From mid-October through February each year, Monarch butterflies sleep in California's coastal eucalyptus groves. In early morning, visitors watch the trees like a crowd of expectant theatregoers. Basketball-sized clusters of what at first appear to be brown leaves rustle and stir. The air fills with orange and black wings, and a monarch butterfly parade begins.
These tiny creatures are getting ready for a migration that would leave stronger animals, and most humans, exhausted. Every fall, the Monarch butterfly begins a long journey. It will take some 1,800 miles (2,900 km) and four generations before their descendants return to where they started.
The first generation begins their migration in wintering locations along the California coast. There, they cluster in eucalyptus groves, mating in late January and leaving for spring migration by March.
The Monarchs lay their eggs inland on milkweed plants in the Sierra Nevada foothills and then die. The second generation hatches and flies across the mountains into Oregon, Nevada or Arizona. Third and fourth Monarch butterfly generations fan out even further and then return to the California coast, to the place where their great-great grandparents started.
Monarch Butterfly-Watching Spots in CaliforniaWinter Sites (from north to south):
- Fremont, Ardenwood Historic Farm, in the North Woods between the railroad tracks and the northern fence boundary
- Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges State Beach, a site accessible to everyone
- Pacific Grove Monarch Grove Sanctuary, Monarch butterfly grove near Monterey
- Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, through the Environmental Campground to Cooper's Cabin
- Morro Bay State Park, typically around campsite #116
- Pismo Beach, Pismo State Beach, at the south end of the North Beach Campground
- Santa Barbara, Coronado Butterfly Preserve
- Ventura, Camino Real Park: Main Street east to Mills Road. Turn left onto Mills. Turn right Dean Drive west to the park entrance
- Malibu, Point Mugu State Park, Big Sycamore Canyon (an autumn site)
- Long Beach, El Dorado Nature Center
- Encinitas, Monarch Butterfly House
- San Diego, UCSD (La Jolla Shores Dr at Azul St)