Home Destinations See Monarch Magic at Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove

See Monarch Magic at Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove

by Shelly Rivoli
massive cluster of monarch butterflies in eucalyptus tree

Of all the places to see monarchs in California, the Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove is one of the best to visit with kids. And from November through February is the time to plan your family’s visit! Here are tips and information to help plan a great visit to the monarch grove – from a mom who’s been there and took these photos herself! 😉 (Not a bot!)

Photos from this post are available in my Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove stock photo gallery.

What makes the Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove so special?

monarch butterflies in a large cluster in  eucalyptus trees at Pismo Beach grove
Long cluster of monarch butterflies hanging from eucalyptus tree in Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.

The monarch grove at Pismo State Beach is one of the most populous monarch butterfly colonies in North America. Even with the tragic decline in monarch populations over recent decades (down by as much as 90% over 25 years), this grove still manages to host migrating monarchs in the tens of thousands.

When we visited in January of 2022, there were an estimated 16,975 monarchs in the grove that day! Check the information board to see the daily count during your visit, and don’t miss the daily docent talks during peak season (usually 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.) – or just look for them along the path on your visit.

massive cluster of monarch butterflies in eucalyptus tree
A massive cluster of monarch butterflies overwintering in the eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach butterfly grove.

What brings these monarchs to the grove each winter?

California’s coastal eucalyptus groves like this provide the perfect combination of shelter, camouflage, and humidity for overwintering monarchs migrating west of the Rocky Mountains. As you can see, when the monarchs close their wings to rest in clusters, they look like bunches of dried leaves hanging high in the trees.

And rest they should! These miraculous monarchs can fly as many as 200 miles per day during their seasonal migrations to escape the freezing winter temperatures farther north that could kill them.

Seeing them in such high numbers in this habitat, it’s hard to believe that monarchs haven’t always had a tie to eucalyptus trees. However, eucalyptus trees are not native to North America, and they only arrived in California the 1850s–first as envelopes of seeds from Australia promising fast-growing trees!

Monarch Butterfly informational sign with eucalyptus trees at Pismo Beach
Informational sign at the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, one of the best places to see monarchs in California — and in North America!

Before the rise of the (since invasive) eucalyptus groves along the California coast, monarch butterflies relied upon native trees like the Monterey pine and Monterey cypress for winter shelter. In harsh winds and stormy conditions, they monarchs still favor these trees–and the Pismo butterflies have the advantage of Monterey cypress here as well.

Three kids hiking in desert with guidebook promotion for Hiking with Kids Southern California by Shelly Rivoli
Hiking with Kids Southern California includes hikes in Sequoia NP, Kings Canyon NP, Joshua Tree NP, Death Valley NP, and Channel Islands NP — and many more great hikes for families. (And yes, those are MY kids!) Thank you for your support! – Shelly

But the other attraction of the blue gum eucalyptus to these butterflies is its early winter blooms, which provide a bounty of nectar. When combined with nearby butterfly-friendly gardens, like the nectar-rich native flower garden adjacent to the Pismo grove, it’s no wonder so many monarchs love the location.

When is the best time to see monarch butterflies at Pismo State Beach?

Check the information board near the grove entrance to see the estimated count of monarchs on the day of your visit.

To see the highest numbers of monarchs, park rangers and docents recommend visiting the grove during the holiday season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day). But the weather and time of day can make a difference in what you see on your visit as well.

For most of the winter, the monarchs are “clustering” in the eucalyptus trees to stay warm and conserve energy. Since they cannot fly at temperatures below 55 Fahrenheit, they will be least active on colder days or early and late in the day.

“Nothing to see here!” Monarch butterflies cluster and camouflage in the branches of a eucalyptus tree.

When bringing young children to see the butterflies, a midday visit is probably your best bet–and you can time it with a picnic lunch on the beach!

This makes for the most impressive clusters to see, however, the monarchs can also be the trickiest to see with their wings closed up to help them camouflage in the trees (binoculars definitely help here!).

But on warm days, or when the temperature rises at midday, the monarchs stir with bright flashes of their orange wings and can be seen flitting through the grove and to the neighboring garden for nectar–monarch magic!

Can I bring my dog to the Pismo monarch grove (or stroller)?

Dog-friendly Grover Beach at Pismo
Dog-friendly Grover Beach at Pismo State Beach Park, California

The Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove is stroller- and wheelchair-friendly. And dogs are welcome to visit the grove as well–along with the adjacent Grover Beach (just keep your pup on a 6-foot leash).

You can simply walk out of the back side of the grove near the campground and onto the beach. However, you may need to cross a small lagoon en route so be prepared to get your feet wet!

Find out more on the Butterfly Grove’s web page.

Getting there:

The Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is at the south end of the city of Pismo Beach. You’ll find it just off Highway 1 right after passing the campground driving south, or just after Grover Beach if driving north. TIP: If parking is tight, you can simply park free at Grover Beach (near Finn’s Restaurant) and walk to the grove on the lovely boardwalk trail that leads from behind the restrooms.

Note to readers: This post was originally published on October 13, 2022, and has since been updated.

If you’re planning a visit to the Pismo Monarch Butterfly Grove, don’t miss these posts:

Morro Bay with Kids – Family Vacation Guide

Review of the Alisal Guest Ranch at Solvang

Ten Unforgettable California Family Vacation Ideas

San Francisco with Kids – Family Vacation Guide

Review of The Greenhorn California Dude Ranch

Hike These 5 California National Parks with Kids — and Confidence!

Catalina Island with Kids – Family Vacation Guide

Review of Safari West: One Night in the African Tent Camp

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