With its picturesque fishing village atmosphere, Morro Bay is one of the most beautiful and charming places to visit on California’s beautiful central coast. Boats line the harbor, restaurants line the boardwalk, sea otters frolicking in the bay and miles…. of sandy beaches. Morro Bay is the perfect place for a seaside vacation!
While Morro Bay has much to offer for you alone, its location near many other attractions on California’s central coast means you have even more to discover if you decide to spend a few days there.
Are you planning a trip to Morro Bay and the Central Coast of California? Read on for the best things to do in Morro Bay and our suggestions for lodging and restaurants.
Things to do in the bay of Morro
Admire the rock of the Morro
Morro’s cliff is one of the main features of Morro Bay: the other is the three chimneys of the old power plant, which can be seen from all over town.
Together they give the town the beautiful name “Three Stacks and the Rock.”
Morro Rock is a historic site in the state of California. It is one of the nine Morros, a chain of volcanic backwaters that stretches along the central coast of California from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay.
The huge rock, named El Morro by the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, is today a refuge for peregrine falcons and many other bird species.
Take a picture (or three!) of the beautiful Morro Rock. You can go directly to the base to have a look and take pictures from the beach at Morro Rock.
Explore Morro Bay State Park
Morro Bay State Park is a wonderful mecca for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts. It includes a variety of environments such as the lagoon, salt marsh and bay, and the Morro Cliff is part of the national park. The park also includes a marina and a golf course.
Hiking, biking, bird watching, fishing, kayaking and sailing are some of the activities you can enjoy in the park. If you enjoy camping, Morro Bay State Park offers an excellent campground with sites for tents, trailers and RVs.
The Marina Peninsula Loop Trail is a beautiful walk through the park’s diverse habitats, including estuaries, sand dunes, salt marshes and mudflats.
Visit the Morro Bay Natural History Museum.
While in Morro Bay National Park, don’t forget to visit the Natural History Museum: fun for kids and adults. At the museum you can learn more about the natural and cultural history of the area.
The museum offers activities throughout the year, including nature walks, documentaries, lectures and special exhibits – so find out what’s happening during your visit.
Look past the museum at the plants in the Chumash garden. The Chumash people inhabited the coast of central and southern California centuries ago, and it is interesting to see how they used native flora in their daily lives.
Enjoy a cruise on Morro Bay
Explore Morro Rock and the city from the water! Take a guided boat tour of beautiful Morro Bay during the day or at sunset and enjoy the scenery. Watch for marine life and birds along the way! It’s a relaxing activity and we love it so much that we go on a cruise every time.
You may see dolphins, otters, sea lions, seals and even whales, as well as herons, cormorants and other birds. Your captain will answer questions and tell you about Morro Rock, the bay and the wildlife you see.
There are a number of local companies that offer boat trips in Morro Bay, as well as whale watching. We usually choose a smaller boat and sometimes we are lucky to be the only passengers on the cruise. Choose larger boats if you want to be able to buy food and drinks on board.
Canoe, kayak or SUP from Morro Bay!
Looking for a more active way to enjoy the protected waters of Morro Bay? Go canoeing, kayaking or paddleboarding. On a guided kayaking trip, you’re likely to see seals, sea lions and otters, as well as dozens of bird species, including rare and endangered species.
The waters of Morro Bay are separated from the open sea by a long sandbar, and all levels, from beginners to advanced, can enjoy guided tours in the calm, protected waters of the bay. Longer tours may include an exploration of Sandspit, the sandbar that protects the bay: it is accessible only by water.
Several local organizations offer guided kayak and canoe tours and also rent out hard-hull paddles. We really enjoyed our morning kayak tour (we saw lots of marine life and birds!), but you can also opt for an afternoon or sunset tour.
Walking on the pier
The Embarcadero, in Morro Bay, is a lively place to walk, whether you want to stretch your legs or observe the people and wildlife. Start by launching a boat near Tidelands Park and stroll along the boardwalk overlooking Morro Rock.
Along the way you’ll encounter many of Morro Bay’s hotels and inns, restaurants, stores and art galleries, cruises and boat tours and places to enjoy the waterfront views. Look out for sea otters and seals playing in the water or seabirds on lookouts.
