Monarch Butterflies clustered on a tree in California
Central Coast

10 Top Places To See Monarch Butterflies In California

The California Coast is one of the few places in the world where you can see the majestic monarch butterflies during the winter months. The eucalyptus groves along the coast offer the ideal conditions with the right temperature, humidity, sunlight, and wind protection for monarchs to survive the colder seasons.  

There are designated nature preserves throughout the California Coast that were created to protect their natural habitats. Visiting a monarch wintering site during the California butterfly migration is a wonderful adventure for the whole family and a truly magical experience!

I love to stop at monarch groves during my coastal trips to learn more about these unique butterflies and see them at their peak times. The migration season typically happens from October to February with the biggest counts taking place in November and December.

While the butterfly numbers fluctuate year to year, by visiting one of these locations you’ll have the best chance to see them.

Here is a list of all the best places to see monarch butterflies in California!

10 Best Places To See Monarch Butterflies In California:

1. Monarch Butterfly Grove In Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach is one of the most popular monarch butterfly winter homes in California.

The Monarch Butterfly Grove In Pismo Beach is one of my favorite locations to visit during monarch butterfly season in California.

This is one of the largest groves in the US where monarchs seek shelter during the winter months from October to February.

I visited this grove during the 2023 season when it had the highest count with over 24,000 butterflies. Seeing the butterflies nestled in the fragrant eucalyptus trees in such large numbers was truly an incredible experience! The park staff even set up binoculars so we could observe the butterflies up close.

Monarch butterflies at Pismo Beach.

The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is tucked away along Highway 1 between the North Beach Campground and Pismo Beach Golf Course. There are a few spots where you can park off Highway 1, but the parking is very limited.

As a better option, I recommend hiking the scenic 1.5-mile-long Meadow Creek Trail that starts at the beach parking lot off W Grand Ave. This parking lot has plenty of spaces and the trail is very enjoyable following a wooden boardwalk with views of oceanfront dunes. The trail ends at the Pismo Beach grove where you can see the butterflies before heading back.

Read Next: 20 Top Things To Do On a Weekend Trip To Pismo Beach

2. Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary In Pacific Grove

Monarch butterflies in Monterey, California.

The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary In Pacific Grove is one of the best places to visit during the California monarch butterfly migration. This wintering site is located in Monterey Peninsula making it a great stop to see on a road trip from LA to San Francisco.

The Monterey Monarch Butterfly site consists of short pathways situated next to residential houses. The pathways are lined with eucalyptus, pine, and cypress trees where the monarchs seek shelter during the colder months.

This is one of the most important overwintering sites in California that is managed by volunteers and protected by the local community. During the busy season, you can often find volunteers here who will tell you more about the butterflies and the preservation efforts.

The best time to visit Monarch Butterfly California Pacific Grove is from November to December during the peak months. By February the butterfly numbers already start dwindling down. For up-to-date monarch counts check out the @pgmuseum Instagram page here.

To see the monarchs clustered in the trees come in the mornings. If you want to see them flying around, arrive during mid-day when the temperatures are a bit warmer. The monarchs tend to cluster high in the trees so bring binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens to see them up close.

Visitor Tip: This grove is free to visit but it does not allow dogs.

3. Natural Bridges State Beach In Santa Cruz

Monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz.

Natural Bridges State Beach is an already gorgeous destination to visit in Santa Cruz. But what makes this park even better are the monarchs that you can observe here during the winter months.

At this location, you can see monarchs, tide pools, birds, wild turkeys, deer, and even spot whales in the ocean. It’s a great stop for families with kids to enjoy a variety of scenery and wildlife viewing in California.

To see the butterflies you can take the 0.6-mile-long Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve Loop Trail that follows a boardwalk in a canyon full of eucalyptus trees. This canyon provides the perfect habitat where the butterflies can seek shelter from wind and cold temperatures.  

Visitor Tip: Parking costs $10 for day visitors. Dogs are not allowed at the Monarch Preserve.

4. Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove At Ellwood Mesa In Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is one of the best places for monarch butterfly viewing in California.

The Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove at Ellwood Mesa is one of the best places to see monarch butterflies in Southern California. Covering 137 acres next to the coast, this is one of the largest monarch wintering sites in the US providing shelter for up to 25,000 butterflies seasonally.

