Morro Bay

Morro Bay

Only a hop, skip and a jump from San Luis Obispo, actually sixteen miles northwest, Morro Bay is a picturesque, quintessential beach town. Small shops and galleries line the Embarcadero. Aged, rustic boats bob in the water along the wharf. Morro Bay has the ambiance of a charming fishing village not a resort community. Don’t let it fool you, though. There are comfortable hotels, fine restaurants with tasty, fresh seafood and enough outdoor activities to keep you busy for days.

The heart of this Central California coastal city is of course, Morro Rock, rising 576 feet, just north of the bay’s marina. The huge volcanic rock is visible for miles around the coast and has been used as a landmark for sailors since its discovery by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in the 16th century. Today, Morro Rock is a protected ecological sanctuary for the previously endangered peregrine falcon, whose name means, “wanderer.” (They were removed from the Endangered Species list in 1999.) Nearly eradicated on the East Coast by DDT pesticide use in the mid-twentieth century, the birds have made a comeback in the west. Populations of the birds have been reestablished in protected areas like Morro Rock. Be advised that there is no climbing on the rock allowed except by native Chumash. No one is permitted to disturb the nesting birds. Bring binoculars to view the graceful, long winged birds as they dart and dive over Morro Rock.

The Morro Bay Estuary is 2300 acres, fed by the convergence of the Chorro and Los Osos Creeks merging with the Pacific Ocean and protected by a long sand spit. The habitat is important as a nursery, nourishing the larvae and fry of steelhead trout and other fish species that begin life in the shallow waters and eventually make their way out to sea. The Morro Bay Estuary was the first of five areas in California to be protected under the Marine Life Protection Act, as veritable underwater State Parks, and the estuary is one of 124 protected marine areas around the world. For more information on the Morro Bay National Estuary Program go to:

The beaches here are clean, uncrowded and the surf is cold but the waves are gentle. Sand dollars can frequently be found in the surf line. If body surfing in a wet suit is not your thing, try taking a water taxi to the sand spit to stroll the trail. Kayaks are for rent at the Kayak Shack to cruise the waters around the mudflats. There are also boat tours, whale watching excursions in the winter months, dinner cruises, and even sub sea tours in yellow submersibles with wide viewing windows for unobstructed views of the abundant sea life and the kelp forest at the north end of the Morro Bay harbor. Sub Sea Tours offers 45 minute harbor tours in a semi-submersible vessel. Prices range from $14 for adults, $11 for students and seniors, $7 for children 3 to 12. (805) 772-9463

Every year in early December, locals deck out their boats with lights and decorations for the Christmas boat parade, a very popular event that draws hundreds of people to the bay.

Below Black Mountain Golf Course, south of the tranquil Inn at Morro Bay (which has accommodations with great views of the ocean) is Morro Bay State Park. Along with a campground and RV park is the Morro Bay Natural History Museum, with dioramas and exhibits that illustrate the multifaceted estuary ecosystem, geology and animal life of the bay. A great place to take the family. Ranger led nature walks are available at the museum, too. For information call (805) 772-2694.

Use your binoculars to look up into the trees just north of the museum on State Park Road, at the edge of the water to see great blue herons perched on their nests in the tops of the eucalyptus grove. This rookery is also used by Black Crowned Night Herons as well as Great and Snowy Egrets. Morro Bay is halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, a resting stop on the Pacific Flyway, the Western migration path of hundreds of species of birds. During early January, the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival is a major American birding event drawing avian aficionados from across the nation.

Besides the outdoor opportunities, Morro Bay has the freshest local seafood. Below the golf course, in the little marina, is the upscale Bay Café, a real find for the lightest, flakiest fish and chips, gourmet fish tacos, nachos, salmon sandwiches, and bacon wrapped albacore skewers.

At the other end of town, near Morro Rock, is the Great American Fish Company. A long time local favorite, the seaside restaurant has the freshest fish along with reasonable prices. Their tangy sweet, red cabbage salad will make your mouth water long after you’ve tried it, just from the memory of that yummy side dish. Whether for lunch or dinner, get a window seat for views of Morro Rock, graceful pelicans, and sea lions playfully swimming in the harbor.