This post discusses in detail things to do in Morro Bay, a unique beach town located along California’s Central Coast.
It is not a secret. I am a big fan of California’s Central Coast.
I feel very blessed to live relatively close to places such as Santa Barbara and Big Sur. Those names seem to appear a lot of travel magazines and it feels good when industry professionals praise places you are familiar with.
However, it is not all about those high coveted locales. The Central Coast is full of small beach towns, rugged coastline, scrumptious seafood and unique features.
If you ask me what my favorite spot is, I will not think twice about it. I will say loud and clear: Morro Bay!
That is why I felt elated when my husband asked me if I wanted to visit the town a few weeks ago. Technically, we were in winter but Californians love to spend time on the beach even during winter.
We had a phenomenal time revisiting favorites and getting to know new places. And, with weather in the high 70s, we couldn’t ask for more!
Today, I want to give you some insight into the things to do, see and eat in Morro Bay. After getting to know this place better, you may feel the urge to visit.
About the Area’s Geography
Morro Bay is unique because of one feature: Morro Rock, a 581 foot (177 m) volcanic plug (landform created when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano). A causeway (or sand spit) connects it to the shore.
The Rock is part of a chain of nine volcanic peaks known as the Nine Sisters of San Luis Obispo County.
A bay is formed by Morro Rock and a five-mile-long spit of sand. This unique arrangement gives life to all sorts of ecosystems (marshes, estuaries, coves, etc.). The nice thing is that a wide variety of flora and fauna is within easy reach of the public.
Morro Rock cannot be climbed (you can climb the other sisters) since it is the habitat of the protected peregrine falcon, the fastest bird in the world. They can reach speeds of 242 mph. Wow! My brain cannot comprehend that!
Things to Do in Morro Bay
The list of things to do in Morro Bay is vast. Reserves, preserves, and parks abound. Therefore, several days should be spent around the Rock in order to take in all the natural beauty. In addition, remember this small town is the perfect base to visit other equally fascinating (and famous), nearby attractions.
The Visitor Center (695 Harbor Street) in town is excellent. I recommend you pay them a visit for maps, brochures and general information about the area. They can help you with any question you have.
Stroll the Embarcadero
The area to shop, eat and play is the Embarcadero. On a visit to town, you are going to find yourself visiting this spot many times.
This walkway, right in front of the water, has restaurants selling super fresh seafood, galleries, sweets shops, piers, benches and a Skateboard Museum. In addition, outfitters rent kayaks, paddleboards, surreys, and bikes.
Of course, magnificent views of Morro Rock are visible along the way. Ohh, and you are probably going to hear the sea lions “barking.” Those dudes love to draw attention to them.
Take a Closer Look at Morro Rock
Continue walking on the Embarcadero towards Coleman Drive and you are going to make it to the base of Morro Rock. You can drive to the Rock but walking is way more fun. It is very interesting (and eye-opening) to see the Rock from up close. I don’t think you understand its massiveness until it is in front of you.
From the distance, the Rock appears to have a very smooth surface and curvy shape. But, when you get close, you discover how its outside is all jagged. There is even some vegetation among the big boulders. There is a fine sand beach at the end of the walk. Go ready if you want to take a dip and spend some time around.
Don’t give all your attention to the Rock. Take a look at the water too. This is an ideal place to spot sea otters. There were more than 20 floating when I visited. It was too cute to see them together. Some of them even hold hands (because they do not want to drift away). A group of others is called a raft.
Like I mentioned, the Embarcadero is paradise for those who love outdoor activities.
Kayak Horizons, Rock Kayak and A Kayak Shack rent kayaks and paddleboards. Farmer’s Kites, Surreys & More rent surreys, and bikes. Several hotels lend bikes to guests.
If you are looking for a slower pace activity, you can take a harbor or whale watching cruise. These will take you closer to sea lions, harbor seals, otters, and other sea mammals. Signs, prices ($10 – $15) and times can be seen along the Embarcadero.
Fishing excursions are available too.
Check the Old Town and Murals
Even if you love to be close to the water, I suggest you take a few hours to explore Morro Bay’s Old Town. In there, you will find antique and vintage shops, cool cafés, hotels, colorful murals and more restaurants selling excellent food. You are getting the idea why I like this place so much!
Morro Bay Boulevard and Main Streets are the most transited thoroughfares. A farmer’s market takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays. Support locals if you are in town!
