Monarch landing
Credit: Morguefile photo by seriousfun

Every year, the children of Pacific Grove, California put on butterfly costumes and march through the city.

This is the annual Butterfly Parade, a tradition that started in 1939 to celebrate the arrival of the monarchs.

The butterflies return to this Central Coast community each October, flying 2,000 miles from their summer home in Canada.

They migrate to a special sanctuary located just off Lighthouse Avenue, the city's main drag. They probably couldn't have chosen a better place to spend the winter. The climate in Pacific Grove is temperate year round. There is no freezing weather and little harsh sunshine. Much of the year a cool fog blankets the scenic seaside city on the Monterey Peninsula, which has ocean views from just about every angle.

These little guests are treated very well in Pacific Grove. They have a nice place to stay and plenty to eat. They keep their tiny bodies warm by clustering in the sanctuary's tall Monterey Pines. There, the locals have also planted nectar-producing flowers for them to feast on.

Various business establishments, such as the Monarch Inn and the Butterfly Grove Inn, are named after the butterflies. The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, located a few blocks away from the Monarch Grove Santuary, has a special Monarchs Come Home Exhibit. You can learn much about these delicate creatures who, somehow, behave like homing pigeons because they never fail to return.

The outdoor sanctuary is open during daylight hours and admission is free. A guide is on duty from noon to 3 p.m.. This is the best time to visit because the sunlight plays upon the butterflies and their bright black and orange wings. You won't see any butterflies if you visit outside of monarch season.

Credit: Morguefile photo by kconnors

Victorians in Pacific Grove

It's said that Pacific Grove, a city of just over 15,000 people, has more Victorian homes per residents than anywhere else in the United States. That is strikingly obvious as you drive or walk (it's a very walkable community) through its streets.

Nearly all of them are in impeccable condition and some of the most beautiful ones in the downtown area have been turned into restaurants and other establishments that cater to the tourist trade. The side streets are also lined with these very pretty "painted ladies."

The city was initially founded, in 1875, as a Methodist summer meeting camp and recreation center. The early houses were built in a Victorian style, considered the height of fashion during that time period. Then others began coming to Pacific Grove because of its incredible scenery and temperate climate.

Cooled by an Alaskan Current

The coastal region is cooled by an Alaskan current, so even in summer you will definitely need a sweater, if not a warmer jacket, especially at night. Even in July and August, don't be too surprised if you also need to run the heater during night, when the cold ocean air comes inland.

It's for this reason that you can dip your toes into the water at Lover's Point, a tiny beach a short walk from the Lighthouse Avenue commercial district. But the water and land temperature are probably too cold to make swimming enjoyable. If you take the coastal drive to Asilomar Beach, on the outskirts of the city, you may see surfers out in the water. But they're protected by insulating wet suits.

Another reason to stay on shore, especially if you have young children, is the dangerously strong undertow in the waters near Monterey Bay.

Dining in Pacific Grove

There are dozens of restaurants in this resort city, and nearly all of them are good. Competition is very healthy when it comes to dining, because a mediocre eatery won't last long here.

Just about every ethnic cuisine can be found, including Italian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, French continental and, of course, California-style cuisine. If I had to pick one favorite restaurant, hands down, it would be Peppers Mexicali Cafe on Forest Avenue., which serves among the best Mexican food this side of the Rio Grande. You can also find Spanish-style paella there.

In general, the food served in Pacific Grove is very fresh. Much of it is caught just offshore. Local seafood specialties include California halibut, Pacific herring, Dungeness crab, abalone and calamari, otherwise known as squid.

Pacific Grove is also close to the Salinas Valley, nicknamed "America's Salad Bowl." That's because much of the lettuce consumed in the United States is grown there.

Other local specialties include artichokes from nearby Castroville, the "Artichoke Center of the World" and garlic from Gilroy, the "Garlic Capital of the World."

Be sure to try roasted elephant garlic as an appetizer or side of vegetable. This is a super large and aptly named species of garlic that's extremely mild, so you don't mind eating entire cloves at once.

Sweeping ocean views
Credit: Morguefile photo by Seemann

Pacific Grove is a Charming Seaside Resort

It is hard to put into words the many charms of Pacific Grove. Its distinctive Victorian architecture, ocean setting and forest that extends to the coast make an unbeatable combination. The weather is perfect, if you like fog and cool mist. Occasionally you'll get a day that's sunny and even a little bit warm.

When that happens, at the end of the day, head to Asilomar Beach. That's where the locals gather to watch the sunset when the weather cooperates. Because it's often foggy, especially toward the end of the day, a clear view of the sun dipping into the Pacific Ocean is extra special.

If you do decide to visit Pacific Grove, or PG as the locals like to call it, make sure not to touch the monarchs or to try to capture one for a souvenir. It is illegal to disturb the butterflies and you could get slapped with a $1,000 fine.