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!
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?
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.
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!
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.
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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?
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.
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 — or my stroller to the Pismo monarch grove?
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.
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.
If you’re planning a visit to the Pismo Monarch 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
Catalina Island with Kids – Family Vacation Guide