Best time to travel to Santa Cruz, CA

Monarch Butterfly Migration in Santa Cruz, CA

Thousands of butterflies spend winter in the Santa Cruz sanctuary

Best time: late October–January

Monarch Butterfly Migration
Monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz

Monarch butterflies can be seen briefly in many locations throughout the U.S. as they make their annual migration from breeding sites in the north to wintering sites in the south. But Santa Cruz is where you can spot them throughout the whole winter. Natural Bridges State Beach is the only State Monarch Preserve in California and it welcomes over 100,000 monarchs each winter.

Monarchs start to arrive in the sanctuary by mid-October. They 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. By late-January or early February, monarchs leave Natural Bridges SB and head north.

The Monarch Grove Trail is the best way to meet monarchs at Natural Bridges. It is usually open from 8 am to sunset. 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. The park's visitor center provides lots of information on monarch butterflies and their annual migration.

Practical info

When can we observe monarch butterflies in the Santa Cruz sanctuary?

From mid-October to late January or early February, monarchs arrive at the Santa Cruz sanctuary to spend their winter retreat. The best time to observe monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz is from late October to January. As these butterflies stay up to 4 months, visitors can observe their incredible beauty and behavior during this period. Show more

What is the preferred location to watch monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz?

Natural Bridges State Beach becomes the ideal location to watch monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz. It is the only State Monarch Preserve in California and offers a favorable environment for monarchs to feed and rest. Visitors can witness the congregation of over 100,000 monarchs that migrate to the grove of eucalyptus trees, situated by the beach. They can also explore the Monarch Grove Trail to watch them closely. Show more

For how long do monarch butterflies inhabit the Natural Bridges State Beach?

During the winter season, which lasts from late October to late January or early February, monarch butterflies inhabit the Natural Bridges State Beach. They spend this period resting, feeding, and reproducing. The monarchs depend on the eucalyptus trees to provide sufficient nectar, which provides the essential nutrients necessary for their long migration journey. Show more

What are the temperature ranges during the migration season of monarch butterflies?

Temperature ranges for the monarch butterfly migration season in Santa Cruz (late October to late January or early February) vary from 55-65°F (13-18°C). Occasionally dropping below 55°F, the monarchs huddle together or cling to eucalyptus trees forming clusters. To witness them in flight, visitors should aim to visit Natural Bridges State Beach when the temperature is above 55°F. Show more

Is it possible to go on guided tours to explore the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Santa Cruz?

The visitor center at Natural Bridges State Beach offers guided tours throughout the butterfly migration season, from late October to early February. These tours are led by experienced naturalists who can provide information on monarch butterflies' life cycle, habitat, migration, and conservation. Visitors can observe monarch butterflies in their natural habitat and learn about their ecology with a guided tour. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen