Monarchs start arriving at the coast in late September/early October and begin to form clusters by November. The butterflies remain the winter. They begin mating in February and leave soon after. The best times to see the butterflies is in December and January at most sites.
Remember that all regulations must be obeyed when visiting State Park units. No collecting, especially souvenir monarchs, is allowed. Great care must be taken with cigarettes since fires in the butterfly groves are always a danger. Stay on designated trails, as soil compaction and erosion affect the groves, and poison oak abounds. Do not harass the butterflies by shaking or climbing the trees, or by throwing objects at the clusters. The Sierra Club theme "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints" should be followed at all the overwintering sites with one addition. Watch where you step! Monarchs are often on the ground sunning or drinking. Others have fallen to the ground and can not fly during cold mornings. The following list of accessible sites to visit was originally compiled by C. Nagano, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1 Nov. 1987 and revised by myself on 1 Apr. 1991 and 8 May 1996.
1. Ardenwood Historic Farm - 34600 Ardenwood Blvd, Fremont, CA 94555. (510)796-0199. This may be the most reliable site in the East Bay Area of San Francisco Bay. It is located south of Interstate 88 (Hwy 17) and north of Hwy 84 which leads to Dumbarton Bridge.
Although they are presently open from Th-Su, 10-5, closing mid-November to April, there are plans to remain open year round. Call in advance to check on their schedule. The monarchs roost in the North Woods between the RR tracks and the northern fence boundary.
There was a vague report in a local Bay Area newspaper that indicated there were
tours from 2-3p, presumably on weekends.
Other East Bay Area sites are Point Pinole Regional Park and some of the golf course; however, access to the golf course sites is typically restricted due to flying golf balls.
2. Natural Bridges State Beach - 2531 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA 95060. (408)423-4609. Located just north of the city of Santa Cruz, it is one of the most accessible sites with a wheel chair and stroller accessible ramp leading down to the monarch viewing platform. From town, head north toward San Francisco and just as the town ends, take a left (south) and follow the signs to the park. There is a small nature center and guided tours. Go to links.sfgate.com/ZCKZ for more info.
The Monarch tour season officially begins on Welcome Back Monarch Day, the second Sunday in October. This festival involves docent-led tours, food, music and the appearance of Monarch Man and Woman. From mid-October through February, public tours are offered each Saturday and Sunday at 11:00am and 2:00pm. Tours for school groups with reservations are conducted during the week from 9:00am to 3:00pm.
The Migration Festival is held on the second Saturday in February. This event is an opportunity to bid the monarchs farewell, as well as honor the many migratory animals that pass through Santa Cruz as part of their yearly journey. The festival includes monarch tagging and bird banding demonstrations, exhibits, shows and "migration" walks. Other nearby sites include Lighthouse Field State Beach and Moran Lake.
In recent years, the Lighthouse Field State Beach site has grown larger than the Natural Bridges SB site. It would be wise to check this site, which is about a mile to the south.
3. Pacific Grove - Behind the Butterfly Grove Inn, clusters form on the Monarch Sanctuary (formerly the Dively property). From Hwy 1, take Hwy 68 north to Pacific Grove. Take a right onto Seventeen Mile Drive to Lighthouse Ave. Turn left and left onto Ridge Road, where you can park, not in the motel parking lot. Quietly walk along the path to the edge the motel grounds to the trees in the back. The butterflies presently roost in the eucalyptus windrow, toward the back of the grove.
Also known as "Butterfly Town, USA," Pacific Grove has an ordinance which carries a $500 fine for anyone caught molesting a monarch butterfly. On the second Saturday of October, the town holds an annual parade to welcome back the butterflies. Contact the Friends of the Monarch, P.O. Box 51683, Pacific Grove, CA 93950. (408)375-0982 for additional information.
The other nearby site is at George Washington Park located a few blocks away.
4. Andrew Molera State Park - This is a little known colony along the Big Sur coast. A modest hike through the Environmental Campground will take you to Cooper's Cabin, which is surrounded by eucalyptus trees. The monarchs roost over the trail near the cabin or in a secondary grove of trees a little further up the trail. Ten to fifteen thousand often roost in very low clusters. There are no signs, so follow the butterflies. For further information, call (831)667-2315 or links.sfgate.com/ZCLA.
5. Sebastiani's Store - It is the only place of business in San Simeon, so the store is hard to miss. There is a large grove of eucalyptus trees just across the street to the north, where up to 25,000 monarchs roost. Unfortunately, the trees are on Hearst property, so one has to peer over the fence to see the clusters. On a warm day, hundreds are flying about.
6. Morro Bay State Park - Situated in scenic Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County, the park contains several butterfly overwintering sites. There is one colony in the campground. They have traditionally roosted at campsite #116, but have moved around in recent years as tree trimming/maintenance is going on. Check with the rangers at the entrance for specifics.
