Looking for a great family destination that's still a little undiscovered?
My family visited Morro Bay, California during Spring Break. The weather was cool, but pleasant. We found a great variety of fun family activities, and this was one of our best wildlife trips ever.
Morro Bay is a little harder to reach than better-known California beach cities. It's near San Luis Obispo and Pasa Robles on the Central Coast, right on the Pacific Coast Highway and not far from Highway 101. It's a little farther from a major interstate or airport. For families who love nature and lighter crowds, that's good news.
My family found lots of fun things to do in Morro Bay. Here are our favorites.
Otters were what brought us to Morro Bay. My 11-year-old son loves them, and who can blame him? When we heard that endangered sea otters are abundant in here, we planned a trip.
We were not disappointed. We saw dozens of wild sea otters in Morro Bay – close to shore and just as cute and playful as we hoped. I wrote a whole post about seeing otters in Morro Bay. Click the button for more otter tips and photos from Morro Bay.
See elephant seals
A large colony of elephant seals lives year-round on a beach near Hearst Castle, just north of Morro Bay. We tacked this destination onto our itinerary as a “maybe,” and I'm so glad that we went! We saw hundreds of wild elephant seals from the boardwalk trail just above the beach. If your family loves seeing wildlife, put this place on your list. http://www.elephantseal.org/
Visit a State Park
You'll find several state parks near Morro Bay, including
- Morro Bay State Park
- Morro Strand State Beach
- Hearst San Simeon State Park
- Montana de Oro State Park
We visited three of these during our visit, and found them beautiful and fascinating. You can visit all of them for free, though some optional activities may charge admission. Camping is available at some parks.
The natural history museum inside Morro Bay State Park was small, but worthwhile and only cost our family $6 total to enter. It has lots of up-to-date hands-on activities for young children, who get in free. https://www.parks.ca.gov/
Visit Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle is one of the best-known state parks in California. This grand house at the top of a mountain in San Simeon was built by William Randolph Hearst to entertain the rich and famous and house his astounding art collection. You can check out the visitor center for free, but there is a per-person fee to tour the Hearst Castle. It is located about 30 minutes north of Morro Bay. http://hearstcastle.org/
Take a Boat Tour
One of the best ways to see wildlife in Morro Bay is on a boat tour. We took a whale watching tour with Sub Sea Tours. Early April wasn't the best time of year to see whales near Morro Bay, but we had had our eyes peeled for gray whales and humpbacks. We did spot two gray whales at the end of our three-hour tour and it was exciting!
Sub Sea Tours also offers a shorter wildlife tour around the calm waters of Morro Bay in its semi-submersible vessel with underwater windows. This less-expensive tour would be a good choice for younger children and anyone prone to seasickness. http://www.subseatours.com/
Go for a hike
We took a guided hike with a naturalist from Central Coast Outdoors. Our guide Virginia led my family on an easy three-mile loop along scenic “secret” beaches a few miles north of Morro Bay. We spotted harbor seals and turkey vultures from a distance. My kids loved finding hermit crabs and anenomes in tide pools. Virginia gave us a lot of information that made the experience a lot more interesting and fun.
There are also plenty of places to hike on your own, especially with so many state parks nearby. I loved the Black Hill trail in Morro Bay State Park. It's a short trail above the golf course that offers sweeping 360 degree views of Morro Bay, Morro Rock, the Pacific Ocean and the green hills surrounding Morro Bay. https://www.centralcoastoutdoors.com/
See Tide Pools
Morro Bay is a great place to see tide pools. We spotted hermit crabs, larger crabs, anenome and a sea star tucked among the rocks at low tide. State parks and other rocky sections of the Pacific coast are all prime tidepooling spots in this wild section of California.
Be sure to go at low tide and pay close attention so you don't get stranded once the tide comes back in. Here is one of several sites that show tides for Morro Bay. https://www.tide-forecast.com/
Try Kayaking or Paddle Boarding
The calm waters of Morro Bay are a great place to try kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. It's a great way to stay active and see wildlife. Several businesses along the Embarcadero offer rentals and tours. Sub Sea Tours rents kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. Central Coast Outdoors leads guided kayak tours from Morro Bay State Park. http://www.subseatours.com/ https://www.centralcoastoutdoors.com/
Go to the Beach
We couldn't leave Morro Bay without a little beach time, and there are several beaches to choose from near Morro Bay. Morro Beach is located on the north side of Morro Rock, and is the most convenient beach to Morro Bay. Morro Strand Beach State Park is just north of that.
We enjoyed watching surfers in the morning at Morro Beach. The beach is sandy, and a good place to look for sand dollars. The water is colder than you'll find at Southern California beaches, so you'll want a wet suit for anything more than a little casual splashing in the waves. http://www.morrobay.org/things-to-do/outdoors/
Eat Fresh Seafood
My husband and daughter love fresh seafood and it's hard to get near our home in Utah. Morro Bay is a fishing village, and most local restaurants serve a variety of fresh, sustainable seafood dishes. My husband ate seafood for nearly every meal, including
- Oysters on the half shell and seafood pasta at Dorn's Original Breakers Cafe
- Clam chowder and seafood salad at Blue Sky Bistro
- Freshly-caught whole perch at Thai Bounty
- Fish and chips at Tognazzini's Dockside 3
Walk the Embarcadero
The Embarcadero is the street that runs along the water front in Morro Bay. It is filled with fun shops, restaurants and activities. It's also a good place to watch for wildlife in Morro Bay.
We especially liked the Shell Shop, which was located just across the street from our vacation rental. Crill's was a favorite for fresh saltwater taffy and soft serve ice cream. We browsed all the souvenir shops for tees and hats, and finally decided that Shirt Shop had just what we wanted.
Go to a Farmers Market
We drove through acres and acres of farmland and vineyards between Bakersfield and Morro Bay. We stocked up on local oranges, pistachios, almonds and olives along our way. Farmers markets are a good way to find local fruits, vegetables, nuts, wines and more. Morro Bay hosts Main Street Market each Saturday afternoon.
We drove to the Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers Market on Thursday evening and found the street packed with food and produce vendors. We ate dinner from the food stands and picked up gigantic ripe strawberries and sugar snap peas for our drive home the next day. San Luis Obispo is a college town with a beautiful downtown filled with fun shops and a historic Spanish mission.
Morro Bay exceeded my family's expectations. If your family loves a beach vacation with lots of fun outdoor activities and wildlife, we recommend Morro Bay, California.
Disclosure: Our tours with Sub Sea Tours and Central Coast Outdoors, as well as some lodging and dining in Morro Bay were hosted by the Morro Bay Visitors Bureau. We extended our stay at our own expense. All opinions are my own.
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