Each year, millions of animals embark on an incredible journey from their winter habitats to their summer breeding grounds for spring migration. It is a time of great excitement and wonder as the air is filled with the sounds of birds and the waters are teeming with great whales and other sea creatures on their journey. Especially this year with so much rain, the landscape of California has been transformed and brought forth so much new life, making it a particularly great year to witness these stunning animals in migration!

In California, the spring migration is especially spectacular due to the wide variety of animals making the journey through the state.The two most well known however, are the Monarch Butterfly and the Gray Whale, drawing particularly sizable crowds to the coasts and the forests to witness their great journey! Let’s take a look at these two animals and their migrations, as well as a few other animals who migrate through California every year!

Monarch Butterflies Migration

 Monarch Butterfly California

The monarch butterfly is a symbol of California and its annual spring migration. These stunning insects migrate all the way from their wintering grounds in Mexico to the fertile soil of California to breed. When the Monarch butterflies hatch from their cocoons, it’s a once in a lifetime spectacle as hundreds of thousands of butterflies cover the sky. In fact, we've had the personal experience of watching a huge swarm of them fly over our very own home after they hatched in Malibu.

Where to see Monarch Butterflies Migration in California: Some of the best places to see Monarch butterflies in California include Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, Natural Bridges State Beach, and Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove. These are some of the places they’ve been known to hatch and accumulate. You can also plant MilkWeed on your property to attract the Butterflys!

Best time to see Monarch Butterflies Migration: The Monarch butterfly migration in California usually takes place between November and February, with peak sightings occurring in December and January.

Tips for observing Monarch Butterflies Migration: To observe Monarch butterflies migration, it is best to visit their breeding grounds early in the morning on a sunny day. Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress in layers, as California mornings can be chilly in the spring. Make sure to bring binoculars, a camera, and a water bottle to stay hydrated!

Gray Whale Migration

Gray Whale California

Gray whales are another iconic animal that migrates through California each spring. These marine mammals travel thousands of miles from their winter breeding grounds in Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska, making California a prime viewing spot to see this migration all along its coast. 

Where to see Gray Whale Migration in California: Almost everywhere along the California coast you’re guaranteed views of the Gray Migration. However, some of the best places to see Gray whales in California include Point Reyes National Seashore where you can also enjoy the viewings of the elephant seals, Monterey Bay, or for those who are more adventerous, catch a ferry out to the Channel Islands and Channel Islands National Park.

Best time to see Gray Whale Migration: The Gray whale migration in California usually takes place between December and May, with peak sightings occurring in January and February.

Tips for observing Gray Whale Migration: To observe Gray whales migration, it is best to take a boat tour or go to a designated viewing area. Make sure to dress warmly as it can often get chilly on the boat. Bring binoculars and a camera in case the whales are at a distance from the boat!
Other Spring Migrations

Although monarch butterflies and Gray whales get the most attention, they aren't the only spring migrants to California. There are many others that make this great journey through the Golden State every year!

Other Notable Animals

Western Tanagers: These strikingly colored birds breed in the western United States and Canada and spend their winters in Mexico and Central America. They can be spotted in California in the spring, particularly in the mountains and forests.

Western Tanager California

Bats: Bat populations in California also migrate during the spring season. The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is a great place to see these nocturnal creatures.

California Bat

Elephant Seals: Elephant seals migrate along the California coast, with the largest population residing in Ano Nuevo State Park in Northern California.

California Elephant Seal

Orcas: Killer whales, or orcas, are another species that frequents the waters off the California coast during the spring. Monterey Bay is a particularly good place to see them.

Killer Whale California

Tule Elk: Tule elk, a subspecies of elk native to California, migrate to different areas of the state during the spring season to breed and give birth to their young. Some of the best places to see them include Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Point.

California Tule Elk

The spring migrations of animals in California offer a truly spectacular natural phenomenon to witness. From the iconic Monarch butterfly to the majestic Gray whale, California is home to a diverse range of animals that make their annual journey through the state. Whether you're an avid wildlife enthusiast or simply appreciate the beauty of nature, observing these migrations is an unforgettable experience that is not to be missed.