Tucked between Monterey and Carmel, the little town of Pacific Grove has the seaside scenery of its two popular neighbors, but a small-town ambience with quaint walkable neighborhoods, charming inns, and a historic lighthouse. It also boasts, for about five months a year, an attractive seasonal community: thousands upon thousands of monarch butterflies, which flock to a migration sanctuary just a few blocks from the ocean. For nature-lovers and families, this free attraction is an easy-access marvel.
Unlike the monarchs that live east of the Rocky Mountains (which tend to winter in central Mexico), West Coast monarchs stick with the Golden State. While there are roughly 400 wintering sites for the butterflies along the California coastline, this eucalyptus-shaded sanctuary (monarchs seem to love the willowy trees) has been ranked in the top 6 of the state’s wintering spots.
If you visit between October and February, you’ll see the orange-and-black butterflies resting on the branches in massive clumps—at first glance, you may think they’re orange leaves or blossoms. When the temperature is in the mid-50s or cooler, the butterflies stay surprisingly still. Just don’t touch them—there’s a city ordinance about it, with a hefty fine—but you can ask on-site docents for a closer look with their viewing scopes. Afterward, walk along the rocky coast and preserved dunes at Asilomar State Beach.