, except after heavy rains. Heavy rains cancel the guided walks.
The Monarch Site is open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 AM to 4 PM for self-guided tours.
Park admission is $3 for adults 18+ and $2 for children 4-17.
School programs are available with reservation.
Additional interpretive programs are offered on weekends, see www.ebparks.org for more details.
Directions: The Farm is located south of Interstate 88 (Hwy 17) and north of Hwy 84 (which leads to Dumbarton Bridge)
The park’s Monarch Grove provides a temporary home for large numbers of monarchs each winter. The Monarch Grove has been declared a Natural Preserve, thus protecting the monarchs and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. This is the only state monarch preserve in California. Access to the preserve is limited to a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and observation area. Docent-led tours will be offered during the overwintering season.
Directions: Take Swift Avenue west from Highway 1, or follow West Cliff Drive north along the in-town bluffs until it ends at Natural Bridges.
Also known as Point Santa Cruz, this area forms the northern boundary of Monterey Bay. It is one of the last open headlands in any California urban area.Surfers, tourists, birds, and wintering monarch butterflies are drawn to this area. Sea lions populate the offshore rocks.
Directions: The beach is on West Cliff Drive in downtown Santa Cruz, just south of Natural Bridges State Park. Look for the grove of trees close to the Southern edge of Lighthouse Field, which is across West Cliff Drive from the lighthouse.
Pacific Grove is home to the Monarch Grove Sanctuary. Each winter, about 20-30,000 monarch butterflies cluster together on the pines and eucalyptus of the Sanctuary. Arriving in October, these hardy insects will overwinter until February, when they will join the spring monarch migration, spreading northward and eastward as they hunt for milkweed plants on which to lay their eggs.
Docents are usually available 12-3pm daily during the overwintering season to assist with monarch viewing. Check the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History website for more information.
Directions: The Sanctuary is located on Ridge Road, one block west of the intersection of Lighthouse Avenue and 17 Mile Drive, behind the Butterfly Motel Inn. Parking is available at the entrance.
Monarchs are found in warm protected areas along Whaler’s Knoll Trail.
Directions: Three miles south of Carmel on Highway 1.
Situated in scenic Morro Bay, the Park contains several butterfly overwintering sites.
Directions: From San Luis Obispo take Highway 1 north to the Los Osos – Baywood Park off ramp. Turn left, go about 1 mile and turn right into the Park.
Pismo State Beach offers all kinds of attractions: hiking, swimming, surf fishing, and digging for the famous Pismo clam. There are tree-lined dunes and the beach is popular with bird watchers. The park has one of the largest over-wintering colonies of monarch butterflies in the U.S., with an average of 25,000 over the last five years.
Docent-led tours will be offered during the overwintering season.
This is the premier Monarch site in southern California, with close to 100,000 Monarchs in good years. Field trips are available by request. You can fill out a request form here. Docents are usually available from mid-November through mid-February on weekends (weather permitting) between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. If you are interested in becoming a docent at the grove, please check out the program flyer and training announcement below.
Directions: East of Santa Barbara in the town of Goleta (UCSB), take the Glen Annie/Storke Road exit.