Hike to the Top of Black Hill
Black Hill is one of the Nine Sisters of San Luis Obispo. At 661 feet, it is the easiest one to summit. You can drive to the trailhead and walk the 2-mile (round trip) trail.
I am not the fittest person out there and I found the walk pretty easy. The best thing is that once at the top, you have a 360-degree view of your surroundings. You can see the city of Morro Bay, Morro Rock, the Estuary, Cayucos and the inland part of the county. So, this is a great place to warm up for some Morro Bay hiking.
Hike Cerro Cabrillo Peak Too
Now, if you are up for a more challenging hike, I recommend going to the top of Cerro Cabrillo Peak. On this 2.3 mile (roundtrip) trail, get prepared to gain about 800 meters of elevation. The hike is rated moderate but the area near the top has loose terrain. Some scrambling may be required.
Because of the conditions, bring appropriate footwear. Plus, pay attention when going down. You do not want to slip here.
Morro Bay State Park
This park protects a lagoon, estuary, saltwater marsh, and heron rookery. Features include walking trails, a marina, a golf course, a campsite (seasonal) and water sports rentals.
The onsite Museum of Natural History offers nature walks, exhibits, lectures, videos, and special events.
Find more information about the park here.
Morro Strand State Beach
This three-mile stretch of beach offers picnic sites and a campsite right in front of the water. I have camped in here and waking up to see Morro Rock bathed in the morning light is an excellent experience. This place is ideal for walking, jogging, windsurfing and kite flying.
If you intend to camp and cannot find a spot at the state beach, Morro Dunes RV Park has tent sites (about the same price of the government-owned spots).
Find more information about the park here.
Montaña de Oro State Park
You will need to excuse me because I am a bit biased. To me, Montaña de Oro is one of the most beautiful state parks in California. That means I am going to encourage you (to the max) to visit. This place has some of the most astonishing coastal features I have seen. The volcanic activity in the area created pure magic.
Montaña de Oro means “Mountain of Gold” in Spanish. The flower responsible for the name is the California Poppy. During spring, the vibrant orange flowers cover dunes, coves and mountain skirts with an incandescent hue.
The park consists of 8,000 acres (32 km²) of cliffs, sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills, including the 1,347 ft. (411 m) Valencia Peak. The park has many hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails, as well as a campground located across from Spooner’s Cove, a popular beach.
Time is needed to see the highlights of this park. At least, first-time visitors need to see Spooner’s Cove, walk part of the Bluff Trail and see the tidepools of Corallina Cove. More than a day can be spent in here so, plan accordingly.
Find more information about the park here.
If you drive all the way to the end of the main road in Montaña de Oro, you are going to see a sign leading you to the Point Buchon Trail.
The sign let you know you are leaving state property and entering private property. The trail and adjacent property is owned by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. They use the area as a buffer zone for their Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant. The company opened the trail to the public in 2007. You have to sign a document releasing the owners of responsibility for any injuries acquired inside the property.
The entire trail has a 6.25 miles round trip length. There is a 1 1/3 mile loop for those who are looking for something shorter. I have done the short loop and hope to do the entire route one day. This is another stunner! I am not kidding when I say the beauty in here can be overwhelming.
Photos by Mike Baird
This 90-acre area along a one-mile boardwalk protects coastal dune scrub, pygmy oak woodland, and maritime chaparral. A pamphlet located at the different trailheads has details about the points of interest around the loop.
The “Elfin” name refers to the stunted height of the oaks present in the preserve. Coast Live Oaks can grow up to 50 feet tall. In here, height is limited to 12 feet because of the dune environment. These oaks are about 200 years old and it is difficult to determine how many are in a groove because of twisty trunks.
This is a beautiful place that will teach you about the flora, fauna and early inhabitants of the area (which found plenty to eat in a habitat like this).
Note: Montaña de Oro, Point Buchon, and the Elfin Forest are located in Los Osos, an unincorporated community located next to Morro Bay.
Watch the Rock During Sunset
No visit to town is complete without seeing how the sun hides behind Morro Rock in the early evening. Time your visit so you can enjoy this wonderful spectacle.
Where to Eat in Morro Rock
Breakfast Morro Bay
There is a lot to do in Morro Bay but there is a lot to eat too.
For full American breakfast, you can stop by Kitty’s Kitchen. If you are in the mood for a crab and shrimp omelet, you have to stop by Carla’s Country Kitchen.
For a fun twist to traditional dishes and healthy options, visit Frankie and Lola’s Café.
What about tacos for breakfast? If you are craving them, Taco de Mexico is the place for you.
