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 (embarcaderoinn.com) 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.
Out and about with their littermate maltipoos, my daughters scored a corner table at Tognazzini’s Dockside, Too (morrobaydockside.com) 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 (dornscafe.com), 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 (bistroonthebay.com), 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 (baysidecafe.com) 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 (crills.qpg.com) 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.
Check out morrobay.org for more information.