Tourists aren’t the only creature who flock to California in winter. Orange and black Monarch butterflies, also known scientifically as Danaus plexippus, flock to California’s coastal areas on their annual migration to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Monarchs arrive by the thousands in October and leave by February. Sadly, the number of U.S. Monarch butterflies has decreased 90% since 1990, but you can still see these majestic creatures as they overwinter along the California coast. Here are some places in the Bay Area where you can view Monarch butterflies and enjoy their magic:
Monarch Bay Golf Couse and Marina, San Leandro
San Leandro is one of the few places in Alameda County where Monarch butterflies hunker down to spend in the winter. You’ll see them clustered on the Eucalyptus trees on e Monarch Bay Golf Course. Docents lead tours where visitors can view the Monarchs and learn about their life cycle and migrations. Docent-led tours are provided on Saturdays through early February. Register through the Recreation and Human Services Department at 510-577-3462 or email [email protected].
Coyote Hills Park Nectar Garden, Fremont
This fenced enclosure shelters small visitors from the wind. It is filled with colorful, nectar-rich flowers and it is a joy to wander around and watch butterflies and birds sipping from the nectar. Monarchs are frequent visitors to the garden, along with Tiger Swallowtails, Anise Swallowtails, and Grey Hairstreak, as well as lots of hummingbirds. Naturalists lead educational programs throughout the year. They provide literature about butterflies native to the area and the plants they like, as well as milkweed and wildflower seeds to take home. The Coyote Hills Park bird and butterfly nectar garden is adjacent to the Visitor Center. Currently, the Nectar Garden is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm. Several naturalist-led educational programs are offered in the garden during the year. Contact the interpretive staff at (510) 544-3220 for additional information.
Ardenwood Historic Farm, Fremont
Large numbers of monarch butterflies usually spend the winter months in the eucalyptus groves at Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, as part of their multi-generational migratory life cycle. park naturalists are still offering programs highlighting the amazing insects, with emphasis on how their numbers can be preserved and increased.
Monarch Grove, Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz
Natural Bridges State Beach’s Monarch Grove provides a temporary home for thousands of Monarch butterflies. The area’s mild seaside climate and eucalyptus grove provide a safe place for monarchs to roost until spring. The grove contains eucalyptus trees which are located in a gently sloping canyon, providing the Monarch needed shelter from the wind as well as a source of food. Visitors can view the over-wintering Monarchs by walking down the park’s wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk to an observation deck in the eucalyptus grove. Additionally, the park maintains a demonstration milkweed patch where visitors may view Monarch eggs, caterpillars and chrysalides.
Monarch Sanctuary, Pacific Grove, Monterey
Pacific Grove has one of the largest monarch overwintering sites in America and the largest population of overwintering monarchs in Monterey County for public viewing. Every year, thousands of monarchs overwinter at Pacific Grove’s Monarch Sanctuary. Arriving in October, monarch butterflies cluster together on pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees in the Sanctuary. Their migration to Pacific Grove is so unique that Pacific Grove is nicknamed “Butterfly Town, U.S.A.”
The sanctuary is located at 250 Ridge Road off of Lighthouse Avenue in beautiful downtown historic Pacific Grove, just a short drive away from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Parking on Ridge Road is free. The sanctuary is a Pacific Grove municipal park and is freely open from sunrise to sunset. There is no admission fee.