Often overlooked by travelers in a hurry to get to Hearst Castle, Morro Bay offers a lower-cost alternative to nearby Cambria, with a pretty location right on the water. Morro Bay's eponymous rock, the "Gibraltar of the Pacific," is closed to public access, but you can take magnificent sunset photos of it (like the one you see above), or pull out the binoculars and watch for the Peregrine Falcons that nest on it.
You can plan your Morro Bay day trip or weekend getaway using the resources below.
Why Should You Go? Will You Like Morro Bay?
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 of our readers to find out what they think of Morro Bay. 82% of the say it's "good" or "awesome." That makes it one of the best-rated weekend getaways places in California.
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.
Morro Bay's "biggest attraction" is hard to miss. 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. Maybe gawking at is why most visitors get so focused on the waterfront that they fail to explore the town. Just a couple of blocks uphill, you'll find a more local ambiance, with nice cafes, a movie theater and interesting shops to explore.
5 More Great Things to Do in Morro Bay
Sub Sea Tour: (2 hours) 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 water line, and kids love to feed the fish and watch them eat.
Harbor Cruise: (2 hours) 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 nicest 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, you'll find fishermen on the rocks, and local sea otters love to nap in the kelp.
Elephant Seals: The elephant seal rookery, right on 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.
Visit Hearst Castle: (4 hours or more) A half-hour drive north of Morro Bay; Hearst Castle is the area's most popular attraction.
Annual Events You Should Know About
Tips for Visiting Morro Bay
- In summer, make your 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.
- 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.
At romantic, white-tablecloth Windows on the Water at Marina Square, the New York Times' "new favorite of California." Providing diners with indulgent organic locally farmed produce, seafood, and meat.
Bayside Cafe in Morro Bay State Park serves a varied menu in a more relaxed, family atmosphere. Try the Achiote chicken or grilled salmon. On Sundays, you can combine two activities into one and take a Sunday brunch harbor cruise with Chablis Cruises. The food is good and the views even better. Kitty's Kitchen on Main Street serves the area's best breakfasts, and for a quick, cheap lunch try Giovanni's near the commercial fishing pier.
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're driving north on US 101, exit onto Highway 1 north of San Luis Obispo. Going south on US 101, exit at Highway 41 near Atascadero and take it to Highway 1, then go south.
If you take Amtrak to San Luis Obispo, you can catch the Ride-On Service that will take you right to Morro Bay.