If you are looking for souvenirs to take home, you will find many stores during your walk. Some of our favorite browsers:
- Shell Shop. This family-owned business has a fabulous collection of shells, believed to be the largest on the California Central Coast. We love the colors, shapes and textures!
- Smubai for charming jewelry and other unique gift items made by local artisans.
- The Marina Square Gallery is an art and craft gallery run by a group of professional artists. You will find paintings, sculptures, photographs, jewelry, as well as artwork in glass, wood and fabric. On our last visit, we had a beautiful illustration of birds.
- The Seven Sisters Gallery for eclectic art, gifts and jewelry. Many of these items are handmade by local artisans.
- Next door to the Bay Gallery for American art and jewelry. From glass to wood, enamel and ceramics, you’ll find a wide selection.
- Carousel Taffy: You should go to every candy store or chocolate store you see, and Carousel Taffy offers dozens of delicious flavors of saltwater taffy! You can literally buy caramel by the bucket.
A walk on the beach of Morro Strand State
Morro Strand State Beach, three miles long, offers beautiful views of Morro Rock and Estero Bay and is ideal for a walk because the sand is very dense. The sandy beach is also a popular place for sunbathing, playing sand games, picnicking, kite surfing, surfing and windsurfing.
Watch for birds wandering in the waves or look for sand dollars! The sunsets here can be beautiful if you come with good weather. Bring a windmill, as it can be very windy here at times.
Morro Strand State Beach is located on California Highway 1, with parking and beach entrances on the north and south sides. Dogs are not allowed on the beach, but we saw people with dogs here during our visit.
Explore the tide pools at North Point Beach.
There are many places to work out in Morro Bay, but our favorite is North Point Beach, located on California Highway 1 on the north side of Morro Bay. In this area, rock formations flow into the water, creating pools of seawater.
Look for cockles, mussels, anemones, limpets and more. Here the rocks are covered with slippery green algae and it is very easy to get lost. So wear appropriate footwear and watch out for wet and slippery rocks.
Visit them at low tide, as only then are the ponds exposed. Take the stairs at the end of Toro Lane to the tide pool, or walk to North Point Beach and then walk to the tide pool.
Windy Cove, near the Morro Bay Natural History Museum, is another good place for a cleanup contest.
Search for businesses in Morro Bay.
Most tourist stores are located on the Embarcadero waterfront, but there are also many stores and galleries to browse on streets like Main Street and Morro Bay Boulevard, in the heart of the city.
- The Morro Bay Art Center on Main Street offers exhibits to visit, as well as fun creative classes and workshops. You can register online if you want to participate in the tour.
- The art gallery on Morro Bay Boulevard has beautiful handmade lampshades and other artwork for the home. Some of the lampshades we saw were beautiful!
- At Judy’s Sewing and Crafts Museum, on the road to Quintana, you can see various sewing machines from that era and sewing machines for children. There are also many Victorian crafts, quilts and more.
- Morro Bay Antiques, on Main Street, has gazebos, collectibles and architectural details. Fun to browse around!
- The Treasures Antique Mall on Morro Bay Boulevard offers a wide selection of antique jewelry, clothing and collectibles.
Enjoying cycling in Surrey
One of the best ways to enjoy the Embarcadero is by Serbian bicycle. You can rent sturdy two- or four-seater bicycles and ride them to Morro Rock or along the Embarcadero. The roads leading into town from the Embarcadero are in the mountains, making them more difficult to ride in difficult conditions, but the Embarcadero is a beautifully flat area.
Surrey’s rental stores also offer kites on the beach, if you want to take one before heading to Morro Strand State Beach. And they have regular and electric bikes.
Visit the Maritime Museum
The Morro Bay Maritime Museum, located on the Embarcadero, has many interesting exhibits if you are interested in maritime history and technology. Among the exhibits is the tug Alma, which transported two lifeboats and personnel to the shelter of a tanker that sank in December 1941.
The Avalon, a deep-sea rescue boat, is one of only two machines built to rescue the crews of sunken submarines. It is 49 feet long! You can also see a U.S. Coast Guard rescue ship, as well as many other interesting marine technologies.
