One of the best spots to witness the magnificent Monarch Butterfly is along this stretch of California’s Central Coast.
The monarchs start arriving at the grove in late October and spend the winter here before leaving in February. Think of them as the snowbirds of the insect world.
The grove is located in the southern end of Pismo Beach, just off the west side of Hwy 1 and south of the North Beach Campground.
You’ll see plenty of fake butterflies before you actually get to see the real ones.
I think most people would agree that butterflies are one of the most incredible insects in the world. Their ability to metamorphose from caterpillars into beautiful, brightly colored, winged creatures is beyond amazing but monarch butterflies possess even a greater skill that receives less acclaim.
Without any guidance, these insects inherently know how, when and where to migrate across continents—and it takes four generations to make the yearlong trek. The monarch butterfly exhibits the most highly evolved migration pattern of any known species of butterfly or moth and perhaps any known insect.
Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountain Range overwinter in California along the coast. There are many roost sites along the California coast. The coastal forests provide a similar microhabitat to the mountains in Mexico where the monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains overwinter.
Populations vary from year to year but the colony found at Pismo State Beach is one of the largest in the nation, hosting an average of 25,000 butterflies over the last five years. It is one of only five sites in the state that has counts over 10,000.
Monarchs will not fly on cold days when the weather is below below 55 degrees and they tend to be more active from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m, so a lot of things have to come together in order to be able to see them in action.
When we visited back in January, it was 60 degrees out and just after 2pm but the Monarchs weren’t in the mood for mating or entertaining us.
I was a little bummed that they weren’t as active as I thought they would be but it was still cool viewing them cluster together while they rested and caught some zzzzzzz’s.
The numbers of monarchs recorded at the overwintering sites in California have been declining for more than a decade. Loss of milkweed due to roadside management practices, intensive agriculture and the extensive use of herbicides is certainly a factor in this decline. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants, and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. So if you want to continue to see these incredible creatures please plant milkweed to support monarch populations, and their incredible migration! Planting milkweed also helps other pollinators too, as they provide valuable nectar resources to a diverse suite of bees and butterflies.