The Monarchs of Pismo Beach

Time to switch it up.

When you think of going to the beach, butterflies usually don’t come to mind. But at Pismo Beach, California, that’s exactly what you’ll find.

Between the months of November and February, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate south from as far north as Canada, all the way down to Mexico. The Central Coast is such a prime location to be in if you’re trying to find them. In Pismo, they can be spotted collecting in a cluster of misty trees in a dirt patch off the side of Price St., called the Pismo Beach Monarch Grove.

Beachy Keen drove down to the quaint grove this week to see the delicate beauties in action.

Irene Ouyang, a student at California Polytechnic State University, loved seeing the butterflies when she went. “I think it’s really amazing how all those butterflies, thousands of them, travelled so far and now they’re all here in Pismo. It’s quite beautiful and breathtaking seeing butterflies, who usually flutter away at the slightest movement, being so comfortable and at peace in the monarch grove.”

Parking is free, but a bit tricky. Pulling off to the side of the road is necessary, and cars can line up on either side of the street. A huge sign with a painting of a monarch butterfly decorates the entrance; it’s hard to miss!

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A cute fence with benches for children nearby. Image by Avrah Baum.

Entrance is free, and the little grove has lots to offer. There’s a mobile gift shop, with everything from jewelry to educational books on monarchs and their mating, migration, and eating habits. There’s also a few rows of kiddie benches for field trips and families.

Karen Mitchell, a retired schoolteacher and volunteer at the grove told Beachy Keen why she enjoys spending time there. “I heard about the opportunity to volunteer,” Mitchell said, “and I knew it was seasonal. So I started getting to know the other volunteers. Everyone is warm and welcoming, and it’s a great atmosphere. It’s just people who want a peaceful afternoon watching butterflies.”

The air feels clean and crisp; ripe with the smell of eucalyptus. Birds chirp, and your surroundings are still, besides the few dozen monarchs gliding from tree to tree every few moments.

The small grove has telescopes set up to look up into the trees to see the butterflies, and a couple of experts are available to speak to.

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A view of a butterfly cluster through a telescope. Image by Avrah Baum.

David Coon is a docent for the San Luis Obispo Parks, and has years of knowledge and wisdom about the butterflies’ migration. “They seem to like this small cluster of trees right here,” Coon says as he points to tall eucalyptus trees with clusters of butterflies clinging to their branches. “It creates a micro-climate for them with the right temperature and humidity that they need to stay alive and fly properly.”

Monarch butterflies come down from the trees to fly when it’s fairly warm; 55 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. Check the weather for the day before deciding to head down because you won’t get the chance to see the butterflies up close if it’s chilly and foggy.

The Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove is a wonderful and unique place to take your children, a friend, or someone on a date. But hurry, because in a couple of weeks, the butterflies will be on their way back north!

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