Monarch Butterfly Groves on Highway 1

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Monarch Butterfly Groves

What’s orange and black and flutters all over? Western Monarch butterflies, of course! These jewel-toned beauties migrate twice per year, like birds. Many other butterfly species are hardy enough to weather a chilly winter, but Monarchs can’t survive in cold northern climates. To warm their wings, they overwinter in a favorite Monarch butterfly grove along the Highway 1 Discovery Route each year between October and February.

During the winter, clusters of orange wings cover the trees in Monarch butterfly groves in Pismo Beach, Nipomo, Los Osos and Morro Bay. (Researchers have counted up to 230,000 Monarch butterflies in a single season at the Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove.)

As the weather warms in spring, the butterflies begin migrating north. Western Monarchs can travel over 1,000 miles to reach their next migration point. Western Monarchs live west of the Rockies and migrate up and down the West Coast, between southern Canada and San Diego. Eastern Monarchs, on the other hand, live east of the Rocky Mountains and migrate south each winter to Mexico.

A sunny winter day offers ideal conditions to see Monarch butterflies along Highway 1. Monarch butterflies become active when the sun hits their wings. Appropriately enough, mating season reaches its peak near Valentine’s Day ― an animated time at Monarch butterfly groves, indeed! Prepare for a spectacular natural show by bringing water, sunscreen, a jacket, binoculars and comfortable shoes. Use the Coastal Discovery Trail to help plan your itinerary and make the most out of your Monarch viewing adventure.


The Western Monarch Trail

Want to see more Monarch butterflies? The Western Monarch Trail shares the best sites to see these gentle, iconic creatures as they migrate across the West. The trail is a partnership between the Central Coast State Parks Association (CCSPA) and multiple organizations working to preserve and steward natural resources. Until recently, the Western Monarch Butterfly generally migrated between British Columbia and Baja, with overwintering sites along the way. Due to several factors including loss of habitat and climate changes, the monarch has adopted an east-west flightpath seasonally between the coast and the inland valleys. The organizers of the Western Monarch Trail keep tabs on the best places to see butterflies in their changing habitats. These include sites across Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. 

Visitors to migration hotspots have noticed a decline in the monarch’s population, and the research bears that observation out. The Western Monarch Butterfly population has decreased in number by 99 percent since the 1990s. This concerns scientists, biologists, botanists and enthusiasts because Monarchs are pollinators, as well as a source of food for birds, animals and insects. By following the Western Monarch Trail, visitors can become interested, educated and invested in the health of the Monarch’s threatened population. Each site along the trail includes interpretive signage featuring information key to citizen science and preservation. Though not all of them are open to the public, ten of these sites are located in San Luis Obispo County alone. Be a traveler that cares and donate to the Western Monarch Trail to support the ongoing conservation efforts of the Western Monarch Butterfly. Your donation helps to educate and spread awareness about the plight of the Western Monarch — thank you.

Fun fact: a group of Monarch butterflies is called a kaleidoscope.

Monarch Butterflies

Hearst San Simeon State Park Monarch Butterfly Grove

Western Monarch Butterflies gather in San Simeon each winter for the annual migration to the coast. It’s common to see them fluttering throughout San Simeon during the months of November to March, nectaring and opening their wings to the sun. Look to the eucalyptus trees in any corner of town to spy clusters of their majestic orange and black wings. For a more consistent view of Western Monarch Butterflies, head to the San Simeon Natural Preserve. Located within Hearst San Simeon State Park, this peaceful place includes wetlands, native plant communities, and a Western Monarch Butterfly overwintering site. To see the site, head to W.R. Hearst Memorial State Beach and park near the Coastal Discovery Center. From here, walk to the eucalyptus grove that stands above the beach, near the warehouses of Old San Simeon and Hearst Ranch Winery. Look high into the trees throughout this eucalyptus forest to spy a Monarch roost.

Monarch Butterfly

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Monarch Butterflies

The mysteries of the Western Monarch Butterfly are many, but scientists do generally understand what sort of overwintering habitat they prefer. The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve covers all the criteria, including high humidity from the coast, standing water, dappled sunlight, and nectar sources. Thanks to the coastal forest here, the Monarch butterflies are also protected from wind, storms, and extreme temperatures. The preserve is, however, subject to the same threats as any overwintering site, and has seen dramatic drops in its migratory Monarch population. Fiscalini Ranch is one of just a precious few overwintering sites where Monarchs still roost on native trees. Organizations like the Xerces Society — named after a now-extinct butterfly species — understand that Monarch health represents the health of the community. In fact, the Xerces Society now works with the Cambria Community Services District to build back the population on the preserve. To see Monarch butterflies at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, head into the native forest early in the day, as soon as the sun hits the tops of the trees. Look up into their branches to see clusters of the Monarchs’ iconic orange-and-black wings.

Monarch Butterflies in tree

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

One of the largest Monarch butterfly colonies in North America, the Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove sees thousands of butterflies annually. During the winter season, Monarchs cluster in the branches of a stand of eucalyptus trees in Pismo State Beach.

These Pismo Beach Monarchs live six months ― nearly five months longer than the lifespan of the common Monarch butterfly. Experts believe this is due to a fat-storing system unique to these migrants.

In addition to butterfly visitors, the grove welcomes people from across the West to witness these majestic creatures in the trees. Throughout the season, trained docents lead daily talks and offer insight into the Western Monarch butterfly life cycle. Volunteers also offer powerful telescopes for seeing Monarchs high in the trees.

