By Mary Charlebois
It’s the morning golden hour, a photographer’s dream. The sun’s rays are focused on a stone citadel guarding the harbor, the Morro Rock. I was so afraid the light would vanish before I could dress, I shot through my hotel window, then hastily dressed, and grabbed my gear.
Across the street, the marina was just beginning to stir. A family of otters dove for their breakfast of Pismo Clams. A lone paddle boarder floated by riding the fast-moving current lowering the harbor water level with the outgoing tide. A few early morning walkers passed by bathed in the glorious golden light.
Morro Bay is a small fishing port. The natural scenery is spectacular. The working/pleasure harbor and marina are laid back. The sheltered harbor is home to nomadic sailors seeking a day or two ashore. This hidden gem is one of my favorite spots on California’s Central Coast for water sport, nature, and seafood.
Here are my suggestions for a weekend at the Rock.
Arrive at the hotel, park your car and forget it until it is time to go home. There are numerous exceptional hotels and vaca rentals on the Embarcadero. Each has its own ambiance. No CCCCs (cookie cutter corporate clones) to be found here. There’s a lot of competition and selection is varied.
The star of unique and distinctive lodging is Bayfront Inn. This colorful hideaway has the best location on Embarcadero, directly across from the marina and the Rock. Sunsets are spectacular from the sunset deck, or your balcony.
Only 16-rooms are available in this renovated, restored, and reimagined 50’s era motor court. Owner, artist, and Bayfront’s creative force, Jayne Behman, showcases her artwork in every room. Her paintings and her décor style are colorful and imaginative. Complimentary parking and continental breakfast are included with your room.
Dinner, Nightcap, Music
Walk across the street to STAX Wine Bar for dinner. STAX stocks over 100 wines from the Central Coast. Their menu changes weekly to reflect the current catch, seasonal fruit, and veg, plus locally made cheeses and meats. Have a full meal, small plates, or share a salad and sandwich with lovely local wine. There is live music most evenings with local artist and varied styles.
For breakfast, head to Blue Sky Café (it’s next to the whale watching dock, your next stop). The casual restaurant overlooks Morro Bay Rock, the marina, and harbor. It’s a perfect place for spotting excursion boats, pleasure craft, otters, sea lions, kayakers and paddle boarders. The menu features breakfast dishes, salads, sandwiches, and locally sourced seafood. A full bar serves spirits, wine, and beer.
Go Visit Some Whales – Get on the Water
The crew at Sub Sea Tour Whale Watching are whale whisperers. If the giants are out there, they’ll find them. The central coast is home to hundreds of Humpbacks feeding in the region. They can put on a show, throwing tails, lunge feeding, tail lobbing, and full breaching. The 3-hour tour will be the highlight of your Morro Bay visit.
Kayaking, SUP, and fishing are other ways you can get on the water and get salty. Ask the folks at Sub Sea for suggestions.
Giovanni’s is a Morro Bay institution. This casual eatery has the best fish and chips I’ve tried. Order at the outside window. You can take your food to-go or eat it on the covered patio. The selection often includes fresh steamed crabs. Beer and wine are available to round things out.
From Giovanni’s walk south on the Embarcadero. When you get to the south marina, take the Marina Peninsula Trail. It starts at the south end of the Back Bay Marina. This .7 mile loop starts as a walking path and turns into a boardwalk that overlooks the National Estuary. There you will see mud flats and estuary channels filled with wildlife.
Windows on the Water is a lovely restaurant sitting above the marina. The scenery is outstanding. Windows creations are made from seasonal, locally sourced, organic ingredients. Choose from meats, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. A full-service bar and abundant wine list top off your meal. It feels like a special occasion when you dine at Windows.
Stop in at STAX for a nightcap and music.
Breakfast at Frankie and Lola’s, next door to the Bayfront. This kitschy restaurant is known for its built from scratch cinnamon rolls, omelets & sandwiches. Open for B&L, they have vegetarian fare.
Walk to Morro Rock
At 576 feet it’s helped mariners navigate the coastal waters for centuries. The view from the rock area gives a panoramic vista of the Embarcadero and marina. The nature preserve and park have a long sandy beach perfect for strolling and sand castles.
Dorn’s Original Breakers Café, on Market Street, opened in 1942. Family owned and operated, the friendly service and outstanding food are served overlooking the Embarcadero, Morro Rock and the harbor. Fresh, local seafood is the heart of the menu, but the steaks I saw served at the next table looked and smelled delightful.
Several options are available from wine bars to local winery tasting rooms. I tried Chateau Margene. This boutique, micro-winery produces only 3,000 cases a year. The tasting room is a friendly spot to learn about local wine.
Stroll the Embarcadero shops, galleries, and public houses
Let your instinct be your guide. Along the Embarcadero you’ll find everything from inexpensive souvenirs to fine art and fashion. Stop at restaurants, cafes, and pubs for a snack or libation while taking in the scenery and people watching.
Here are some not to be missed spots.
Paula Radke Art Glass handcrafts stunning Dichroic glass beads and jewelry.
The Shell Shop, family-owned and operated since 1955, has the largest selection of marine seashells on the Central Coast.
Morro Bay Skateboard Museum offers the complete history of skateboarding.
Crill’s Saltwater Taffy tempts you with homemade salt water taffy, caramel corn, and ice cream.
Take Hwy 101 to San Luis Obispo. From there, take Hwy 1 to Morro Bay, about 20-minutes to the Bayfront Inn from Hwy 101 and Hwy 1 junction.
San Luis Obispo has a regional airport with frequent service from LA and San Francisco.
The Central California Coast is a year-round destination. No matter the time of year, dress is casual and in layers. Even in summer, nights can be chilly, and weather can vary widely throughout the day.
If you want to get out in a car and explore the region, check the Hwy 1 Discovery Route for ideas.
Go to the Morro Bay website for celebrations, festivals, unique visitor offers, and more ideas.
Morro is one of those places that will call you back again and again, whether it’s for my no-drive weekend, or one of your own design.
All photos by Mary Charlebois