Photos of murals in the city
Do you like street art? Take a tour of downtown Morro Bay and you’ll see more than 20 murals! Live art showcases the history and culture of Morro Bay, as well as its natural beauty and abundant wildlife.
The colorful murals were created from 1985 to the present. Pick up a map at the Morro Bay Visitor Center on Harbor Street and take a self-guided tour of the art. The tour is about 2.25 miles long and takes about an hour (or longer if you make lots of photo stops like we did!).
Looking for marine life in Morro Bay
Morro Bay is a paradise for wildlife and bird watching. From the endangered California otter to seals, sea lions and whales, if you are lucky, you can catch a glimpse of many marine animals in Morro Bay!
You’re pretty sure to see California sea otters in the bay: go to the T Pier, behind the Great American Fish Company, and you’ll see the creatures playing in the water, swimming on their backs or catching fish. There are otters there year-round, and you can even see mothers swimming on their shells.
In Morro Bay, you can see otters on the kelp beds of Morro’s cliff. An excursion by boat or kayak is another way to see otters in the bay. Otters don’t like bad weather, so you’ll likely see them as the sun rises.
On a boat or kayak, you will likely see sea lions and fur seals, but you may also see them occasionally on the Embarcadero. You may see sea lions enjoying the sun on the harbor’s floating dock.
Whales can be seen year-round in Morro Bay, including California gray, humpback, blue, orca and fin whales. Take a whale watching tour to see the most likely whales. Although you may be lucky enough to see one (or more) whales from shore during the annual migration, you are much more likely to see them from the water.
Continue birding in Morro Bay
Morro Bay is classified as an important area for Audobon birds. Although many bird species can be observed here year-round, birders should plan a visit in winter to see the large populations of migratory birds that use the estuary and other coastal habitats here as resting and foraging areas. Morro Bay hosts a winter bird festival each January.
You will see waders like herons and egrets, shorebirds like crabs, curlews, waders and plovers (the endangered western snowy plover breeds on the Spit), many waterfowl like ducks, grebes, geese, larks, gulls, pelicans and cormorants. Peregrine falcons nest on the cliff of Morro and ospreys hunt for fish in the water.
Some of the best places to bird from the shore in Morro Bay are the heron colony, Morro Rock, the Los Osos Audobon view, the elfin forest and the Sweet Springs Nature Reserve, some of which we have described below because they are great places to visit even if you are not interested in birds.
Another excellent way to see birds is to observe them from the water. If you take a kayak or canoe trip, you will likely see many birds, and if your trip is a guided tour, your guide will give you information about the birds you will see. Bird watching on the water is one of our favorite activities in Morro Bay.
Visit the heron colony
If you are in Morro Bay, be sure to visit the heron colony to not only see the huge birds and their huge tree-high nests, but also to see how bird droppings over the years have killed the trees in which they nest.
A large white egg in the rotunda: Zoe
The eucalyptus forest is one of the largest rose gardens between San Francisco and Mexico City. Here you will see not only great herons, but also double-crested cormorants and maybe even egrets. If you are lucky, you may see young birds being fed by their parents or adult blue herons in flight: they are beautiful with their immense wingspans.
Don’t forget to bring binoculars when you visit Morro Bay! Our binoculars are Celestron Trailseeker compact binoculars: they are not too heavy and work well in low light conditions.
The heron colony is a stone’s throw from the Natural History Museum in Morro Bay National Park. The rotunda is located next to the hostel in Morro Bay.
Hike in the El Moro Elf Forest
The El Moro Elf Forest is located in Los Osos, just south of Morro Bay. The park gets its name from the fact that live oaks, which grow elsewhere in California, are crippled here: they make beautiful pictures. This 90-acre forest is home to dozens of species of plants, animals, birds and insects.
Follow the 0.8-mile walk through the forest and discover the diversity of nature. The trail is walkable and offers views of Morro Rock and the bay. You can visit it between sunrise and sunset all year round.
