Monarch Butterfly Grove
Each year thousands of vibrant orange and black western 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.
Spectators come from all over the Central Coast and throughout the state to view the monarchs. Visitors can learn about monarchs from knowledgeable and well-informed volunteer docents offering helpful information.
The butterflies form dense clusters with each one hanging with its wing down over the one below it to form a shingle effect. This provides shelter from the rain and warmth for the group. The weight of the cluster helps keep it from whipping in the wind and dislodging the butterflies.
Our colony is one of the largest in the nation, some years hosting an average of 25,000 butterflies.
The western monarchs that visit Pismo Beach are a special generation that migrate long distances to overwinter. They have a life span of six months as opposed to other generations who live only four to six weeks. This can be attributed to a unique fat storing system. However, even with an extended life span, those butterflies that leave in March will never return.
Scientists do not know why the monarchs consistently return to some wintering sites. In North America, those sites range from the Central and Southern California Coast (western monarchs) to Mexico (eastern monarchs). Some scientists speculate that the insects are equipped with genetic homing systems that lead them from their summer sites in the Sierras, Florida, Canada and the Great Lakes Region in North America back to their winter locations. For more information about monarchs and how to conserve their population, please visit www.westernmonarchtrail.com.
On the Central Coast, monarchs winter in Pismo Beach, Pacific Grove and Morro Bay. The Natural History Museum In Morro Bay and the Oceano Dunes District Visitor Center are excellent resources for information about monarchs.
The Monarch Mercantile Trailer, operated by the Central Coast State Parks Association, is open year-round from 11 am to 4 pm. During butterfly season, the hours are extended. Throughout the year, the butterfly grove has trained volunteers and employees available to answer any questions. For more information or directions, please call the Interpretive Office of the Oceano Dunes District, California State Parks at: 805-474-2664.
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)