Much to do in Morro Bay, CA
We love spending time in Morro Bay, California! It's a peaceful retreat with the great combination of a small town and many nearby natural elements as well.
THE TOWN OF MORRO BAY
The town of Morro Bay was founded by Franklin Riley in 1870. Prior to that time it was inhabited by Spaniards and the native Chumash people. The town now has a population of 10,000, and is part of the County of San Luis Obispo along California's pristine Central Coast.
Morro Strand State Beach is a beautiful place to catch sunsets with the iconic Morro Rock - a 23 million year old, 581 ft./177 meter tall volcanic plug along the Central Coast of California. If you walk carefully, you may find sand dollars washed up on shore. Morro Rock is definitely the Rock of Gibraltar of California!
There are two main shopping and dining districts in Morro Bay - along the waterfront on Embarcadero, and up the hill in town along Morro Bay Boulevard. Some of our favorite shops along Embarcadero include Boat Yard Marketplace with its eclectic collections, The Garden Gallery with beautiful home decor displays and plant life, and The Shell Shop which has the largest collection of seashells on California's Central Coast.
Our two favorite places for breakfast are Buttercup Bakery & Cafe for delicious baked goods and fresh breakfasts, and Dorn's Breakers Cafe for the best hillside views in town of Morro Rock. Daisy's Organic Coffee & Tea has a great view of Morro Rock and also makes great non-dairy smoothies. And our favorite place on Embarcadero for dessert is the little teal house of Sun-N-Buns Bakery & Espresso Bar.
Found primarily during the Winter breeding and nursing months, Morro Bay has a small marina which houses a sizeable population of sea otters. They are between the land and the South "T" Pier, found on Google maps as Morro Bay T Pier (Otter Viewing Area). All year around you'll find otters out in the waters of Morro Bay, just walk to the water's edge and sit and wait for them to appear. They're most active in the early morning and later afternoon. So don't worry if they're not in the otter viewing area.
And, of course, because we love farmer's markets, we highly recommend the Morro Bay Main Street Farmers Market every Saturday between 2:30 - 5:30 pm. If it's still in business (there was a "Business for sale" sign in the window as of this writing), we recommend grabbing a traditional soda fountain drink at Bumble Bee Soda Company on Main Street while you're there.
For lodging we always stay at the Inn at Rose's Landing. It's right in the heart of the waterfront district on Embarcadero. There are fantastic views of Morro Rock and the wildlife of Morro Bay from their bay view rooms. We saw sea otters, pelicans, seagulls, sea lions, and cormorants from our balcony each day. And the sunrises and sunsets were spectacular! But there are many more budget-friendly places to stay in town, especially if you go inland/uphill from the waterfront.
Tip: To transition up the hill from Embarcadero to Morro Bay Boulevard, use the stairs between Front St. and Market Ave. at the base of Morro Bay Blvd. You can find them by searching for Centennial Parkway, City of Morro Bay, which is at the top of the stairs, on Google maps.
CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS
We are lovers of the great outdoors and nature! In Morro Bay, California, that includes Morro Bay State Park, Montana de Oro State Park, Morro Strand State Beach (mentioned under The Town of Morro Bay above), and the San Simeon Elephant Seal rookery (mentioned under Hearst Castle & Elephant Seals below).
Morro Bay State Park
Morro Bay State Park, part of the California State Parks, is a favorite of ours. We love walking along the water from the children's interactive Museum of Natural History and gift shop to the heron rookery. Depending on the time of year, you can spot curlews, sea otters, and harbor seals in the water. And the heron rookery is busiest during the Winter and Spring months with egrets, great blue herons, night herons, and cormorants.
The Marina Peninsula Trail Head, which leads to the Morro Bay State Park Boardwalk, is a great place to go during the Winter months when the adjacent estuary is full of migrating birds. And the nearby Black Hill trail (184 ft. and 0.6 miles from Upper State Park Rd. parking lot, 528 ft. and 1.8 miles from the Lower State park Rd. trailhead) is a great hike up to a viewpoint of the entire bay.
If you want to avoid town and stay near nature, the Inn at Morro Bay is a large bay front motel which borders the Northern boundary of the heron rookery. It's about one mile South of the shopping district on Embarcadero. The rookery can be noisy and smelly in the Spring with all of the fledglings in their nests, so please keep that in mind.