Observe birds, animals and butterflies on your walk and enjoy the diversity of the flora. Read the information boards describing the plants and talk about the natives who lived here. There are benches if you want to sit for a while and enjoy the quiet beauty.
Guided tours or nature walks are sometimes offered. So consult the program before your visit if you want to participate in a guided walk in the beautiful reserve.
Visit the Sweet Springs Reservation.
The Sweet Springs Nature Reserve, another beautiful Los Osos natural area, offers hiking trails and some viewpoints. Some of the trails are suitable for walking and there are information panels about the flora and fauna. There are views of the bay and benches where you can take a break.
The Sweet Springs Nature Reserve is part of the Morro d’Audubon Coastal Society and is one of the most important places to observe birds, both native and migratory. Waterfowl, waders, raptors and shorebirds can be observed here. Hundreds of species have been counted in the reserve!
Watch for turtles in the pond, deer and wildflowers in season. Don’t forget to look in the eucalyptus trees; you may see owls or birds of prey high in the trees. Bring your binoculars!
Sample a homemade beer or wine
Do you like homemade beer? Morro Bay offers great places to sample homemade beer! If you prefer wine, you can also enjoy a wine tasting in Morro Bay.
Our journey through the places:
Three Stacks and a Rock is the only nano-brewery in Morro Bay and is very popular. Book a flight to try a variety of their beers. The food at the pub is a great accompaniment: we love the French fries, which are homemade! They also offer wine and cider.
The Libertine Brewing Company has several locations on the central coast, including the Embarcadero in Morro Bay. In fact, this is their original location! They feature several dozen beers, with food and live music. Plus views of the bay and Morro rock!
Château Margene, on the Embarcadère, offers wine tastings by appointment. Château Margine offers cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from its own vineyard, as well as pinot noir and chardonnay.
Absolution Cellars, also located on the Embarcadero, offers tastings of various Central Coast wines. You can also admire beautiful works of art there!
Things to do near Morro Bay
Morro Bay is close to so many other charming towns on the Central Coast that if you want to spend a few days there, you are spoilt for choice. If you have a few days to spare, plan a road trip along the Central Coast: it’s one of the best road trips you can take in California!
North of Morro Bay is the small coastal town of Cayucos with its sandy beaches and long jetty. Further north is the charming village of Cambria, known for its beautiful black sand Moonstone Beach. Stroll along the Moonstone Beach boardwalk, stroll down the main street and enjoy wine and delicious food. North of Cumbria is the historic Hurst Castle with its beautiful gardens and elephant enclosure.
South of Morro Bay, you can explore the spectacular Montana de Oro State Park. Hike Montana de Oro’s picturesque, steep trails, photograph unique rock formations and look for marine life. A little further inland is bustling San Luis Obispo, with its historic Spanish mission and many excellent restaurants. Further south, the beaches of Avila and Pismo, on the central coast, offer plenty of water sports and entertainment.
Just east of Cambria is Paso Robles, the heart of Central Coast wine country. Along California Highway 46, between the coast and Paso Robles, you will find many wineries where you can enjoy outdoor wine tastings with a view. Many wineries also offer wine and food tastings.
If you are planning a spring visit in a year with good wildflowers, add a day to your trip to enjoy the spectacular flowers of Carrizo Plain National Monument, in the southeastern part of San Luis Obispo County.
Travel to Morro Bay, California
Morro Bay is located on California Highway 1, on the central coast of California, almost halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Although the SLO County Regional Airport near San Luis Obispo is served by flights from several major U.S. cities, most visitors come to Morro Bay by car. Morro Bay is an excellent stopping point along the California Trail or the Pacific Coast Highway.
With a drive time of 3 hours and 40 minutes on the freeway, Morro Bay is one of many nice weekends to spend outside of San Francisco (or the SF Bay area) or Los Angeles. At 5 hours and 15 minutes away, it’s a longer trip, but still very convenient if you’re looking for a weekend getaway from San Diego. From San Francisco, take US 101 S to Morro Bay, and from Los Angeles, take US 101 N. From San Diego, take US 5 N to US 101 N.
