Lone butterfly in field of flowers at Natural Bridges State Beach

Every year, countless Monarch butterflies make their way south to seek warmer weather, traveling from the more northern states, such as Oregon and Washington, the Rockies, and even the Canadian province of British Columbia. And, every year, the butterflies make their home for several months in the Santa Cruz area. 

Natural Bridges State Beach: Facts & Features

Natural Bridges State Beach is a popular attraction located southwest of the Santa Cruz downtown. It is perhaps most well-known for its spectacular ocean views, tide pools, and rock formations that dot the shoreline. In the warmer months, you’ll often find beachgoers soaking up the sun and people walking down by the water. Dogs, however, are not allowed on the beach, but they are allowed on the paved paths and at the various picnic areas. 

Directly west of the Natural Bridges State Beach is the Moore Creek Wetlands Natural Preserve. While smaller in size, this area does have a walking trail that leads to Moore Creek (but does not lead to the beach). 

Natural Bridges State Beach has five lookout points along its trails, three restroom areas, and four picnic areas. 

Monarch Viewing At The Preserve

Along with its scenic ambiance, Natural Bridges State Beach is also a destination for Monarch butterfly viewing. While the beach is certainly a highlight, the park houses a visitor center and a Monarch Preserve—which includes a boardwalk trail through the eucalyptus grove. This boardwalk is also wheelchair accessible. The visitor center has a small exhibit with more details about the butterfly migration, including some area history. Also within the building is a gift shop. 

Monarch viewing, while perhaps a niche hobby, does draw a significant amount of visitors to Natural Bridges State Beach annually. This includes both locals and those from outside of the city. While the numbers aren’t exact, experts have estimated that this Santa Cruz area sees roughly 10,000 Monarch butterflies during this time of year. However, numbers have dropped significantly over the years, which has worried some. 


Cluster of Monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz

Best Times To See The Butterflies

Those who are interested in seeing the Monarch butterfly migration should be aware of the best time of year to visit. Typically, the butterflies begin to arrive in the autumn—namely around the middle or end of October. The butterflies then hang around through the winter months, and then fly north again around February.

While this is the general timeframe, some years have seen the butterflies leave and arrive earlier, or sometimes later. And so, many advise that the best times to see the butterflies are around late-November or early-December. As well, in colder temperatures, butterflies cluster together up in the trees, and they can be more difficult to see. 

How To Get There

Natural Bridges State Beach is about 10 to 15 minutes from the downtown area, most easily accessed from Highway 1. Alternatively, you can also take West Cliff Drive, which is also where the park entrance is located. Parking at Natural Bridges State Beach is $10 per car, and the Visitor Center is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

The park also offers discounts for seniors and large groups (buses), and the park cautions against disrupting any of the wildlife or plants.


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Posted by Lauren Spencer on
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