Montaña de Oro State Park
Montana de Oro State Park has many cliffside hiking trails overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Our favorite hangouts there include Spooner's Cove and the eucalyptus groves. Spooner's Cove is a pebble beach with sea plants and small seashells washed up on shore. There are also tide pools on it's Southernmost side. Up above the cove on a cliff is Spooner Ranch House, which has a few picnic tables and is a great place to rest under the shade of the coastal cypress trees.
While in these natural areas we spotted many sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, brown and white pelicans, multiple species of seagulls, cormorants, night herons, osprey, elephant seals, turkey vultures, great blue herons, crabs, starfish, and egrets.
HEARST CASTLE & ELEPHANT SEALS
Hearst Castle, just 30 miles North in San Simeon, California, is impressive! It's a 165 room estate with 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.️ William Randolph Hearst, with architect Julia Morgan, built the retreat he called La Cuesta Encantada, Spanish for “Enchanted Hill,” from the 1920s through the 1940s. The opulence of this estate recreates the splendor of Renaissance Europe.
If it's your first time visiting the estate, we recommend taking the Grand Rooms Tour. This will give you a good overview of the main house (Casa Grande) and grounds. Two additional tours we highly recommend are the Upstairs Suites Tour and the Cottages & Kitchen Tour. The suites tour highlights the bedrooms and guest rooms, as well as the Gothic private study and library. And the cottages tour showcases some of the surrounding guest houses on the property.
Just four miles up the coast from the Hearst Castle exit is the San Simeon Elephant Seal Rookery (Elephant Seal Vista Point on Google maps). We've been there in February and June. In February the mothers are giving birth to their pups and the beach is full of elephant seals. June was more sparse, but there were still elephant seals, including dominant males with their large snouts, on the beach.
SAN LUIS OBISPO
San Luis Obispo, or SLO as the locals call it, is a 13 mile drive inland from Morro Bay. With a population of 47,000, it is the seat for San Luis Obispo County. If you happen to visit Morro Bay and it's cold, overcast, foggy, or raining, San Luis Obispo will likely be sunny and warm. This makes it a great place to visit when the weather in Morro Bay is somewhat less than ideal.
Avila Valley Barn in San Luis Obispo is a favorite of ours. We love visiting with all of our farm animal friends, and we love, love, love their open-air store! Full of fresh baked goods, produce, jams and jellies, dried fruits and nuts, soaps, candles, flowers, sauces and even toys, the open-air store, or stand as they call it, has something for everyone. Also in the store you can purchase fresh lettuce to feed to the barn animals, making this a wonderful family experience. They have a smokehouse, corn stand, tractor pull, and ice cream shop as well.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is one of many historic Spanish missions throughout the state of California. It is the fifth California mission founded by Father Junipero Serra, on September 1, 1772. It's named after Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, France. The mission gift shop and museum are open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 - 4:30. They also provide daily tours at 1:15 pm, 2 pm on Sundays.
The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is a quaint Mediterranean-climate outdoor garden with a nice display garden, colorful children's garden, and gift shop. There are also a few hiking trails around the property.
Madonna Inn, with its extravagant and eclectic decor, has become quite a landmark in town. Originating in 1958, it now has 110 uniquely themed rooms, including rock rooms, waterfall showers, rock fireplaces, European fixtures, and fine furnishings. The inn also has a well-known bakery, coffee shop, dining options, and gift shops. The main lobby, dining, and shops are open to the public. There's also a nice little white picket fence flower garden adjacent to the parking lot.
The main shopping district in town is along Higuera Street, between Carmel and Santa Rosa. There are many shops, restaurants, and cafes. One we recommend is Bliss Cafe. It has vegan fare, take out options, and the best smoothies and acai bowls in town! We strongly recommend you enjoy your meal out back on their outdoor patio adjacent to San Luis Obispo Creek and under the shade of sycamore and redwood trees. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is just across a bridge on the other side of the creek.
Morro Bay and surrounding areas are a welcome respite from the busier cities of California. 200 miles North of Los Angeles or South of San Francisco, this oasis of tranquility will surely leave you feeling rejuvenated. We highly recommend you give this coastal town a try.
For more information on Morro Bay, please visit morrobay.org