May 24, 2022

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Experience the Butterflies at Pismo Beach


Visiting the butterflies at Pismo Beach Monarch Grove as they migrate is a wow moment you won’t likely forget. Here’s what you need to know to visit the butterflies in their winter habitat.

They swirl, flutter, and dance to the delight of the human eye. The monarch butterfly is in all its glory at the Monarch Grove in Pismo Beach each year from October through February. Here are a few highlights of my visit this season, so that you can make plans now to enjoy your own wow moments with the butterflies at Pismo Beach.

Monarch Butterflies © Hightway 1 Discovery Route

Monarch butterflies. Photo Courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route

Monarch Grove

The monarch butterfly migrates from the north to California to seek shelter from the cold and freezing weather. Five coastal sites in the state see well over 10,000 butterflies flapping their orange and black wings every year. Depending on the weather, you will see hundreds of butterflies clustering in Eucalyptus trees. One site, Pismo State Beach Monarch Grove, represents one of the most popular sites to observe the butterfly’s winter haunt.

Visiting the Grove is one of those natural wonders that you simply should not miss. Whether you are a butterfly lover, nature buff, or just like to do something different, you will be wowed by the beauty of this winter habitat for butterflies.

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Pismo State Beach Monarch Grove © Cori Solomon butterflies at Pismo Beach

Pismo State Beach Monarch Grove. Photo By Cori Solomon

Monarch Butterflies

The monarch butterfly is also known as the Danaus Plexippus. Rumor has it that the monarch was named for King William III (England, Scotland, and Ireland’s monarch from 1689-1702) because he was the Prince of Orange.

The monarch typically lives for 6 to 8 weeks. However, when they migrate from the north, their lifespan lasts from six to eight months. They are distinguished by their orange wings covered with black lines and white dots.

Monarch Butterfly on Eucalyptus Branch © Highway 1 Discovery Route butterflies at Pismo Beach

A monarch butterfly on a eucalyptus branch. Photo Courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route

In the United States, there are two types of monarch butterflies—the eastern and western butterflies. The eastern monarch migrates from Canada to central Mexico, covering about 3,000 miles. The western monarch transverses along the Pacific Coast about 300 miles. It is thought that the western monarchs have smaller forewings due to the distance they fly during migration. Each year, the journey is always the same, especially since the butterflies cannot cross the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada Mountains because of the cold temperatures at high elevations.

The difference between the male and female monarch is that the males are slightly larger, have thinner wing veins, and have a black spot on their hindwing.

Male Monarch Butterfly © Highway 1 Discover Route

A male monarch butterfly. Photo Courtesy of Highway 1 Discover Route

The Monarch Life Cycle

There are four stages to the monarch butterfly’s life. It begins with the egg lasting 4 to 6 days, moving on to the larvae or caterpillar, which lasts two to three weeks, followed by the pupa or chrysalis, which is a 5- to 15-day transformation stage, and finally the adult butterfly. The latter lasts two to five weeks in the summer but can be six to eight months during winter.

While in the Monarch Grove, the butterflies mate as they get closer to spring. The males eventually die off. The female butterfly flies off to lay her eggs and begin the cycle again as the weather grows warmer. The females lay their eggs during spring and summer. The female can lay hundreds of eggs depositing them in milkweed plants.

In the caterpillar stage, they avidly eat milkweed.  Milkweed is poisonous to many birds and animals; but, for the monarch, it strengthens and nourishes them. The poison remains and as an adult butterfly, it provides protection. Most predatory birds stay away from the butterflies due to the sickening and foul-tasting poison.

The Caterpillar © Highway 1 Discovery Route butterflies at Pismo Beach

The caterpillar stage. Photo Courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route

Butterflies at Pismo State Beach Monarch Grove

Before going to see the butterflies at Pismo Beach, I wondered why the butterflies return each year to the same location. I discovered the answer is the debris they leave behind. Their waste is like a beacon attracting a new herd every year. It is this signal that delights all who visit the grove of eucalyptus in Pismo Beach. Everyone walks through the grove with their heads angled upward so as not to miss a flutter from above. The flicker of orange and black is everywhere and you hope one will land so you can get a close-up view.

Often the butterflies form dense clusters, with each one hanging with its wing down over the one below, creating a shingle effect. This formation provides shelter from the rain and warmth for the group. The weight of the cluster help keep it from whipping in the wind and dislodging the butterflies.

Monarch Butterflies at Pismo Beach Monarch Grove © Highway 1 Discovery Route

Monarch butterflies at Pismo Beach Monarch Grove. Photo Courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route

The quiet awe that permeates the grove draws you in as you seek out the star of the show, and then the monarch butterfly presents itself. Even a visiting cat is mesmerized by the movement of the wings above.

Cat Watching the Butterflies © Cori Solomon

A visiting cat watching the butterflies at Pismo Beach. Photo by Cori Solomon

Take a Stroll to the Ocean

Adjacent to the Monarch Grove, there is a path called Meadow Creek Trail. It leads from the grove to the ocean. It is pleasant to stroll along the estuary to the ocean on a nice day. Glimpse wildflowers and wildlife along the way.

Coastline View © Cori Solomon butterflies at Pismo Beach

The serene coastline view along Meadow Creek Trail. Photo by Cori Solomon

What to Bring When You Visit Pismo Beach

When you plan your visit to the Monarch Grove, make sure to bring some binoculars.

If you go for photos, be sure to pack your telephoto lens, because sometimes the butterflies are not within close-up range. They populate the upper branches of the eucalyptus trees.

butterflies in a eucalyptus tree at Pismo Beach

Monarch butterflies stay in the branches of the eucalyptus trees in Monarch Butterfly Grove at Pismo State Beach. Photo by S_Gibson via iStock by Getty Images

Monarch Grove Location

Pismo State Beach Monarch Grove is located a half-mile south of Pismo Beach, just off Highway 1. It is about 90 miles north of Santa Barbara and a quick 20 minutes south of San Luis Obispo. The driveway south of the North Beach Campground at 400 S Dolliver St leads to the entrance. Street parking is easily accessible.

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When You Visit the Butterflies at Pismo Beach

It is easy to stand mesmerized as you watch the butterflies at Pismo Beach thrive in their winter home. The fluttering of wings and the dance of the golden monarchs on the breeze is definitely an unforgettable wow moment. Be sure to check out Wander for more to see and do as you explore California’s Central Coast towns.

Visiting the butterflies at Pismo Beach Monarch Grove as they migrate through California every October through February is a wow moment you won't likely forget. Here's what you need to know to visit the butterflies in their winter habitat along the California Coast.

Experience the Butterflies at Pismo Beach



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