Lunch and Dinner Morro Bay
If you are a seafood lover (like me), get ready to indulge in oysters, clams, mussels, crab cakes, fish tacos, clam chowder, fish and chips in places like Dutchman’s, The Galley and Tognazzini’s.
For fresh (or prepared) seafood, stop by Giovanni’s Fish Market. Get prepared for long lines though.
If you do not do seafood (why?), get prepared for burgers at House of Juju, French dip sandwiches at Hofbrau, BBQ at Brickhouse, pizza at Pizza Port, sushi at Harada and pad thai at Thai Bounty. Vegans (and non-vegans) rave about Shine Café.
On the sweet side, the city has lovely places such as Crills, Buttercup Bakery, Dolly’s Donuts, La Parisienne Bakery, and Grandma’s Frozen Yogurt.
Nearby Towns and Attractions
If this is not fun enough, remember there is a lot more to see close to Morro Bay. In less than an hour, you can reach multiple attractions and town with a wide plethora of things to do.
Here are some ideas:
Cerro Alto Campground (9 miles) – Highway 41 (connecting Morro Bay and Atascadero) passes through a section of Los Padres National Forest. On that area, you will find the Cerro Alto Campground, a spot close to hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails. The eponymous 4-mile trail (the most notorious in the area) offers 360-degree views of beaches and valleys.
El Chorro Regional Park (8 miles) – This spot offers campgrounds, picnic sites, volleyball courts, softball fields, horseshoe pits, and hiking trails. It is located close to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Park and a dog park.
San Luis Obispo (14 miles) – The head of the county, a university town, is full of historical landmarks, restaurants, cafes, and museums.
Avila Beach (23 miles) – Avila Beach is one of my favorite beach towns in California. It is quiet and not overrun with visitors. In there, you will find hot springs, apple orchards, wine tasting views, opportunities to get close wildlife and wonderful views.
Pismo Beach (26 miles) – Pismo is a paradise for those who enjoy riding off-road vehicles. South of town you can ride these type of vehicles on the sand (you can camp too). In addition, the town offers pier strolls, a monarch butterfly grove and all the clam chowder you can eat.
Cayucos (6 miles) – Cayucos, a laid-back town located north of Morro Bay, offers miles of beach, tidepools, a pier, smoked tacos, and cookies.
Cambria (21 miles) – Cambria is one of the prettiest towns on this stretch of coast. The town itself shows European architectural details and the natural reserves within cities limits offer astounding views of the beach and mountains.
San Simeon (29 miles) – Since this is home of Hearst Castle, I recommend not missing this town. It is not only about the castle. There are many more things to do (including elephant seals viewing).
How to Reach Morro Bay
Morro Bay is located between Los Angeles (213 miles) and San Francisco (232 miles) in San Luis Obispo County. It is located 14 miles from the city of San Luis Obispo (head of the county), 119 miles from Santa Barbara and 143 miles from Monterey.
The closest airport is located in San Luis Obispo. If you are considering flying, the Santa Barbara airport may be a better option. Anyway, both of these airports are small. Most visitors arrive by car (since major airports are located more than 200 miles away
- Morro Bay is ideal for those who want to have a budget vacation or getaway. Things in here cost way less than in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Santa Barbara. Most of my recommendations are free of charge. Plus, it is easy to find good deals on hotels (and it is cheaper if you want to camp)
- Parking is free in most places
- This is a good place to visit with kids. Every time I visit, I see tons of families with small children enjoying the area and its natural resources
- If you want to save money on food, consider having dinner early during the happy hour period. Many restaurants at the Embarcadero offer excellent seafood at killer prices during this time. You can take advantage of these offers even if you do not drink. The only thing is that you may have to sit in the bar area (high chairs, small round tables) to get the discounted prices
- The town has an excellent supermarket stocked with all sorts of products. Other essential services are available too
- Residents of San Luis Obispo support local businesses and products. I love that attitude. That means you are going to be served local fruits, vegetables, sauces or jams in restaurants. Check out the supermarket if you want to take some home. You may need to inquire about the products since they are not located in the most obvious place
- Please, take care of the environment. Do not litter and follow park instructions
- Poison oak is present in the area. Do not touch trees or bushes
- Have a good time and remember to show some love to the residents of this beautiful part of California
More of Southern California
Find out how to spend one fun-filled day in Los Angeles
Get inspiration by reading my Los Angeles Ultimate Bucket List
Have you been to Morro Bay? What are your recommendations?
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