Spot Beautiful Butterflies At This Stunning California Beach State Park

On California's Central Coast lies Santa Cruz, an iconic and beloved beach town. Due to its proximity to San Francisco, it's the perfect day trip destination from the city. Outdoor activities highlighting Santa Cruz's lively ecosystem and natural scenery are central to its many attractions. This includes Lighthouse Field State Beach. Located less than 10 minutes from Downtown Santa Cruz, Lighthouse Field State Beach is your average coastal park. It has gorgeous ocean views, picnic tables, and trails that can be used for hiking or biking. Likewise, sea lions and other wildlife sightings are typical. Within the park, you'll also find a must-visit for surfers: the small but free Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.

However, every winter, something incredible happens: Monarch butterflies travel to Santa Cruz and end up at Lighthouse Field State Beach. Referred to as an overwintering site, Lighthouse Field State Beach is one of the most significant locations west of the Rocky Mountains, per Groundswell Coastal Ecology. Why, you ask? Freezing temperatures are deadly to Monarch butterflies, known for their vibrant orange and black hues. Thus, they leave the Western U.S. for Santa Cruz's mild climate starting in October. The creatures then make a temporary home in the park's eucalyptus trees.

Where to see Monarch butterflies at Lighthouse Field State Beach

Lighthouse Field State Beach becomes significantly populated with butterflies in November. However, if you can't make it that month, no problem. Just make sure you visit before late February, as this is when the butterflies leave and head north to lay eggs. Another tip? If you want to see the butterflies in flight, make sure the temperature is above 60 degrees; the butterflies are less likely to fly if it's colder than that. In 2023, the Monarch butterflies began appearing at the park in late October and early November.

Regardless of whether they are in the air or the trees, the best butterfly viewing spot at Lighthouse Field State Beach is in a field near the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. The museum is also a lighthouse and cannot be missed.

According to research, the butterfly population at Lighthouse Field State Beach dropped steeply between the 1990s and 2017. However, Lighthouse Field State Beach is taking steps to ensure the butterflies return each winter. This includes taking diligent care of the eucalyptus trees and other natural resources. Lighthouse Field State Beach is open every day from 7 a.m. to sunset. Several free parking lots are available at the park.