The Monarch butterfly – a beautiful insect that spends its summers in the north and overwinters in Mexico and Central California. Pacific Grove and Pismo Beach are home to two places where the butterflies can be seen in large numbers.
A cluster of Monarch Butterflies in the Pismo Beach grove
Photo by Michael L. (Mike) Baird – Link to original
The Monarch butterfly is a favorite among all ages and across the country. It is the only insect which migrates north and south each year much the same as birds. The main difference is that the individuals which leave the wintering groves are not the same as those which return. In fact, the returning monarchs are 3-4 generations removed from those who left in the spring.
A lone Monarch at the Pismo Beach grove
There are two main groves in Central California to which the butterflies return each year – Pismo Beach and Pacific Grove. The Monarch butterflies begin returning around the end of October and will remain through the winter until March the following year.
The population which winters here in California generally stays west of the Rockies as they make their way to their summer grounds.
The group to the east of the Rockies winters in huge numbers in groves in central Mexico. But they are wanderers. They have claimed Bermuda for themselves and occasionally make their way to England on prevailing winds.
Monarch Butterfly Winter Sites in Central California
Pismo Beach – Just off Highway 1 at the south end of Pismo Beach; GPS coordinates: 35.1292, -120.6323; for information call the Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce at 800-443-7778.
Pacific Grove – 250 Ridge Road, Pacific Grove, south of Lighthouse Avenue and west of 17 Mile Drive. GPS coordinates: 36.6258, -121.9296; for information call the Monarch Grove Sanctuary at 831-648-5716.
There are two other sites with lesser numbers and if you are in either of those areas from November – February, you might want to inquire locally about the butterflies.
Morro Bay State Park – around campsite #116 and
Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, through the Environmental Campground to Cooper’s Cabin.
The numbers vary from year to year, but generally, there are over 20,000 monarch butterflies in either grove. In 1991 it is reported that the Pismo Beach grove was host to 230,000 monarchs!
There are docents at the Pismo Beach grove from 10am to 4pm who can answer questions about the insects and point out all that is interesting to be seen there.
There are docents at the Pacific Grove site as well and the sanctuary there is open dawn to dusk.
Pacific Grove is serious about their butterflies – they bill themselves as “Butterfly Town, USA” and there is a $1000 fine for molesting the insects.
The monarch butterflies like these areas as they have the right combination of protection from wind, temperature and humidity. They are in a sort of semi-hibernation and aren’t always active.
But sometimes when a beam of light warms them up a bit, they seem to “explode” from the tree all at once which is quite a sight to behold. But whether that happens when you are visiting or not, it is a majestic exhibition of nature and its beauty.