Morro Rock

Morro Rock is Morro Bay's iconic landmark.

Just about everyone has an ideal getaway. Some folks have second homes in their favorite go-to locale — like the mountains, the desert, Catalina Island — you can fill in the blank. One of my favorite underappreciated out-of-town retreats has always been Morro Bay, California.

As a frequent visitor to this little town on California’s Central Coast, I understand why folks like Morro Bay so much. The family-friendly ambiance of this town of 11,000 is quite subdued compared with the hustle and bustle of larger cities, such as nearby San Luis Obispo.

Morro Rock walkway

Morro Rock walkway

Morro Bay is easily distinguished from other beach towns by its iconic landmark, Morro Rock. At a height of 580 feet, the distinctive rock is visible from all over town, projecting a well-recognized silhouette. Three distinctive smokestacks from a dormant power plant on the waterfront add to its mystique.


An otter frolics in Morro Bay.

Tourists can meander out to the rock on the recently updated and refurbished boardwalk or via the adjacent bike path. I usually stop to watch a group of otters, collectively known as a “romp,” as they cluster along the shoreline, while ground squirrels and sea gulls play on the rocky shore. The otters float stretched out on their backs with their paws sticking out of the water. It looks like they’re waving at me.

The beach to the north has plenty of wave action to attract surfers, and a sand spit on the south side protects the harbor for calmer water activities.

The whole area is a birder's paradise. On the ocean side of Morro Rock, birding enthusiasts gather to monitor peregrine falcons nesting at the top with fancy telescopes and powerful cameras. Over 200 species of birds have been spotted in this protected area of the Pacific Flyway that reaches from Alaska to South America.

I enjoy watching the bird watchers as much as they enjoy watching the birds. Once, a birder invited me to check out a peregrine nest through his giant scope. I didn’t really see much and, frankly, I think birding would be boring. Sorry.

Bay Cruise

Bay Cruise

The harbor is always busy with fishing boats; you can watch them unload the day’s catch at the docks. Sea lions lounging on other docks will often break out into a barking song, much to their delight of admiring tourists.

A reasonably priced Bay Cruise will take you around the calm waters of the bay and out to the sand spit. From there you can walk across to the other side and see the open waters.

Shell Shop

Nearby on the embarcadero, you’ll find unique little location-oriented places — a shell shop, a skateboard museum, and stores featuring T-shirts or beach attire and sporting paraphernalia. There are plenty of restaurants that serve fresh fish.

Morro Bay Trolley

Morro Bay Trolley

On weekends during the summer, a trolley will take you all over town for a buck-a-ride, or $3 for the day. The trolleys serve North Morro Bay, downtown and the waterfront. Hop off the trolley to play a game of chess on their giant outdoor chess set.

outdoor chess set

Outdoor chess set

On Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day weekends, the Morro Bay Art Association sponsors an Art in the Park Festival at the corner of Morro Bay Boulevard and Harbor Street. The works displayed and sold are a much higher quality than you would imagine. Definitely worth a visit.

Art in the Park

Mornings are often overcast, clearing to gentle sunshine in the afternoons. At times it seems a little too cool, but the 12-mile drive inland to the warmer temps of San Luis Obispo will convince you it’s just right.

Morro Bay is my go-to retreat!

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