When Jeremy first told me about Morro Bay, the tiny town along California’s Central Coast where he grew up, I had a picture in my head that looked a lot like Southern California: waving palm trees, beautiful people wearing neon shorts and roller skating or whatever, warm sunny days at the beach. But when we drove down Highway One to visit Morro Bay for the first time, I realized with a shock that my assumptions were all totally wrong.
To my surprise, the Central Coast (which I’d actually never heard of until meeting Jeremy) is nothing like Southern California. At all.
Morro Bay is a foggy, temperate beach town with more Eucalyptus trees than palm trees, more otters and surfers than tan people on roller skates, and a quiet quirkiness that I’ve grown to love over the years and the many, many trips to visit my husband’s adorable little hometown.
I did get one thing right, though: it’s beachy AF. Like, my husband’s high school in Morro Bay is on the beach. Not near the beach or close to the beach – ON the beach. While the rest of us were running laps around a stuffy gym in high school PE, my husband was running on the sand and going surfing during lunch. How’s THAT for a California stereotype?
I’m thrilled to finally share our love and appreciation for adorable little Morro Bay! Next time you’re taking a road trip along California’s Pacific Coast Highway (which cuts straight through the center of town) be sure t stop and spend a few days exploring!
Table of Contents
Psst: Planning a California Road trip or visiting the Central Coast? We’ve got a few other posts about the area that you should read:
- 8 Quintessential Places to Visit on California’s Central Coast
- The Best Wineries in Paso Robles, California
- 12 Charming Things to Do in Cayucos, California
Where is Morro Bay?
Morro Bay is located in California’s Central Coast, on scenic Highway One. Like, literally, the Pacific Coast Highway runs right through town. But if you’re on a California road trip, you might just blink and miss it!
Conveniently, Morro Bay is perfectly equidistant from both San Francisco and Los Angeles, smack dab in the center. You can get there in 4 hours from either city, if you’re taking the fast way, along Highway 101. But Highway 1 is so much prettier! If you take Highway One, it will take anywhere from 5-8 hours from either SF or LA, depending on how many times you stop to gawk at the scenery.
Morro Bay makes the perfect stop on any Highway One road trip, along with the rest of the Central Coast – we absolutely love the entire area.
Morro Bay Travel Tips
- Chill. Just like, chill. You can’t be stressed in Morro Bay, man, it’s just like … full of chill vibes.
If you don’t know what to order, get seafood. It doesn’t matter the restaurant. Just order something that came from the sea. Morro Bay is a fishing town, and the seafood is as fresh as can be!
- Bring a jacket, it will be colder than you think. The Central Coast has quite different weather than the warm, sunny beaches in SoCal, and the salty air can be quite chilly! The good news is that if you go inland just 15 minutes or so to SLO or Paso Robles, you’ll be able to warm up.
- Mornings are cool and foggy, but the sun typically comes out at some point. Wake up early to go for a walk along the beach or go surfing and you’ll find Morro Bay covered in a layer of coastal fog. It typically clears up and gives way to the sun by around noon or so, and then rolls back in overnight.
Things Nobody tells you about Morro Bay
While we absolutely adore this quirky little town, it’s certainly full of eccentricities and character. Here are some of our favorite things that nobody tells you about Morro Bay!
- You may have heard of Morro Bay as the setting of “Finding Dory,” but that’s a lie. There is no Marine Life Institute and no one calls it “The jewel of Morro Bay, California.” Sorry to burst your bubbles, kids. We’re pretty sure that the movie was actually set in Monterey. Whoops.
- Morro Bay is located on a natural harbor, making it a fantastic place to see marine wildlife. It is a natural refuge for animals like harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, snowy plovers, peregrine falcons, and more.
- Look for the Three Stacks and a Rock: Morro Bay can be easily identified by its two major landmarks: an old power plant whose three large smokestacks can be seen from anywhere in town, and Morro Rock, a giant volcanic behemoth located directly on the beach. “3 Stacks and a Rock” is a local colloquialism for the town, and there’s even like, a hand signal to match. At least among high schoolers. Er, at least when Jeremy was in high school.
- Everything in Morro Bay is vaguely pirate-like but nothing is specifically pirate themed. There are also quite a lot of fishermen and mermaid references. Essentially, slap something generally nautical themed on a building and it will fit right in.