COVID-19 Alert: Visitors can install the California State Parks “Agents of Discovery App” for interactive exploration or check out their YouTube channel for more content. Docents will not be on-site for the 2020-2021 season. 

How to get to the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

From the north: From Southbound Highway 101, take exit 190B for Hinds Ave/Price Cyn Rd. Head southeast on Price St toward Hinds Ave. Turn right at the second cross street onto Stimson Ave. Turn left at the first cross street onto CA-1 S/Dolliver St and continue for 0.8 miles. The grove will be on your right just past the North Beach State Campground.

From the south: From Northbound Highway 101, take exit 190 for Price St/Hinds Ave. Turn left onto Ocean View Ave, then turn left onto CA-1 S/Dolliver St. Continue for 0.8 miles. The grove will be on your right just past the North Beach State Campground.

When to visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove

The grove is open from late October through the month of February from 10 am to 4 pm. The area provides picnic tables, a restroom, and a gift shop selling books, toys, and butterfly-related items.

Monarch Dunes Butterfly Grove in Nipomo

In Nipomo, the nineteen-acre Monarch Dunes Butterfly Habitat became a preserved sanctuary in 2006. This grove of blue gum eucalyptus trees has been home to as many as 60,000 Monarch butterflies during winter seasons.

An endowment secures management and protection of this precious habitat as a permanent Monarch butterfly migration point for years to come. High winds had historically caused numbers of Monarchs to decrease. An advisory group has planted Monterey cypress trees on the borders of the habitat, though, as a wind buffer for Monarchs. Grove conditions continue to improve, with numbers of overwintering Monarch butterflies increasing annually.

Golf courses

The Monarch Dunes Butterfly Habitat sits at the heart of the Trilogy at Monarch Dunes resort community ― also home to two destination golf courses. Try the championship ‘Old Course” or the newest 12-hole Challenge Course designed by Steve Pate and Damian Pascuzzo.Monarch Dunes Golf Club offers private instruction, as well as dining options on-site.

Volunteer-led tours

The Monarch Dunes Butterfly Habitat offers docent-led tours throughout the winter season. For a list of upcoming talks, contact volunteers at the Monarch Dunes Butterfly Habitat.

Monarch Butterfly Groves in Los Osos

Home to two Monarch butterfly groves, Los Osos offers just the sort of habitat Monarchs prefer: a temperate coastal climate and access to nectar.

Monarch Grove Natural Area in Los Osos

With 18 acres at the end of Monarch Lane in Los Osos, the Monarch Grove Natural Area offers plenty of habitat. With the help of a retired Cal Poly biology professor, this Monarch butterfly habitat is becoming a more welcoming site for Monarchs.

The Monarch Grove Natural Area can be found in the Monarch Grove Homes development just off Pecho Valley Road. From Los Osos Valley Road, turn right on Monarch Lane, just where the road forks left toward Montaña de Oro State Park. Turn right on Del Norte to the Sea Pines Golf Course. Park at the golf course and follow signs to the Monarch Grove Natural Area.

Sea Pines Golf Course

Close to the natural area, enjoy a nine-hole executive course, disc golf course, and footgolf course at Sea Pines Golf Resort. The Central Coast’s only hotel directly on a golf course, Sea Pines offers a driving range, practice area, and dining options. Views of coastal dunes and wildlife also make this course special.

Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos

Located on the Morro Bay estuary, this natural preserve has been managed by the Morro Coast Audubon Society since 1989. The 24-acre preserve acts as home to clusters of Monarch butterflies from late October to March. Follow trails through Monterey Cypress and eucalyptus trees and alongside freshwater ponds. In addition to Monarch butterflies, many shorebirds winter here.

To get to the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve from Highway 1,take the South Bay Blvd. exit just east of Morro Bay. Continue on South Bay Boulevard to Santa Ysabel Avenue and turn right. Turn left at 7th Street and right onto Ramona Avenue. The site is located on the right (north) side of Ramona Avenue. A prominent sign shows the entrance to the trails.

Monarch Butterfly Groves Central Coast

Morro Bay Golf Course Monarch Butterfly Grove

At the center of Morro Bay Golf Course, a grove of eucalyptus trees offers its branches for migrating Monarch butterflies. In fact, this Monarch habitat has been known to receive butterflies early ― as early as August, some years. What’s more, the beautiful Monarchs tend to land low on the branches, making them extremely easy for viewers to see.

To reach the Morro Bay Golf Course Butterfly Grove, from Highway 1, take exit 277 toward Los Osos/Baywood Park and turn right onto South Bay Boulevard. Turn right onto Park View Road/State Park Road and stay on Park View Dr. Follow signs to Morro Bay Golf Course.

Tour info

Morro Bay Golf Course provides tours of the natural Monarch butterfly grove throughout the winter, weather permitting. Witness thousands of Monarch butterflies up close after a short hike to the viewing area. For more information, contact the Morro Bay Golf Course.

Discover Western Monarchs

Ready to discover the jewel-toned beauties of Highway 1? Head out this winter to see Western Monarch Butterflies in their natural migratory habitats. Pick a few sites to explore, and use our handy Google map to navigate to your preferred spots.

Western Monarch Trail



445 South Dolliver
Pismo Beach, CA 93449



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