October marks the return of the Monarch butterfly to the California coast, and one of the largest concentrations of these amber-colored beauties is at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz. They’ve journeyed 1,500 miles from the Rocky Mountains in search of mild temperatures, and from now through March you can see them resting on their leafy coastal thrones. Commonly spotted in eucalyptus trees, the butterflies flit and flutter among the branches in warmer weather (55 degrees or higher); when the temperatures dip, they move into huddles so thick the trees look more like shingled roofs. At Natural Bridges, visitors walk a few minutes down the Monarch Boardwalk into the forest to the grand “Monarch Resting Area,” on a wooden platform. It’s a winged wonderland.
TIP: The butterfly season officially kicks off Oct. 12 with “Welcome Back Monarchs Day.” The family-friendly celebration includes parades, live music, and of course a costume contest. (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
There is an $8 entrance fee. Docents with Natural Bridges State Beach lead 1-hour tours of the Monarchs on the weekends at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. through February. Dogs are allowed in the park, but not on the trails or on the beach.