Best time to travel to California

Monarch Butterflies in California

Tens of thousands of North American monarchs head to California for their honeymoon, and wedding night falls on Valentine's Day

Best time: mid-November–mid-March

Monarch Butterflies
Monarch Butterflies
Monarch Butterflies
Monarch Butterflies

Countless clusters of fragile orange wings fluttering overhead look awesome on the blue-sky backdrop. Also, clusters of monarch butterflies may be found sleeping on tree trunks or bent branches. Despite being light when taken separately, in clusters, they become quite heavy.

This unique spectacle can be seen throughout winter when all the monarchs from the Rocky Mountains gather together and head to their wintering sites in California.

Pacific Grove is just a stone's throw from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and further still from Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Monarch Sanctuary is located in Pacific Grove's beautiful downtown with free parking on Ridge Road. This area boasts the largest population of overwintering monarchs in Monterey County for public viewing and is generally one of the largest monarch overwintering sites in America. Clustered high in numerous trees in overwintering places, monarchs might call up dead leaves, so get your eyes ready for distinguishing them.

Another spectacular monarch wintering ground is located at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz. It is the only State Monarch Preserve in California, and it welcomes over 100,000 monarchs each winter. Monarchs chose this habitat due to the vast eucalyptus grove and moderate coastal weather. The grove is located in a canyon and is sheltered from coastal winds and harsh sunlight. Eucalyptus trees flower during winter providing pollinators food. If you want to see monarchs flying, make sure the weather is warm enough. If it's colder than 55 °F (13 °C), monarchs stay on the trees forming clusters.

Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove is known to host one of the largest monarch congregations in California. The sanctuary that can be accessed from North Beach Campground is also one of the most picturesque spots on the Central California Coast. If you plan to visit Santa Barbara, there is another beautiful coastal sanctuary there, which consists of pine and eucalyptus trees. Goleta’s Butterfly Grove trail will lead you right to the stunning Ellwood Beach.

The monarchs start arriving to California groves in mid-October and can stay as late as March. Fauna connoisseurs claim their mating rituals take place in mid-February around Valentine's Day—these monarchs truly are such romantic creatures!

Practical info

When is the best time to visit California to see monarch butterflies?

Monarch butterflies in California can be seen from mid-November to mid-March, with the best viewing opportunities occurring from December to February. These dates take into consideration their mating habits, which tend to happen in mid-February, as the cluster formation doesn't begin until it drops below 55°F (13°C). For viewing the butterflies in-flight, it is advisable to plan your trip when temperatures are more pleasant as, in such conditions, monarchs form clusters. Show more

Where can I see monarch butterflies in California?

Monarch butterflies can be viewed at multiple locations in California. Natural Bridges State Park and Goleta’s Butterfly Grove in Central and Northern California, respectively, are an excellent choice. In the Central Region, you can visit Pacific Grove or Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove. In California, monarch habitats nationwide are home to monarch butterflies sleeping on tree trunks or bent branches, which can be watched without charge by the public. Show more

How heavy can clusters of monarch butterflies get?

Monarch butterfly clusters can weigh several pounds, and sometimes even a ton, despite their individual weights being scarcely significant. In California, there are various sleeping locations for monarch butterflies famous for their clusters that can be comprised of tens of thousands of butterflies with strikingly stunning orange wings, offering a magnificent spectacle. Show more

When do monarch butterflies mate in California?

California's monarch butterflies mate in mid-February, mainly around Valentine's Day, and may stay until as late as March during the breeding season that starts mid-October. Although butterflies that remain for the latter part of the season will mate eventually, the long-lasting initial butterflies will ensure that the population's reproductive ability can survive from year to year. The mating rituals of the monarch butterflies can be seen at all highlighted overwintering locales. Show more

What is the weather like during monarch butterfly overwintering season in California?

During the overwintering season in California, the weather is moderate and coastal. Areas around Pacific Grove and Monterey are 15 degrees warmer than San Francisco and experience the mid-40ºF minimums during the winter. Santa Cruz enjoys a warmer winter as it is closer to Monterey Bay, which buffers out the low temperatures. If the temperature falls below 55°F (13°C), the monarchs stay on the trees clustering together. They fly during the day and roost at overwintering sites when the weather is warm enough. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin