Morro Bay, most famously, is home to the prominent Morro Rock. This rock formation brings many visitors each year and has earned the nickname “The Gibraltar of the Pacific.” When I first heard this city’s description I admit I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.
What is a Gibraltar? – I wondered. After some Google searching, I learned the word Gibraltar is from the Arabic Jibril meaning ‘Strong one of God’ better known as Gabriel. A pretty impressive nickname for a beach loving city located on the central coast of California.
Although many come to see the picturesque Morro Rock, there are many other things to explore here in this beach loving town. Morro Bay is located about four hours north of Orange County proper right along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. It is a coastal paradise with hikes, sandy shores, and temperate weather. Here is everything you need to know for your visit to Morro Bay, home to ‘The Gibraltar of the Pacific’ and much more.
What To Do In Morro Bay
The Gibraltar of the Pacific is the ancient volcanic mound that sits tall and imposing at the very end of Morro Beach. This 576-foot tall rock was formed about 23 million years ago from the plugs of extinct volcanoes. Morro Rock was used by Portuguese explorers in the mid-1500s as a navigational tool since it can be viewed quite prominently from the ocean. Today this formation attracts visitors from all over the world to take photos, explore, and take in its impressive beauty. Although the most outstanding volcanic plug, it is the tallest of the nine distinct volcanic plugs that define the area today.
Morro Rock Beach is the popular beach that surrounds Morro Rock. The water tends to be chilly but the wide warm sandy shores surrounding the rock makes it an ideal place for young and old to enjoy. Oftentimes you can get a glimpse of the resident sea otters and sea lions! During the summer months, lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to keep everyone safe. Parking is right on the beach as well as restrooms.
Morro Bay is an ideal place to learn how to surf. The waves tend to be more mild and great for those wanting to try the sport. Morro Bay Paddle Sports offers stand up paddle boards to rent as well as kayaks. Not feeling brave enough to venture on your own? They have guided kayak tours as well as private lessons available.
Parks & Beaches
- Cloisters Park Trail – Highway 1 and San Jacinto, Morro Bay
- Coleman Park & Beach – 101 Coleman Drive, Morro Bay
- Del Mar Park – Island Street & Panorama Drive, Morro Bay
- Morro Bay City Park – 750 Harbor Street, Morro Bay
- Morro Bay National Estuary – 1 State Park Road, Morro Bay
- Morro Bay State Park & Beach – 20 State Park Road, Morro Bay
- Morro Rock Beach – 200 Coleman Drive, Morro Bay
- Morro Rock – 1300 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
- Morro Rock Jetty Beach – Coleman Drive, Morro Bay
- Morro Strand State Beach – Highway 1 and Yerba Buena Street
- North Point Beach & Tide Pools – Toro Lane, Morro Bay
- Tidelands Park – 300 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
- Toro Creek Dog Beach – Cabrillo Highway and Toro Creek Road
Where To Hike
Although there are no great mountains to climb or dense forest wilderness areas, there are a couple must not miss treks to check out.
- Morro Strand Trail: This about 3-and-a-half mile hike is an easy yet lovely stroll with only about 25 feet in elevation gain. This partly paved trail delivered directly to the iconic Morro Rock. From there you can take in the beach views and lovely sand.
- Black Hill: This very popular under 3-mile trail brings you to the second to the last of the nine volcanic plugs that define the area. The hike weaves you through the Monterey Pine trees right to the top of Black Hill.
- Elfin Forest Natural Preserve: The natural trail area is a short and lovely boardwalk hike that is only a mile in duration. You are promised great views of the coast as well as some shade from the oak groves. This trail is stroller friendly and great for the entire family.
- Turtle Rock: Chorro Trail to Turtle Rock is a short hike that is just shy of over 2 miles in duration. The trail brings you between two of the nine plugs to the top of what is known as Turtle Hill. It is just about 200 feet in elevation and has sweeping views of Morro Bay to enjoy as you trek.
Where To Eat
After all that hiking, surfing, and exploring you are bound to have an appetite. Since Morro Bay is located right on the coast you know there are some delish seafood spots to try out. One of the most popular places to try is the Great American Fish Company. This laid back restaurant is located right on the ocean with lovely views as well as one of the best spots to see an otter or sea lion. Popular dishes to try are the sweet yet juicy coconut shrimp, the tasty lobster mac and cheese, and the unique take on poke nachos. Location: Morro Bay State Marine Recreational Management Area, Embarcadero, Morro Bay.