A larger colony can be found in the nearby golf course. Check the eucalyptus windrows along the 3rd and 8th fairways. Be especially careful of errant golf balls as these weekend hackers are not PGA/LPGA caliber.
7. Sweet Springs Marsh Preserve - Located in Los Osos at the south end of Morro Bay, this is an Audubon Society natural area. The monarchs roost in the eucalyptus windrow next to Ramona Road and paralleling the drainage. Follow the path and look for the small signs by the colony.
8. Montana de Oro State Park - A large colony is located in the park at Camp KEEP. Take the only road into the park and turn left into Camp KEEP. There is a group of ranger residences to the right and the camp is further up the hill. The monarchs cluster in the small drainage to the left.
9. Pismo State Beach - The large and accessible colony is located along the southern edge of the North Beach campground. One can either enter the campground and park in the designated areas at the south end of the campground or park along Highway 1 and walk in. This has been the largest site in California over the last few years.
Docent or ranger-led tours are given during the winter months from Thanksgiving through February. these interpretive talks are scheduled at 11:00am and 2:00pm both Saturdays and Sundays. Special group activities may be arranged by calling the Pismo SB office at (805)489-1869.
10. Ellwood Main - This is the premier site in southern California with close to 100,000 monarchs in good years.
West of Santa Barbara in the town of Goleta (UCSB), take the Glen Annie/Storke Road exit. Go south and take a right (west) onto Hollister Ave. Go about
one mile and take a left (south) onto Coronado Drive.
As you approach the end of the street, there will be a huge eucalyptus grove in front of you.
The butterflies are in there. Park by the large empty lot on your right
just before the end of the street. There will be some large monarch
information signs. Follow the signs and trail to the monarch site.
There is a muddy creek crossing. There is often a crude bridge made of
planks. There is an informal rope barrier to keep
visitors out of and away from the edge of the gully, which has been eroding
through the years due to uncontrolled visitation. Please stay out of the
The site called Ellwood Mesa, which includes Ellwood Main was purchased by the Land Trust and deeded over to the city of Goleta. Local monarch lovers now maintain & manage the site. You can learn more about this effort by going to www.tpl.org/ellwoodmesa
11. Carpinteria State Beach - There is a good sized colony (5-10,000) of monarchs along the north side of Carpenteria Creek. The site is on private land, in an area called Salzgerber Meadow. To find the site, park in the state park and go east cross the SP RR tracks to the north side of the creek into the meadow. The monarchs roost in the eucalyptus trees. Access to the grove is now restricted by the owner.
12. Camino Real Park in San Buenaventura - Directions to this site is complicated. It is best to use a Thomas Guide or an AAA map. The monarchs roost in the creek which is lined with eucalyptus trees and is called Arundell Barranca.
A larger site is found further up the Barranca north of Telegraph Road and south of Loma Vista Road. Park at the corner of Teloma and Telegraph. Walk across the church parking lot into the barranca and walk north along the creek which is lined with eucalyptus. Up to 40,000 have roosted here. FYI, I believe Teloma is famous during Christmas season for the displays that decorate the homes on this street.
13. Big Sycamore Canyon - This is part of Point Mugu State Park and is located along the coast (Hwy 1) of the Santa Monica Mountains. In the campground, there is a great fall display of monarchs. Large numbers (1000's) can be found nectaring on the native mulefat in October. By mid-November, this autumnal site begins to dwindle. Several hundred may persist through the winter. Check the "Hike and Bike" camping area for clusters.
14. Leo Carrillo State Beach - This is a colony of several thousand monarchs in the eucalyptus grove that line Mulholland Highway, north of Highway 1 along Arroyo Sequit Creek. The main roost is in a small clearing in the grove across the creek from campsite #97, although small clusters can be found along the length of the grove. Large numbers can be observed nectaring on the mulefat. After the beginning of the year, the population begins to dwindle.
15. Huntington Beach Central Park - Located in Orange County, the cross streets are Golden West to the west, Slater to the north, Gothard to the east, and Talbert to the south. Park at the library by entering via Talbert from the east. Walk north and located the amphitheater. The monarchs usually roost above the platform. If not, check the area west of the small parking lot on Gothard. Up to 5000 have been seen here. This site has suffered from lerp infestation of the eucalyptus trees. The defoliated trees may not support monarchs any more.
16. Doheny State Beach - This site is located in Orange County near Dana Point. The colony used to be located on a direct line between the entrance kiosk and the public restroom near the beach in eucalyptus trees. They cluster in the trees just to the oceanside of the parking area. In 1995-96, the colony was found at the north end of the same parking lot over a bike path and by the creek. The clusters typically disappear by January in most years.
Last edited 14 Apr 2008