Don't overlook Morro Bay on California's Central Coast, even if you are in a hurry to get to Hearst Castle. It's a lower-cost alternative to nearby Cambria, with a pretty location right on the water.
Morro Bay is popular with families, birdwatchers (especially in winter) and with fishermen, kayakers, surfers and others who enjoy outdoor recreation. It's also one of the most affordable spots on the California coast.
We polled over 200 TripSavvy readers to find out what they think of Morro Bay. Most of them (82%) say it's "good" or "awesome." That makes it one of the best-rated weekend getaways destinations in California.
Morro Bay's Don't-Miss Attraction
Morro Bay's "biggest sight" is hard to overlook. The monolithic rock in the harbor is one of seven worn-down ancient volcanoes that extend in a line from here to San Luis Obispo.
Sometimes called the "Gibraltar of the Pacific," the rock is closed to public access, but you can take photos of it or pull out the binoculars and watch for the fastest animals on the planet, the peregrine falcons that nest on it. Look fast: they can reach speeds of up to 200 mph while diving.
Maybe gawking at the rock is why most visitors get so focused on the waterfront that they fail to explore the rest of the town. Just a couple of blocks uphill, you'll find a more local ambiance, with charming cafes, a movie theater, and interesting shops to explore.
More Great Things to Do in Morro Bay
Take a Sub Sea Tour: If you've got kids with you, this is the harbor cruise for you. This cheerful yellow boat offers views of underwater life through windows in its hull below the waterline, and kids love to feed the fish and watch them eat.
Go on a Harbor Cruise: For a more adult harbor tour experience, Chablis Cruises offers Friday dinner cruises in summer and Sunday brunch cruises year round.
Go to the Beach: One of the best beaches in the area is right next to Morro Rock, where you'll find a wide, sandy place to play and lots of surfers to watch. Just across the road, fishermen go angling from the rocks, and local sea otters love to nap in the kelp.
Montana de Oro State Park just north of town is known for its rugged cliffs, secluded sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills.
Check Out the Elephant Seals: The elephant seal rookery, right on California Highway One about 4.5 miles north of Hearst Castle is most interesting during the breeding season, from December through February when almost 4,000 pups are born in just a few weeks. They're easy to view from a raised boardwalk and docents are often present to explain what's going on.
Visit Hearst Castle: A half-hour drive north of Morro Bay, Hearst Castle is the area's most popular attraction.
Best Time to Go to Morro Bay
Although it's busiest in summer, Morro Bay, like much of the California coast is likely to be overcast all day long in June and July.
After the end of summer, the skies clear up. Hotel rates go down and stay low through spring when wildflowers can sometimes be spectacular.
In winter, locals say they sometimes get a week of summer-like weather in February, but you'll find hundreds of bird species which winter there every year, no matter what the weather is.
Tips for Visiting Morro Bay
- In summer, make hotel reservations early. The best-value hotels are the first to fill up.
- Use the trolley to get around when you can. It runs along the waterfront, out to the rock and even up to the state park.
- It seems like there are always a lot of birds in Morro Bay's skies. They're a great sight but can make your clothing or hair less than sightly if they bestow a "white badge of courage" on you. Wear a hat and resist the urge to look straight up if you hear them overhead.
- You'll find several public restrooms along Ocean Avenue near the waterfront and also near Coleman Park.
- Pack your binoculars. You'll enjoy using them to watch the birds, sea lions, and sea otters.
Where to Stay
Morro Bay is the least expensive place to stay along this stretch of coast. To find your perfect place to stay:
- Find out what you need to know about finding a hotel in the Morro Bay area.
- Read guest reviews and compare prices at Tripadvisor.
- If you're traveling in an RV or camper - or even a tent - check these Morro Bay area campgrounds.
Getting To Morro Bay
Morro Bay is halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, 292 miles from Sacramento, 125 miles from Monterey and 424 miles from Las Vegas. It's located on California Highway 1, 35 miles south of Hearst Castle.
If you take Amtrak to San Luis Obispo, you can catch the Ride-On Service that will take you right to Morro Bay.