My old man loves to tell about the time he boated into Morro Bay through a fog so soupy he never saw the 581-foot Morro Rock just a few hundred feet from the harbor entrance. Fortunately, just last month, June’s gloom never made a showing while my family and I vacationed in the small Central Coast town. In fact, aside from a 25-knot northwesterly blowing through our first two afternoons, the weather was sunny and warm, the perfect backdrop for our full itinerary of outdoor activities and waterfront dining.
After the 100-mile drive from Santa Barbara, we unpacked at the Inn at Morro Bay, its Cape Cod architecture showcasing clean, quiet rooms, a pool and hot tub, and a restaurant and bar overlooking the bay. This would be our home base for the next five days as we set out on small adventures across the water, along the trails, up the coast, and, of course, to that towering rock. Here’s our list of highlights.
Virginia Flaherty with Central Coast Outdoors was our intrepid — and ornithologically sharp — guide as we navigated kayaks across calm waters, spotting hungry sea otters and nesting cormorant chicks, and learning about the oyster farms that do business in the bay.
Also in the bay, we climbed aboard with Sub Sea Tours & Kayaks to cruise past resident sea lions and chum up schools of shiny smelt for underwater viewing through big windows in the boat’s hull. For more sea life behind glass — and rehabilitated pinnipeds eager for fish chunks that you can buy for 50 cents a bag — check out Morro Bay Aquarium (805-772-7647) in all the low-lit confines of its 1960s glory before it shuts down in September 2018 to make way for a state-of-the-art facility.
On terra firma, we discovered views long and wide from the summit of Black Hill via a short hike from Morro Bay State Park. Then we headed south a few clicks through the town of Los Osos to Sandspit Road, which dead-ends at a trail leading through vegetated dunes to the rumbling silence of a vast and sandy beach. Back in town, we rented beach cruisers from Farmer’s Kites, Surreys and More (805-772-0113) for a spin out to Morro Rock, with a mandatory pit stop at Crill’s Salt-Water Taffy (805-772-2615).
If the history of those who ride sideways through life sounds like radical viewing, be sure to take a spin through Morro Bay Skateboard Museum, now exhibiting Stacy Peralta’s 1979 skater-of-the-year trophy and John Lennon’s first and only skateboard, which he bought in 1964 or ’65, according to the provenance paperwork, also on display. If you’re lucky, owner and curator Jack Smith might swing by to tell the tale about the first time he skateboarded across America, in 1976.
If you’ve never been, a half-day trip to Hearst Castle is well worth the 45-minute drive up the coast, especially with a stopover at the elephant seal rookery in San Simeon.
If Hearst’s hodgepodge opulence leaves you craving down-home comforts, head to Sebastian’s, located at Hearst Ranch Winery, to sink your masticators into a burger built from cattle free-ranging the nearby San Simeon hills.
Back in Morro Bay, there are a number of great dining options, such as Tognazzini’s Dockside for perfectly grilled local king salmon in an olive, tomato, and artichoke sauce. Plus, for dessert, the kids can roast marshmallows at the table.
At Dorn’s, I ordered salmon again, this time served baked and ladled with a rich Veracruz-esque sauce and sliced avocado.
Also in the upscale range, The Galley served up Grassy Bar oysters and expertly seared ahi with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. The meal was arguably the best restaurant food I’ve had in recent memory. But for simple ambience, I’d have to pick Bayside Cafe, a quiet and casual eatery at the end of town overlooking the small marina that was home to our kayak outfitter. Good coffee, better views, and great sea-bass tacos.
Back in town, we enjoyed free-range bison burgers on toasted brioche at House of JuJu and, on our last morning, signed off with breakfast burritos and plate-sized buttermilk pancakes at Frankie and Lola’s Front Street Cafe.
After 100 southbound miles, we were back in Santa Barbara, thankful for the short drive home after five active days enjoying Morro Bay’s big outdoors and small-town charm.