See Wintering Monarchs at Lighthouse Field State Beach

Santa Cruz, Ca – From mid-October to mid-February, the trees in this park are shelter to thousands of migrating Monarch butterflies. Any other month of the year, this park offers beautiful sunset views and a glimpse at Santa Cruz’s radical surf history.

Species to Look Out For

monarch circle

Monarch Butterfly

About the Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – State Beach

Science Spotlight: Wintering Monarch Butterflies

Just like birds, there is one butterfly that make an annual migration to warmer temperatures. Each year, the monarch butterfly makes its way south to escape freezing temperatures.

Monarchs use environmental cues such as shortened days and colder temperatures to signal that the migration is ready to begin. Two populations of monarch butterflies migrate: one population east of the Rocky Mountains, and one to the west. The eastern population travels all the way down to Central Mexico, with some individuals traveling as far as 3,000 miles.

The western population has an overwintering site right in Santa Cruz at Lighthouse Field State Beach. There, in down the path in an unassuming field, hundreds of monarchs congregate together to stay warm.

Yet this amazing phenomenon faces a sad reality: monarchs have faced declines over the past 20 years, and 2018 marked the lowest count in 5 years for the California population. Factors such as loss of flowers, degradation of stopover sites along their migration, and the loss of overwintering habitat in Mexico contribute to their decline. For more information on the monarch butterfly migration and their decline, check out our article.

Overwintering Monarch Butterflies
© 2011, Photo Library (Flickr), some rights reserved.

Park History

Aside from being an incredible beacon for California natural history, the state beach is home to California’s first surfing museum in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse.

Visit the Park

Before visiting, please note that the monarch butterflies are only present from mid-October to mid-February.

During your visit, we recommend checking out the monarch butterflies in the grove of trees out in the field. We also recommend stopping by the lighthouse and surfing museum across the street from the parking lot, as well as scenic views of surfers catching waves off the coast.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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Enjoy a Beach Day at Natural Bridges State Beach

Santa Cruz, Ca – Home to thousands of migrating monarch butterflies from mid-October to mid-February, Natural Bridges State Beach offers an amazing view into an important piece of California’s natural history.

Species to Look Out For

About the Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – State Beach

Science Spotlight: State Marine Reserve at Natural Bridges

California was the first state in the nation to implement an expanse of Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) along its coastline following the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999. Similar to a National Forest or National Park that protects areas on land, MPA’s work to protect marine areas from the effects of humans. MPA’s work to protect entire habitats from harm – rather than protecting just a single species.

Implemented in September of 2007, Natural Bridges is 1 of 29 protected marine areas along California’s Central Coast, and 1 of 124 areas in the state. It spans 0.25 square miles, spanning 4.1 miles along the shore. Natural Bridges is a State Marine Reserve, meaning that it is restricted from the recreational or commercial removal of all marine resources. The MPA was put in place primarily to protect the intertidal zone of the area.

Park History

Spanish colonization of the Natural Bridges State Beach area brought an era of changing ownership to the land that was once home to the Ohlone Native Americans. From the arrival of the Spanish onwards, the land was a brussel sprout farm, the site of a movie set, and an unfinished housing development. The ownership ceased changing hands in 1933, when the land was purchased by the state of California.

In 1983, the park also set aside the monarch grove as a natural preserve so that the area remains protected for future generations of monarchs and human patrons.

Visit the Park

Recommended Hike: Monarch Trail (0.6 miles)

Please note that there is a $10 vehicle day-use fee. Dogs are not allowed on beaches or trails. Please also note that the monarch butterflies will only be present from mid-October to mid-February.

When visiting during the monarch migration season (mid-October – mid-February), we recommend taking the Monarch Trail to experience the amazing sights of the migrating butterflies. You have the option to connect to the Moore Creek Trail after viewing the monarchs, which ends at the beach.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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