From tiny gardens to large sanctuaries, the potential for butterfly watching in the Bay is ample and varied! With paper-thin wings that display some of the most beautiful patterns in nature, it’s easy to see why these colorful creatures enchant kids of all ages. We are lucky to live among the highest density of endangered butterflies in the country – here’s where you’re sure to spot plenty of the many species that thrive in our area: 

Nectar Garden in Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont
Like a secret garden in a storybook, this enclosed sanctuary includes steps, pathways, and little benches on which to sit and watch delicate, winged creatures fluttering among the flowers. For the little ones, the Nectar Gardens a nice break from the longer trails along Coyote Hills’ marsh and grasslands, and several of the naturalist-led programs take place in here. The garden is free to enter. 

Monarch Grove Sanctuary, Pacific Grove
If your little ones are in a butterfly-watching groove, then a visit to “Butterfly Town” is an absolute must. That’s the nickname for Pacific Grove, the overwintering destination of over 25,000 monarch butterflies. Their favorite spot is in the eucalyptus trees of Monarch Grove Sanctuary. Though the best time to see the butterflies is between October and February, Monarch Grove Sanctuary is open year round and free to enter. (Closer to home, there are various, smaller monarch butterfly overwintering sites, such as Ardenwood Historic Farm and Pt. Pinole Regional Shoreline.)

Strawberry Hill Butterfly Habitat, San Francisco
Since September of 2010, the Strawberry Hill Butterfly Habitat Restoration Project has maintained a vibrant habitat for swallowtail butterflies on Golden Gate Park’s highest peak. Take the kids for a walk with the butterflies in the oak woodland or better yet, sign up for the ongoing volunteer project. Free to enter.

Hallberg Butterfly Gardens, Sebastopol
Bring snacks and comfy shoes for a visit to this nine-acre experience highlighted with meadows, flowering pathways, and regular sightings of over fifteen butterfly species. Guided, kid-friendly tours are available by appointment April through October, when they open to the public. Free to visit.

Crissy Field Marsh, San Francisco
Habitat restoration has made Crissy Field Marsh in the Presidio home to the Western Pygmy Blue, North America’s smallest butterfly. Guided tours of the habitat are often offered; or, walk on your own along the Presidio’s Golden Gate Promenade to see how many of the little critters you or the kids can spot – they’re just over a centimeter long!

Fort Baker, San Francisco
Fort Baker is a whopping 335 acres, and chances are you’ve been here for everything from beach combing to a visit to the popular Bay Area Discovery Museum. Did you also know that Fort Baker is an official habitat for the endangered Mission Blue butterfly? Head out for an adventure with the family on one of several Fort Baker trails, and enjoy sightings of this petite, periwinkle beauty.

-Renee Macalino Rutledge

photo courtesy of SF Bay Wildlife