If you’re in a hurry, take the scenic California Highway 1. If you plan to travel south of San Francisco or the SF Bay area, you can stop in the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and visit some of the must-see attractions of Big Sur along the way. On your way north or south from Los Angeles, stop in the beautiful city of Santa Barbara or enjoy charming Solvang.
Are you looking for a rental car for your trip to Morro Bay? Check out the cars! They will scour different suppliers to find the best price for you.
Where to stay in Morro Bay
Hotels in Morro Bay, California
The Estero Inn is a luxurious hotel in Morro Bay, right on the Embarcadero. The elegantly furnished suites offer stunning water views from a private balcony. Take a stroll past the stores and restaurants.
Book your stay here: Booking.com Hotels.com
The 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites is another charming hotel that offers rooms overlooking Morro Bay. The rooms are spacious and comfortably furnished. The hotel is within walking distance of restaurants and stores along the Embarcadero.
Book your stay here: Booking.com Hotels.com
Surrounded by forests, Morro Bay Inn offers views of Morro Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Rooms are spacious and have comfortable, modern furnishings. Rooms have views of the water.
Book your stay here: Booking.com Hotels.com
Airbnb’s in Morro Bay, California.
This highly visible loft has a super comfortable king size bed with a comforter. The room is spacious and bright with a fireplace and views of Morro Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The kitchenette is equipped with a mini-fridge, toaster and microwave. It offers Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as free wireless internet. Book your stay here!
This lovely guest house in Baywood Los Osos is close enough to the bay and the beach to reach on foot or by bike. You can relax in the open air on the large terrace. The fully equipped kitchen allows you to prepare a variety of dishes to your taste. The bay of Morro is only a short drive away. Book your stay here!
Where to eat in Morro Bay
Tognazzini’s Dockside Too restaurant on the Embarcadero in Morro Bay offers fresh seafood and outdoor seating. It’s a casual dining experience: you place your order at the counter and wait for your name to be called. Their fish and chips are crispy and delicious, their squid is sweet and tender, and their grilled halibut tacos are fresh and tasty. They also have live music!
Windows on the Water offers gourmet cuisine with a view. While their seafood is excellent, the seasonal menu also includes other dishes, from steak to pizza. The hotel’s wine list is extensive and the views are breathtaking.
The Galley Seafood Grill & Bar is located on the Embarcadero. Although seafood is plentiful, other dishes are also on the menu. Seasonal, locally sourced ingredients are used in well prepared dishes. Try the Dungeness crab cakes, the bowl of ahi tuna, fried shrimp or the main lobster tails.
Frankie’s and Lola’s is a popular cafe open for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is hearty, from omelets to burritos to draft beer: on our last visit to Morro Bay, we missed lunch on the day we had breakfast here.
Best time to visit Morro Bay, CA.
Morro Bay has a temperate climate with maximum temperatures around 60 and minimum temperatures around 50, making it a year-round destination. We have visited Morro Bay at every time of year and have enjoyed every visit so far.
In the spring you can see wildflowers and beautiful green hills, and in the winter you can see tons of migratory birds and whales. In winter, monarch butterflies can be found in the eucalyptus forests along the California coast. Near Morro Bay, you can see them at the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos.
See you in the fall for fog-free and slightly warmer days (in California we usually have late summer in September or October when it is really hot!) Summer mornings can be foggy, but the fog usually clears by noon. Summer is a popular time to take courses on or off the water.
Whatever time of year you plan to participate, bring diapers! A hooded windbreaker or a warm, lightweight hooded fleece jacket is a must for walking along the waterfront or in the early or late evening without feeling uncomfortable. And that goes for summer too, as summer days on California’s central coast can be cool and wet!
Planning to further explore the California coast? Check out our other guides!
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Frequently asked questions
What can you do today in Morro Bay?
Which is better, Morro Bay or Pismo Beach?
Morro Bay is more of a fishing village in the Bay Area, and Pismo Beach is more of a beach town in California. Both are located in an ASO convent. Morro Bay is closer to Cambria, and Pismo Beach is closer to the Santa Ynez Valley, I believe, where there are reportedly good vineyards.
What do you do at night in Morro Bay?
Top 10 best nightlife spots near Morro Bay, CA …
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