- In September, there’s an Avocado Margarita festival, because of course there is. If you want to experience MAXIMUM California ridiculousness, be sure to hit up the Drop the Mic Sombrero Competition, which is a sombrero decorating competition that involves, apparently, a lot of literal mic dropping. This year, the headlining band is called Dork Band. I mean, this is like, PEAK Morro Bay, y’all, we can’t make any of this up.
Things to Do in Morro Bay
Once you’ve wrapped your mind around the quirkiness of this adorable, tiny little coastal town, here are our favorite things to do in Morro Bay!
Make Friends with Marine Animals
I know you’re probably still getting over your disappointment about Finding Dory, but the good news is that Morro Bay has plenty of other animal friends! You can find all of these critters in and around Morro Bay:
- Otters: You can’t visit Morro Bay and NOT see an otter. Like, you’d actually have to try not to see one. Which would be silly, because otters are the absolute cutest! Our favorite spot for otter spotting is on the left of the dock in front of the Great American Fish Company. This quiet little inlet is typically home to otters year-round, and during mating season, you can see upwards of 20 mama otters cuddling tiny little baby otters! This is my absolute favorite spot to visit in Morro Bay – I could sit and watch these cuties for HOURS.
- Sea Lions: There are sea lions all over the place, so you’ll definitely see one sunning itself on a boat or swimming around the harbor. To get up close and personal with a few, rent a kayak and make your way over to the sand bar. There’s a floating dock nearby that’s a favorite spot for sea lions – you’ll hear them barking before you see them!
- Harbor Seals: Smaller and less noisy than sea lions, harbor seals are less common in Morro Bay but there’s still a good chance of seeing one poking its little whiskers up out of the water to say hello!
- Birds: Morro Bay is more than just a harbor – it’s also home to an estuary, which is a sanctuary for a huge number of birds. In the estuary you can find birds like the Eared Grebe, Snowy Egret, Green Heron, and Anna’s Hummingbird.
- Whales: Venture out on a whale watching expedition to see these majestic creatures migrating twice per year!
Try Surfing or Stand-Up Paddleboarding
No trip to Morro Bay is complete without jumping in the water! Rent a surfboard or stand-up paddleboard from Wavelengths Surf Shop. Oh, and don’t forget to rent a wetsuit – the water is cold!
One of the best beaches for surfing is right next to Morro Rock (yes, that giant rock you see from everywhere) and you’ll see dozens of surfers out there on most days. Don’t be surprised to find yourself surfing past otters, sea lions, and even dolphins – the first time Jeremy ever went surfing, he met a school of dolphins, because his life is Flipper/any stereotypical California movie.
The one person you’ll never see out surfing is Lia: read about her miserable Morro Bay surfing experience.
Get On a Boat
Grab your nautical themed pashmina afghan and hit the deck, because Morro Bay is the perfect place for a sea-faring adventure.
- Rent a kayak from Kayak Horizons or The Kayak Shack and go kayaking in the harbor & estuary. You’ll be treated to up-close views of harbor seals, and otters, and it’s the best way to explore Morro Bay’s kelp forests from above the water!
- Want to see marine life up close and personal? You can peek at Morro Bay’s marine life underwater on a glass bottom boat with SubSea Tours.
- Take a fishing expedition! Morro Bay’s seafood is incredibly fresh thanks to its population of local fisherman. Get a taste of the life on a chartered fishing outing with Virg’s Landing.
- If your idea of boating is a bit more relaxed than labor-intensive, let someone else do all the work while you enjoy the view. Book a chartered cruise with Red Anchor Charters and you and bae – or your family, or friends, or whoever – can sit back, relax, have a drink and some snacks, and look for dolphins and stuff.
Walk Along the Embarcadero
Morro Bay has an adorable waterfront lined with locally owned shops and restaurants. A stroll along the length of the Embarcadero will reward you with some of the most beautiful views of the harbor, Morro Rock, and the critters who hang out there! Here are a few of our favorite stops.
- Pop into Carousel for some famous Salt Water Taffy! They have about a zillion flavors, so there’s definitely at least one you like.
- The Shell Shop has been selling sea shells (and sea shell accessories) by the sea shore – er, in Morro Bay, since 1955! Stop and pick up a souvenir from your trip.
- We already mentioned the T Pier in front of the Great American Fish Company as the best place to spot otters, but we’re going to stick it in here again because there is no such thing as too many otters. You guys: otters. They are SO CUTE.
- Pop into the Morro Bay Maritime Museum to learn all about maritime history in California. It’s easy to find: just look for the giant submarine (nope, it’s not underwater).
Eat Something Delicious
The food scene in Morro Bay is all about good, fresh food – with very few frills. There are a few fancier places in town, but for the most part, everything is approachable and cozy, which is to say you can leave your pearls and suit jackets at home. Phew!
A few of the local specialties in Morro Bay are clam chowder, fish & chips, and BBQ oysters – all fresh caught in the harbor, of cours. Here are our favorite restaurants in Morro Bay, for seafood and beyond.
- Having been to just about every restaurant on the Embarcadero, we can safely say the two best seafood places for dinner are the Dutchman’s Seafood House – order fish & chips – and, if you want to get slightly fancy, Tognazzini’s Dockside – order the oysters.
- There’s nothing better than Californian Mexican. Taco Temple serves up the most filling plates of fresh MexiCali food you’ve ever had. Get the Alaskan Cod Tacos!
- The best breakfast in town, surprisingly, comes from a vegan restaurant: Shine Cafe. Locals (meat eaters included) flock to this place for their amazing tempeh tacos, fresh squeezed juices, and other healthy stuff. Breakfast is only served on weekends.
- For lunch check out Hofbrau on the water and order their unbelievable roast beef french dip.
Try the Local Craft Beer
How do you feel about sipping a foamy beer while watching the waves roll into the harbor? Just don’t imagine any swaying palm trees or warm breezes – Morro Bay is freezing cold at night.
The Libertine is a fantastic local spot to grab a drink. The brewpub is located directly on the water and houses nearly 60 beers on tap across THREE bars. Yes, the building has three bars.
Don’t forget to try some of the local craft beer made by the The Libertine Brewing Company, which uses local wild yeast to create their one of a kind beers – including one that’s made with salt water directly from Morro Bay’s harbor (it’s … interesting) and some delicious sour beers (which we definitely recommend).
Experience the “Nightlife”
Look: nobody goes to Morro Bay for the nightlife, OK? If you want to dance and drink and be surrounded by high-energy youth, head to nearby San Luis Obispo, which is a college town and thus has college-town energy. In Morro Bay, the nightlife is more like a drink on a patio overlooking the water, or a crusty dive bar, or some karaoke. Honestly, the best use of your evening is probably catching up on Netflix and going to bed early so you can wake up at sunrise and go surfing. But if you’re feeling nightlife-y, we have a few suggestions.
By the way: if it looks like everyone in the bar knows each other, it’s because everyone in the bar knows each other. Strike up a conversation with a local, and if all else fails, just name-drop Jeremy. We’re kidding. But he was Class President, so if you happen to meet someone our age who grew up in Morro Bay, there is a 99.99% chance that they know him.
- The Siren is a new bar that used to be a crusty pirate dive. Now, it has received a modernized facelift, but still holds onto its approachable down home bar vibe. You’ll probably still meet a local fisherman or 3 here, though.
- Legends: If you feel like getting messy, head to Legends and try a Sex on the Sidewalk. It is as classy as it sounds and the drink comes with a free condom! Yay, safe sex!
- Fan of Karaoke? Check out Otter Rock on Wednesdays! We freaking love karaoke, so don’t be surprised if you catch us in here warbling classic Nsync hits…
Like “nightlife,” “downtown” is a bit of a stretch, but nevertheless, this is a really cute part of town away from the Embarcadero that you shouldn’t miss.
The 2 blocks on Morro Bay Boulevard between Napa Avenue and Main Street, plus the 2 blocks on Main Street between Morro Bay Boulevard and Dunes, are full of adorable little shops to peek into!
There are some excellent thrift and antique stores, plus a quaint little historic theatre, Bay Theatre. On Thursday afternoons, you’ll find a little Farmer’s Market in this area.
Explore Morro Bay on Wheels
Too cool to walk? Get a pair of wheels instead! This seems like an appropriate time to mention that Morro Bay happens to be home to a gnarly skateboard museum. So while you’re gearing up to hit the road on a board, bike, or some other form of … wheeled apparatus, start by visiting the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum to learn some of the lingo and get inspired.
- Rent a surrey from Farmers’ Kites Surreys & More. They also have kites! And… more, I guess. But you’re here for a surrey. What’s a surrey, you ask? It’s sort of like if a golf cart and a bike had a baby. Drive one along the Embarcadero and experience it for yourself!
- Rent bikes at the bike shop on Main Street. That’s what it’s called: The Bike Shop. While the Embarcadero is flat and perfectly suited for a surrey, the rest of Morro Bay is sort of on an uphill like an amphitheater, with the entire town situated around Morro Rock like it’s the star of the show. Luckily, The Bike Shop has the solution: ebikes! All of the fun but none of the work, aww yiss. Grab a map and head out explore.
Take a Hike
There are quite a few gorgeous places to go hiking in and around Morro Bay! This list is a fantastic roundup, with a few of our favorites below.
- Note: While you can’t actually climb up Morro Rock, you can hike to the top of 5 of the other inactive volcanic Morros nearby: Black Hill, Cerro Cabrillo, Bishop Peak, Cerro San Luis, and Islay Hill.
The 3 mile hike to the top of Black Hill travels through a hillside of Monterey Pine trees up to the top of a beautiful hill overlooking the entire town of Morro Bay. A round trip hike from the Morro Bay State Park campground to the top and back is approximately 3 miles with an elevation gain of 600 feet. It’s a scenic and enjoyable hike, relatively easy, and can be done in just a couple of hours.
For a relaxing amble through the wetlands and the sand to an up-close view of Morro Rock, take the Morro Strand Trail. You’ll enjoy a nice flat paved trail through a park before heading into the sand dunes . From here, you can get right up close and personal with Morro Rock or continue along the beach to circle the Cloisters Wetland, a freshwater lagoon. It’s a nice relaxing way to spend a few hours, especially at sunset!
If you’re visiting Morro Bay during the springtime – which you should, because it’s the absolute best time to do a California road trip – head to Morro Bay State Park to view the blooming wildflowers. The easy Crespi Trail will take you winding across the hills while you enjoy scenic views of the Morro Bay Estuary.
Take a Day Trip
Morro Bay is perfectly positioned as a jumping-off point for other towns nearby! Whether you want to spend a day in wine country, go hiking, watch try sandboarding or dune-buggying, eat some pie, visit a fabulous historic home, or just go for a scenic drive, there are a plethora of places nearby! Here are our faves (and we have a bunch more suggestions in our guide to the California Central Coast!)
- Paso Robles: The Central Coast’s wine country is one of our absolute favorite places to visit, and these days we tend to split our time between Paso & Morro Bay! Paso Robles is like Napa, but roughly a zillion times cheaper and more approachable. No crowds, no lines, no pomp & circumstance, and absolutely mind-blowing wine! We highly recommend spending a day eating and drinking your way through Paso Robles – here are 11 excellent wineries to get you started.
- Cambria, San Simeon, & Hearst Castle: We lump these 3 spots together because combining them makes for an excellent day trip, and they’re all nearby on a northern stretch of Highway One! Start by touring Hearst Castle, the opulent, over-the-top and very strangely designed former home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. On your way back to Morro Bay afterward, visit the Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas in San Simeon to visit our favorite hideous and flomp-tastic marine mammals, and then swing by Linn’s in Cambria to pick up a slice of famous Ollalieberry Pie!
- Cayucos: Located literally just down the beach from Morro Bay, tiny Cayucos feels totally different than its neighbor. While Morro Bay feels like a fisherman village, Cayucos feels more like the Old West, complete with saloons, antique stores, and adorably old-timey buildings. Honestly, it’s worth the very short trip just to try the amazing cookies at Brown Butter Cookie Company. Take a look at our Cayucos travel guide!
- Pismo Beach: Venture a little ways south from Morro Bay and suddenly the fog clears up and gives way to Pismo Beach, a sunnier and warmer spot for surfers and swimmers. But our favorite things to do in Pismo aren’t actually beachy at all: we recommend going sandboarding and dune-buggying on the giant sand dunes! After a day of fun and adventure, pick up a delicious old-fashioned Cinnamon Roll with Cream Cheese icing – and maybe get a few to go. You’re gonna want them later, trust us.
Take in the View (of Morro Rock)
No trip to Morro Bay is complete with a meal overlooking the water and the rock! Head to Windows on the Water for fine dining and a romantic sunset dinner. Or enjoy a more casual breakfast or lunch at Dornes Breakers Cafe out on the patio, which has an absolutely fantastic view.
Are you packing your bags and moseying down the coast for a relaxing getaway in little Morro Bay? Which of these adorable things to do in Morro Bay piques your interest the most? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Planning a California Highway One road trip or visiting the Central Coast? We’ve got a few other posts about the area that you should read:
- 8 Quintessential Places to Visit on California’s Central Coast
- The Best Wineries in Paso Robles, California
- 12 Charming Things to Do in Cayucos, California
Psst: Did you find this post informative? You otter save it for later on Pinterest! (HAH I can’t believe I only made that joke one time this entire post).
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