The best time to visit Goleta Butterfly Grove is from October to February when the dense eucalyptus trees provide shelter for the butterflies to survive the winter months. The numbers typically peak in December and tamper off by March when the monarchs depart for spring migration.

Goleta Butterfly Grove is such a wonderful outdoor space and one of the two local spots in Santa Barbara where you can see monarch butterflies. I recommend coming in the afternoon when you can see the butterflies flying around through the grove.

From the grove, you can also take walking paths that lead down to the beach.

5. Coronado Butterfly Preserve In Santa Barbara

Monarch butterflies in Santa Barbara.

Situated adjacent to Goleta Butterfly Grove, you can also visit the 9.3-acre Coronado Butterfly Preserve. This is a separate, smaller protected open area created by Santa Barbara residents and managed by a Land Trust to preserve local wildlife habitat. 

At this overwintering site, you can see large clusters of monarchs nestled in the trees seeking protection from the wind and cold. To visit both groves on the same trip follow the Ellwood Bluffs/Coronado Butterfly Preserve Trail on the AllTrails hiking app.

6. Fiscalini Ranch Preserve In Cambria

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve In Cambria
Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is one of my favorite locations for hiking on the Central Coast. Here you can enjoy a variety of trails with diverse terrain including forest paths, wooden boardwalks, and oceanfront trails.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is protected from future developments serving as a small sanctuary to a variety of animals, birds, and insects including monarch butterflies. In the past, the monarch butterfly counts at Fiscalini Ranch have gone from 20,000 to almost none, but are starting to rebound in recent years.

To see the butterflies you can follow the Monarch Butterfly Observation Area via Trenton Trail and Meander Loop through the forest section of the preserve. This loop is less than 2 miles long with only 150 feet of elevation gain making it a great hiking option for families with kids.

If you’re using Google Maps, the monarch butterflies can be seen by following the Forest Loop Trail from Tipton Entrance. This nature preserve has a lot of short trails that intersect so having a map on hand is very useful.

Read Next: 12 Best Hikes In San Luis Obispo County, California

7. Coastal Access Monarch Butterfly Preserve In Los Osos

Monarch butterflies on California Coast in Los Osos.

Los Osos Coastal Access Monarch Butterfly Preserve is a hidden little gem where you can see California monarch butterflies. This preserve is located just 15 minutes south of Morro Bay so I like to stop here when visiting the Central Coast.

Coastal Access Monarch Butterfly Preserve is located at the end of Monarch Lane in a residential neighborhood. Parking is very limited but this location is not well known so it rarely gets crowded.

The Los Osos preserve itself is very small so it doesn’t take very long to walk through it. The grove is full of fragrant eucalyptus trees where the butterflies can take refuge in the branches.

The best time to visit this monarch sanctuary is between October to March when you’ll see the highest count. From the preserve, you can also head out into scenic dunes that lead down to the ocean.

Read Next: 20 Best Things To Do In Morro Bay, California

8. Monarch Butterfly Grove At Trilogy In Nipomo

Monarch Butterfly in Woodlands, California.

The Monarch Butterfly Grove At Trilogy is a small 19-acre grove that you can stop and see while traveling along Highway 1 in Central California. This grove is situated just 20 minutes south of Pismo Beach which has one of the biggest groves in California.

Monarch Butterfly Grove At Trilogy is located in Woodlands next to Monarch Dunes Golf Club. This is a quick stop with short trails that can be walked within 15 minutes.

9. El Dorado Nature Center In Long Beach

El Dorado Nature Center In Long Beach.

If you’re looking for places to see monarch butterflies in Southern California, they have been spotted at El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach as well. I lived in Long Beach during most of my 20s and would often come to this park to escape into nature.

To find the best locations for spotting overwintering monarchs at the El Dorado Nature Center, see this helpful map here.

10. Andrew Molera State Park In Big Sur

Andrew Molera State Park offers a beautiful natural setting to observe monarch butterflies as they migrate along the California coast. While Andrew Molera State Park is not a primary monarch butterfly viewing site, you can often see them at the small 2.5-acre blue gum eucalyptus grove by Cooper Cabin.

Cooper Cabin is located off Highway 1 and can easily be accessible via a short trail. This path travels parallel to the Big Sur River and ends at the ocean. This is a great quick stop for those traveling on a Big Sur road trip.

I hope this guide has helped you discover a few new places to visit during the monarch butterfly season in California!

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This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

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