Frankie and Lola’s Front Street Café is the place to be for your breakfast feast. The menu is quite large with fun names such as the Sasquach, a combination dish with eggs, sausage, and caramelized onions. And the Principessa, scrambled eggs loaded with artichoke hearts, black olives, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. A favorite is the PZP dish which are tasty potato zucchini pancakes served with cream cheese, soybean pesto, scallions, mozzarella cheese, and red bell peppers. Although not the most impressive looking spot to eat it is very much the tastiest. Location: 1154 Front St, Morro Bay, CA 93442.
The Galley Seafood Grill and Bar might be the best place for seafood in Morro Bay. A favorite spot for locals, the restaurant is well put together with a beautiful patio seating area. The menu is simple yet elegant with classics such as Rockefeller Oysters, Shrimp Scampi, and Ahi Tuna Poke Bowls. One unique part is the ‘naked fish’ options. These are high quality fish selections served with sauces on the side to ensure you are able to taste the flavors of the fish first and foremost. Since the name includes Bar in it – make sure you check out their wine list to complete the meal. Location: 899 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA 93442.
More Things To Do
Explore the Embarcadero where you can shop for everything from salt water taffy to seashells. Stop into one of the local eateries for dinner or grab a treat from the bakery, and walk to the Centennial Parkway Pier to take in another view of Morro Rock and the harbor. Also on the Embarcadero, the Morro Bay National Estuary Program has a nature center to explore where visitors can learn about habitat and wildlife preservation, view aquariums and informational displays, and borrow binoculars to watch the local wildlife.
Morro Bay’s Mural Mile allows visitors to take a self-guided tour of the waterfront and downtown areas, viewing murals that depict the area’s marine life, natural beauty, and local history. Download a map and explore at your own pace.
If you’re into biking, the Morro Bay Bike Park features a pump track and dirt jumps for mountain bikers and BMXers to enjoy. Built and maintained by riders and volunteers, this is a fun stop for all ages.
If fishing is your thing, visit one of the local charter companies to hook up on one of the regularly scheduled fishing trips or book your own private excursion. Morro Bay Landing, Virg’s Landing, Pacific Charters, and Reel EZ Charter Fishing are all available for your sportfishing needs. Whale watching trips can also be booked.
Located about 30 minutes south of Morro Bay is the quaint Central Coast Aquarium. This educational aquarium is very affordable with ticket prices being $9 for ages 13 and older, $7 for ages 3-11 years and 2 and younger are free. The aquarium has hands-on exhibits as well as a gift shop and different programs for its younger patrons.
Just a 20 minute drive from Morro Rock Beach you can visit Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero. This small zoo is home to many local and exotic species like meerkats, wallabies, red pandas, and a Malayan tiger. After strolling around the zoo, you can spend the afternoon relaxing at the neighboring Atascadero Lake Park.
If you’re spending a few days exploring the Central Coast, you can travel north just 30 minutes to Hearst San Simeon State Park and find even more to explore, including San Simeon’s famous elephant seals and of course, Hearst Castle.
For something quirky, stop into Judy’s Sewing & Craft Museum. She creates new exhibits every month and you’ll see a craft library, toy and antique sewing machines, victorian crafts, and more. If you want to seek out more museums, visit Morro Bay’s Maritime Museum to learn about maritime history and explore exhibits about the areas military past and see a full-sized WWII tugboat. Finally, venture over to the Museum Of Natural History in Morro Bay State Park and learn all about the local geology, Native American life, and overall history of the area with oceanography exhibits and fun activities for all ages to enjoy.
Where To Stay
456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites: Stay at this newly redesigned and renovated family-owned Inn with views of Morro Rock and the Estuary. This location is within walking distance of all the charm Morro Bay has to offer.
The Inn At Morro Bay: The Inn features deluxe guest rooms located on the waterfront surrounded by Morro Bay State Park’s woodlands. Enjoy easy access to all of Morro Bay’s attractions, soak in the pool, and relax in this piece of paradise on the Central Coast.
- All dogs must be on-leash within Morro Bay city limits. And bonus: the coastline is puppy friendly!
- No open fires or fireworks are allowed at any time on or around Morro Bay.
- If visiting the Sandspit and Morro Strand State Beach please keep in mind there are sensitive Snowy Plover nesting areas. During nesting season these areas are fenced to protect their habitat.
- Bring a jacket! The mornings tend to be foggy but typically always warm up once the sun appears.
Morro Bay is a unique coastline with rich geological history. When visiting the area you will find spans of sandy shores to enjoy, jaw dropping unique rocks to explore and simply take in this slice of paradise right on the California coast. Remember to always practice Leave No Trace principles or leave the area better than you found it.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus