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Monarch Butterflies at Pismo Beach


Each year, tens of thousands of Monarch butterflies migrate to Pismo Beach, California, to escape the harsh winters of the great white north. We came upon Pismo Beach entirely by fluke (or fate, depending on how you see things).

But first, let me tell you about the butterflies…

PismoBeach02The Monarchs come from west of the Rocky Mountains in Canada and northeastern US. They pack up and leave in late August/early September to make sure that they arrive at Pismo Beach by October.

Monarch butterflies travel as far as 3,200 km (2,000 mi), covering 160 km (100 mi) per day. The migration lasts longer than the lifetime of a monarch, which means that a baby born mid-migration has to make it to Pismo Beach alone.

From October to February, 35,000 butterflies settle in a grove of Eucalyptus trees along the coastal dunes. They cluster together on the tree branches, forming these dangling masses.

(Photo on left is from an interpretive sign at Pismo Beach State Park)




I can’t really describe how freaky these butterfly clusters are, so here’s a video:

Monarchs instinctively come to Pismo Beach for food (the nectar of flowers) and for the microclimate of the tree grove, which offers just the right temperature, humidity, light, and protection from the elements.


We found Pismo Beach based on a somewhat random series of events…

After dropping Lucky off at GoWesty for rehab, we turned off the GPS and drove toward the coast to find a sandy beach where we could sit and watch the waves.

We ended up at Shell Beach, which is actually a very rocky area with steep cliffs that prevent access to the water.


The view was gorgeous, but it wasn’t the kind of beach I was looking for. I looked across the bay and pointed to huge sand dunes in the distance. “That’s where I want to go,” I said.

As we drove south, I saw a sign for Pismo Beach. Seeing the sign immediately took me back to my childhood and this Bugs Bunny cartoon:

All this time, I actually thought that Pismo Beach was an imaginary place created by Looney Tunes. It was real! And we were approaching the turn-off!!

“Turn right now!” I hollered to Gregor.

“Which way, left or right?” Gregor asked.

“RIGHT!” I yelled as we blew past the intersection.

Frustrated, Gregor explained to me that I didn’t properly emphasize the direction.

He thought I said:
“TURN, right now”

instead of:
“Turn RIGHT, now”

After a heated debate over the quality of my diction, Gregor decided that we should give future directions in more of a ‘GPS-style’ speech:
“Now, turn right.”

“Fine,” I snapped, crossing my arms and turning my head away.

That’s when I spotted the sign:


I couldn’t believe it. One of our big goals on this Pan-American journey was to see a butterfly migration site. Here it was! And we were approaching the turn-off!!

“Butterflies! There!” I yelled.

And in my best Stephen Hawking voice: “Now, turn right.”

Gregor gracefully took the next right and I navigated him back to the parking area of the butterfly grove. I guess his little speech lesson worked.

When we entered the grove, we saw tens of thousands of butterflies dangling from the trees.


We got to the butterfly grove just before sunset.



You could say that we came to Pismo Beach by chance. I like to think we came here on instinct, just like the butterflies. The temperature, humidity, and light is just right for us.


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7 thoughts on “Monarch Butterflies at Pismo Beach

  1. Nikki

    Love this! That’s so neat I love the cartoon, videos, pictures and narrative. You were definitely meant to be there ( your manifesting powers of thoughts of butterflies and beaching are working lol). The butterfly video is neat and I enjoy reading about your funny conflict resolutions styles. I think one of the most memorable moments on my se asia trip were getting lost on a mountain, fighting with alan on the direction we needed to go and then finding the most beautiful outlook no one could imagine to find. This is where we learned to tell eachother that we are not angry but hangry. Thanks for sharing:)

    1. Janice Post author

      Thanks for the feedback, Nikki. Yeah, getting lost isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you keep it together 🙂

  2. Tim & Cidallia

    Fantastic moment ! woaw….. was there a ” Tyrex” time ?
    did Gregor forgot is razor ? just saying

    1. Janice Post author

      Ha ha. No ‘T-Rex’ while navigating. Otherwise, I’ll be walking behind the van most of the way to Argentina.

  3. Janice S.

    Love, love, love that you saw a monarch butterfly migration site. I would *love* to visit one, one day! I also love the description of you and Gregor bickering about your navigation skills. You guys are too funny.

    Sweet pic of the two of you at the end.

    1. Janice Post author

      We thought we would try to find a migration site in Mexico, but the butterflies here were amazing. I highly recommend a visit if you ever come to central California.

      I think marriage counselors should make couples do road trip navigation exercises – what better way to improve communication!