Pet-Friendly Getaway to Morro Bay

Traveling with Dogs to a Central Coast Gem

The author’s daughters explore the western edge of the Morro Bay jetty. | Credit: K. Hamm

If you’re new to the traveling-with-pets game, like I am, here are three pieces of unsolicited advice: dogs get carsick, so be prepared; never leave pets unattended inside your hotel room (that’s just rude); and please take a trip to Morro Bay.

Located about 100 miles from downtown Santa Barbara, Morro Bay beckons with a coastal charm much like our own but on a smaller scale and often more wind and fog. Bring an extra layer just in case, then get ready to feel welcomed on dog-friendly restaurant patios, bay cruises, and wide-open beaches.


Located a quick walk from the hub of Morro Bay’s waterfront, 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites ( features nearly three dozen guestrooms, all but one with a balcony view of the bay and beyond. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, with standard amenities, plus yoga mats and umbrellas. Its friendly crew welcomes furry friends with a few rules up front: don’t try to sneak in your pets, and don’t leave them unattended. Half a block down the road, the Tidelands Playground park is a popular gathering spot for dogs and their walkers.  

Dog-lover, restaurant-owner, and commercial fisherman Mark Tognazzini with his labrador retrievers outside his dockside eatery.


Out and about with their littermate maltipoos, my daughters scored a corner table at Tognazzini’s Dockside, Too ( for grilled sea bass, shrimp skewers, calamari, and a paper basket of fish and chips. Owner and longtime commercial fisherman Mark Tognazzini  stopped by to offer a few insider tips on pet-friendly outings. Just north of town, for example, there’s miles of off-leash beach. 

“This town has always been dog friendly,” Tognazzini added, “and it’s becoming inseasigly moreso.” Here’s something else to feel good about: This summer, the restaurant hosted a fundraiser for a local shelter, pulling in about $6,000, he said. 

We found another pet-friendly restaurant patio at Dorn’s Original Breakers Cafe (, up a short hill overlooking the bay. I enjoyed the blackened thresher shark — lightly ladled with pesto — while my better half paired scampi — classically sauteed in white wine and garlic — with a Central Coast house chardonnay. We’d been there before, a few years back, and look forward to going again. Same goes for Blue Sky Bistro (, where highlights include the catch of the day, an exceptional kids menu, and a warm patio on the water’s edge.

Located on the south edge of town near the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History, the Bayside Cafe ( bustles like a well-known secret spot, with views overlooking a small marina, plus a roomy pet-friendly zone with sunshades and patio heaters. Not too far from the South Bay Boulevard connection to Los Osos Valley Road, it’s a great spot to hit on your way in or out of town for perfectly fried cod and chips, plus a bowl of housemade California chowder that adds a spicy green-chili kick to the traditional Boston-born soup.  


No visit to the Central Coast would be complete without checking out the beaches and breakwater surrounding the 581-foot Morro Rock. We left our car back at the hotel and — in unmitigated tourist form — climbed aboard a rental surrey from Beachfront Kites & Surreys (805-772-0113). The four-seater’s big front basket can carry a small dog or two, no extra charge. Don’t miss a pitstop at Crills ( for saltwater taffy, soft serve, cotton candy, and other housemade sugary sweets. 

You can also gain another perspective of the bay aboard Captain Stew’s Bay Cruise (805-995-3019). Captain Stuart Hamby runs a tight — and safe — ship, pets welcome. He’s a pro at taking questions and dishing interesting facts and commentary on that 23-million-year-old rock, those frolicking sea otters, and why Octobers in Morro Bay tend to win when it comes to weather. 

And it’s all just a 90 minute drive from Santa Barbara. Don’t forget your dogs.  

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