Monarch Butterflies at Pismo Beach


“You must look carefully.  High up in the eucalyptus trees.  Keep looking.  See the clumps of dead, brown leaves?  Now, watch,…….”  And the docent was right, those weren’t clumps of dead leaves, they were monarch butterflies!  Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of butterflies!


As our time on the central coast was drawing to a close, I was scouring the internet for last minute things to do and see that weren’t too far from our location at Vandenberg Air Force Base.  The Monarch Butterfly Grove at Pismo Beach piqued my interest.  We’d visited butterfly houses over the years and always enjoyed them, so we thought this would make a nice January Saturday afternoon outing.


We took the 101 up from Lompoc, exiting at Pismo Beach and following the signs to Pismo State Beach Campground which is adjacent to the Monarch Butterfly Grove.  There is NO parking at the campground for Butterfly visitors.  We drove further south just a bit past the campground where we found a small, but full parking area.  There was ample parking along Highway 1, so we parked the truck on the side of the road and walked back to the grove.


Entering the grove, we expected to be surrounded by butterflies flitting here and there, alighting on our shoulders or out stretched hands, but, no.  We looked and looked around, but all we could see were brown clumps of dead leaves up in the trees.  We then began reading the interpretive signs and listening to the docents and looked up again.  What appeared to be clumps of dead, brown leaves were actually clusters of monarch butterflies.  WOW!  It was incredible!


Monarch butterflies west of the Rockies wing their way to Pismo Beach to spend the winter in this grove of eucalyptus trees.  The butterflies group together in a cluster, each butterfly clinging onto the one above them and folding their wings over the one below.  This creates a shingle effect that protects the cluster from rain or other adverse weather.  Hanging in such a tight clump also retains heat and gives the cluster the weight and stability to protect it from strong ocean breezes.  This particular breed of monarch butterfly has a 6-month life span as opposed to the common monarch which lives only 6 weeks.  What is most amazing is the butterflies we saw that day will not return to Pismo Beach, but their off-spring will.  It will be part of their  genetic code to head to Pismo.  What an amazing Creator, who cares enough about a little butterfly to give it the know-how to find its way back to a safe haven.


There were several very knowledgeable volunteer docents around the grove ready to answer any questions we might have.  A few also manned high-powered telescopes, enabling us to have a close-up view of the monarchs.  There are several other groves along the central coast, but Pismo Beach boasts the largest colony of butterflies, usually numbering around 25,000.  Monarch season runs from November thru February.  When we visited in mid-January, the butterflies were slowly beginning their flights back home but there were still plenty to see.

We left the grove, crossing a bridge into the state beach campground, and then climbed the dunes to spend some time at the beach.   Awww, the ocean!  It’s a view we never tire of.

We left this amazing sight and drove south on Highway 1 to our favorite burger joint on the central coast, Sylvester’s “Big, Hot, and Juicy” Burgers.  Yum!  Sylvester’s has locations in Oceano, Los Osos, and Atascadero.  The menu has a wide variety of specialty burgers, like the Flaming Armadillo, the Pancho Loco, and the Heart Attack, as well as traditional “Old-fashioned” burgers ranging from 1/3 lb to a full one-pound burger.   Every time we’ve eaten at Sylvester’s we have enjoyed it immensely!   Don’t let the appearance of the restaurants turn you away.  They are not upscale, beachfront places, but they are all clean and the burgers are to die for!!!

ice plant
large expanse of ice plant, an invasive plant that loves drought conditions

Our son suggested we continue south on highway 1 on our way back to Lompoc.  As we drove past the farm fields, he told us that this area reminded him of the fields in Ohio—a little taste of home.  It is a beautiful drive and did remind us of Columbiana County.  I guess you can take the boy out of Ohio, but you can’t take Ohio out of the boy.


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